Small Business

Lessons from J.D. Rockefeller

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Running a business requires good leadership and a great team to make it work.

A US expert advises small business entrepreneurs hell-bent on creating fast-growth companies that they should take their lessons from a big business legend who out-earned Microsoft’s Bill Gates by a factor of four — J.D. Rockefeller.

“Rockefeller holds the record as the wealthiest entrepreneur ever,” says Verne Harnish, founder of the Young Entrepreneurs Organisation, now called the Entrepreneurs Organisation.

“He trumps Gates by a factor of four in comparison, measured by wealth as a percentage of US GDP.”

A former sales director turned business educator, Harnish also founded the Association of Collegiate Entrepreneurs and is chief executive of Gazelles, which serves as an outsourced corporate university for mid-sized firms.

His ‘faculty’ includes many of the who’s who of business experts, including the likes of Jim Collins, who wrote the bestseller From Good to Great and marketing guru Seth Godin, who penned Purple Cow.

Harnish’s book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What you Must do to Increase the Value of your Fast-growth Firm has been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. He was named one of the Top 10 Minds in Small Business by Fortune Small Business Magazine.

“The key to Rockefeller’s success, in one word, was discipline,” Harnish says. “An accountant by training, a devout Baptist, he was a very disciplined business operator. You wouldn’t have wanted to party with J.D.”

James Stevens, founder of online florist Roses Only, has attended Verne Harnish’s seminars and insists he has had profound effects on his business. Stevens says he took three marketing employees to his first seminar with Harnish and during the day was told his chief problem would be revealed that night.

“At dinner, Verne pointed out the obvious: I didn’t have a chief operations officer,” Stevens says. “I was doing too much and some of my marketing people were doing some of the tasks of an operations officer. I went out the next week and advertised for one and he has been fantastic.”

Harnish also struck a chord with Stevens, saying “you can’t carry B-grade players”.

“I reckon you need to take key people to listen to Verne,” Stevens says. “We had a key executive who was not performing and after the seminar all three of my employees raised the issue of our poor-performing B-grader.”

When interviewed, the worker in question admitted he wasn’t happy and offered to walk, along with his entitlements.

“The value of these changes to my business in efficiency gains alone was about $300,000,” Stevens says. “We’ve also become dogmatic about our key performance indicator — the number of deliveries. We watch them daily and weekly and celebrate when we exceed them.”

Asked what entrepreneurs or business owners regularly get wrong, Harnish says he never likes to say entrepreneurs are wrong. “They just have more lessons to learn,” he says. “Entrepreneurs have the most expensive MBAs on the planet, paying ten of thousands to get hard-earned wisdom.”

Entrepreneurs have to say no more often to avoid the distractions of the opportunities that they see everywhere, he says. They need to understand the complexity of their business, which needs to be systemic.

“Probably the most important hire most entrepreneurs can make is the right number-two person who will help them organise their business,” he says. “The only fatal mistake they make is running out of cash.”

That’s why managers are worth their weight in gold.

If you’re looking to work on your business rather than being stuck in it, book in for a complimentary business assessment today with Switzer Business Coaching.

Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

Published on: Monday, August 22, 2011

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