Annals of Management: Ray MacDonald’s Story

August 18, 2011 at 3:27 PM | Posted in Annals of Management, Annals of Sales | Leave a comment
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Ray MacDonald

Ray MacDonald, then the CEO of Burroughs and pretty famous in those pre-business-ceo-superstar days, gave a short talk to our class of first-time managers in 1977. No CEO has ever looked more the part than MacDonald and this was in his last years and his silver hair and slim, straight body spoke of wisdom and discipline; I was impressed. He was the first CEO I had ever met.

He related a story of an early prospect that had him, a brand new sales person, befuddled. He went into his sales manager’s office, a wily veteran, and they came up with a strategy. The manager wished the young Ray well and asked him to inform him of the results of the call. But, stammered MacDonald, aren’t you coming with me? No, the manager said, you can handle it just fine yourself and shooed him out the door.

This was MacDonald’s lesson to us rookies: let people do the work for themselves – they will thank you for it.

I have never forgotten this lesson and thought of it just this morning as I was coaching a really excellent sales person on our Plex Sales Team.


August 17, 2011 at 7:46 PM | Posted in Books, Business | 6 Comments
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Outliers was a book I thought I had read without having actually read it. I follow Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker and had discussed its concepts with a number of people. I was up to speed, I thought. But just the other day, my wife and I listened to the whole book, well read by the author, on the long drive from Long Island to Illinois. The book is even better than I thought because, in large part, he backs up what I have been saying all along (I humbly submit)!

Certain factions in the United States (in itself, quite an exaggeration these days) would have you believe that everybody who is successful did it through their own hard work — their vaunted work ethic. Now, this is in one sense true: Gladwell expounds on the rule of 10,000. It takes 10,000 hours to get good at anything. I agree —  who knows what the actual number is but 10,000 seems right. The story of the Beatles in Hamburg (day after day, 8 hours a day) is illuminating.

But Gladwell’s main thesis is that it takes more than work — first the circumstance must be propitious. Whether you were starting a business in the garment district (schmatta trade) in 1930 or Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Bill Joy in 1975 — things have to break right for you. In every case, it took a village.

Right now, in our country, we have hit the depths of selfishness. Why Social Security, why Medicare, why unemployment insurance? Why anything that helps our fellow citizens?

Just yesterday, Warren Buffet was lambasted for suggesting that he didn’t pay enough tax.

We have fallen far.

Annals of Sales: Hello

August 15, 2011 at 12:55 PM | Posted in Annals of Sales | Leave a comment
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It used to be the case that sales training focused on closing — when you ask the closing question, SHUT UP!  These included alternative-of-choice, the Ben Franklin and the famous Puppy Dog Close.

Then the focus changed to “the Process” – sales was no longer an art but some form of science and if that sounds highfalutin’, you are hearing right.

In these pages I’ve written about how best to open meetings using the Socratic Opener but now I want to think about something far earlier “in the process” — how do you say “hello”? There is an old saying that ‘well started is half done.’

I am not proposing something smooth and just another manipulation but a hello that wears both anticipation and possibility on its sleeve lightly. I’m thinking of a non-clinging hello, one that will leave you alone if need be. I’m thinking of a hello without a breathless story line, one that is simply – friendly.

Revisiting Tübingen

August 14, 2011 at 1:47 PM | Posted in Annals of Travel | 2 Comments

Right after my wife Ingrid and I got married in that long ago year 1973 and after several weeks in Mannheim, we decamped to the Medieval
University town of Tübingen where Ingrid was signed up to study.

On my recent trip to Germany and having the measure afforded by a canceled appointment, my colleague and I drove into Tübingen for lunch. I
did not recognize one thing though after a while I succeeded in making believe
that I remembered the Rathaus and the fountain of Neptune that only just
dominates the central platz in town.

There are cobblestoned, crooked winding streets in Tübingen but these are featured in most old German towns. If anything, Tübingen seemed a
little less nice, a little less pristine than other towns and it shares a very slight seediness with other college towns. I don’t recall any of this not necessarily because my memory is bad but that I never noticed anything to begin with. I was particularly incurious back then, my mind completely on Dinkelaker Beer and the now nowhere to be found Konditoreis.

A 1:42 AM Book

August 13, 2011 at 4:11 PM | Posted in Books | 2 Comments
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When, in the first few days of a European stay, after
falling asleep gratefully exhausted at 10 PM, you need a really good book to
prevent panic when you wake up at 1:42 AM knowing that you have 3 hours ahead
of you before, after having given up on the idea, you doze off in a half-sleep
that leaves you just a little less tired than when you began the rigmarole the
night before. I had such a book.

I’ve read Kent Haruf backwards and at first by chance.
When I read Eventide, his last book, I knew I would read all his books but like
his own writing, I was not in a rush. He’s written only four novels and Haruf’s
an older fellow now, I couldn’t count on even one more and so I’ve spaced them

Eventide and Plainsong are a pair and his second, Where
You Once Belonged, shares characters from his first, the powerful, haunting and sad
The Ties That Bind, the one I knew would come through for me when my head popped
up so early in the morning.

In the blurbs for the book one reviewer writes that it is
hard to believe that this is Haruf’s first novel and another brings up Willa
Cather which I accept as I am a devotee of the great novelist of the prairie
but a few skirts get raised up, a phase of the authors, and old Willa never
quite went that far, nor is she as dark or as funny.

As Peter Taylor is to middle-class Tennessee, Haruf is to farming
Colorado. I can’t praise more than that.

Lighten up?!

August 12, 2011 at 6:19 PM | Posted in Annals of Travel | 3 Comments

The irony was not lost on me: as I read Pema Chödrön in
her chapter “Lighten Up” from Start Where You Are, I was in the
process of being aggravated by everything. I despise flying “Economy”
to Europe and that colors my thoughts. The people in front of me are laughing
and will not shut up. This time I do have an empty seat next to me but I’m
still unhappy about the flight out when the fellow next to me overflowed his
bounds and that children were frolicking in Business Class as I trudged to the
back with the sheep and the goats.

So Pema instructs me: “This earnestness, this
seriousness about everything in our lives – including practice – this
goal-oriented, we’re-going-to-do-it-or-else attitude is the world’s greatest

The Tree of Wooden Clogs

August 8, 2011 at 4:11 PM | Posted in Movies, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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In the final scene from The Tree of Wooden Clogs a man silently packs up his family’s possessions into a cart and then his wife, holding a new-born and his other two small children hop on and they leave the small little peasant compound in Lombardy, Italy in 1900.We know that they don’t know where they are going; they’ve been kicked out  for the smallest and heartbreaking  of infractions by the owner. Saddest of all, the other two families look out from their windows as they prepare to leave and they don’t come out to say good-bye. Just a week or two before the now homeless family man was the Best Man at the wedding of the beautiful daughter of his neighbor. They are scared that it could happen to them.

My brother Marty, movie-man par excellence, clued me into this movie and I had not even heard about it. In 1978 it won the Best Movie Award at Cannes and was reviewed glowingly in the NY Times. Perhaps it is so little known because there are no actors, local peasants were used instead. I call upon all the over-actors, Pacino, Hoffman, Walken and now, sadly, DeNiro to study the performances of  these magnificent peasants.

The movie is three hours long and I first thought it slow but that was my impatience, my inattention. I now think it one of the greatest movies I have ever seen.

Seeing Barbara Cook at Guild Hall

August 7, 2011 at 11:12 AM | Posted in Music | 4 Comments
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At the end of the evening, the old broad was stunning: coming out for her encore she walked to the front of the stage, without microphone, with the pianist, Lee Musiker,  barely touching the keys and the bass, drums, clarinet silent and sang John Lennon’s Imagine in the most quiet and touching voice imaginable.

Prior to this concert I never thought of Barbara Cook as a broad but she was last night and she was also a trooper and she fought through numerous memory lapses that made us wish, till she got back on her feet with more familiar songs, that the show would be over – so to spare her. It was as if you were seeing Joe DiMaggio droppings easy fly balls.

But Barbara, who was first on TV in 1952 and starred as a stripling on Broadway in the mid-fifties when Lenny Bernstein ruled New York and my Uncle Anthony worshiped her, will be 84 this October and in these last few years her phenomenal and unmistakable voice is fading but when she sang Where or When or No One is Alone, we didn’t notice.

She’s billed as the “Greatest Interpreter of the Great American Songbook” – but for that honor she’s tied with Tony Bennett. Yes, she is that great and my wife and I agreed that we were lucky to see her one more time, a lioness in winter.

A Man Looks Out from his Boat

August 6, 2011 at 10:38 AM | Posted in Meditation | Leave a comment

A man looking out from his boat sees another boat coming towards him. At first curious he becomes increasingly anxious as the boat seems to be gaining speed and coming right at him. He begins to yell and scream, cursing the pilot of the boat. The boat crashes in to him and he sees that there is no one in the boat.

A man looking out from his boat sees another boat coming towards him. At first curious he becomes increasingly anxious as the boat seems to be gaining speed and coming right at him. He begins to yell  and scream, cursing the pilot of the boat. The boat misses him and as it passes by, he notices that there is no one in the boat.

The instruction is “Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join in meditation.”

(Adapted from Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are)


August 4, 2011 at 8:43 PM | Posted in Dogs | 2 Comments
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In happier days

Young Dolly  raises her chin to the heavens:

Ah-OOooo – my darling Madre Vanessa has left the house, without me.

Ah-OOooo – i’ve checked every room, including upstairs, and she’s really left.

Ah-OOoo – i miss my dearest Madre so much!

Ah-OOoo – suppose she never comes  back!

OK, I’ve got that out of my system and made my point.

(She takes her favorite spot on the couch and spies her Granddogdag, eying false moves, waiting for the moment that the door will open and her heavenly Madre will be home once again.)

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