Management guru Tom Peters is best known as co-author of the business book classic In Search of Excellence, and has also written a dozen other bestsellers, including his latest , The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence.
I recently chatted with the often-outspoken Mr. Peters about his views on what makes a valuable, sellable company.
Mr. Warrillow: Do business owners have a blind spot?
Mr. Peters: They don’t do enough to recognize the people who work for them. Business owners are working 20 hours a day, and they don’t think they should have to thank the guy working 16 hours a day. That’s why the best entrepreneurs get themselves a partner that complements their management style.
Mr. Warrillow: Can you give me an example?
Mr. Peters: Hewlett and Packard were the perfect complement for one another. Bill Hewlett was an engineer’s engineer. You couldn’t understand a word he was saying, even if you were 10 feet in front of him. Dave Packard, on the other hand, was a born leader. At six-foot-five, he was an imposing businessman who looked good in a suit. They complemented one another.
Mr. Warrillow: Can you think of an example from a smaller business where one leader compensates for what the other lacks?
Mr. Peters: My wife owns her own home-design business and has what a corporate shrink would call an “urgent personality.” She decided to hire a No. 2 to be a buffer.
Mr. Warrillow: Your wife must have a tough job being married to one of the biggest business gurus in history. How important is a spouse in running a successful business?
Mr. Peters: [Former Walt Disney Co. chairman] Michael Eisner and I were speaking at a conference, and he told me about a time when he was negotiating a deal where he wanted 60 per cent of the equity to go to him, and 40 per cent to his partner. [Mr.] Eisner’s wife told him to give the other guy an equal 50 per cent, reasoning that, if they each had an equal share, they’d scrap tooth and nail with each other to make it a better company, which would make it a more valuable deal for both in the end.
Mr. Warrillow: What management advice would you offer business owners looking to build a valuable company?
Mr. Peters: Look at [former National Football League coach] John Madden. As a coach, he didn’t focus on fixing a player’s weakness. He focused on emphasizing his strengths. If you have a great football player who goes to their left, well, why would you try and change that?
Mr. Warrillow: So you’re saying, focus on your employees’ strengths, instead of trying to fix their shortcomings?
Mr. Peters: Yes, and that goes for the owner, too. Stop trying to be Steve Jobs. There are six billion people in the world, and you have about a one in six billion chance of being Steve Jobs. So just stop trying to be Steve Jobs.
Mr. Warrillow: What advice would you give startups looking to build a sellable company?
Mr. Peters: Don’t start out thinking about selling. Think about creating the world’s best deli or car dealership. If you spend your time thinking about selling, it will show.
Special to The Globe and Mail
John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He writes a blog about building a valuable – sellable – company.