Editor’s Note-Three Lessons
June, of course, is traditionally the month of weddings, graduations—and graduation addresses. If you are like me, you have given a few wedding toasts, but never a graduation speech, and you don’t know what you might say if you were asked.
If you are asked to say a few words and you need an anecdote, feel free to use any of the three I’ve typed up below. I’ve attached a lesson to each one. Hey, what are friends for?
It happened in suburban Phoenix in March 1982, at the first game of Cactus League spring training. The San Francisco Giants were hosting the Chicago Cubs in Scottsdale Stadium, located immediately to the east of Osborn Hospital.
Midway through the game, a helicopter appeared on the right-field horizon. Flying low, it headed toward the stadium and flew directly over the infield. When it landed across the street, the crowd suddenly became silent, recognizing that it was a flying ambulance.
A minute later, a second helicopter appeared, following the same route as the first. The crowd became even more somber. There clearly had been a bad accident.
The second helicopter couldn’t land, however; the landing pad was already occupied. It hovered noisily over third base, not 50 feet above the ground, as every fan, player, coach, and umpire turned their eyes to it.
Except for the young runner on third base. With the infielders distracted, he stole home.
Lesson for graduates: Be alert to unexpected opportunities.
In 1995, I was selected to head the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development, in part because I had been recommended by Glen Taylor, the Minnesota business leader I most admire and the subject of this month’s cover story.
A few months into the job, he was kind enough to meet me for lunch. He was the relatively new owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and I asked him if it was “fun” to own the team. He surprised me with a long, thoughtful answer that I have repeated often, although these quotes are only approximate.
“Yes,” he said, “this year it has become fun.” In 1994, he explained, he had not taken full possession of the team, so he had worked primarily with a management group selected by the previous owners.
“I don’t have any complaints about any of them,” he said. “They were all good guys, every one of them. They were honest with us, and they worked hard—but they weren’t my guys. They weren’t attuned to how we wanted to operate.”
He used the word “attuned” twice more: “See, a lot of the fun of being in business comes from being attuned to the people you’re working with. You want to work with people with the same sense of direction, the same sense of what’s important to do and how to get it done—people you’re attuned with.”
Lesson for graduates: If you can, work only with people you like, admire, and understand—people to whom you are attuned. It will maximize your results and ensure you rewarding experiences.
(Corollary: In all cases, even in a bad economy, avoid people who cause your stomach to churn.)
In the early 1960s, Lamar Hunt, son of the great oil field speculator H. L. Hunt, bought the Dallas franchise of the new American Football League.
The new league was widely regarded as a quixotic venture that couldn’t compete with the well-established National Football League for players or fans. While having a drink at his club in Texas, H. L. Hunt was asked by a friend about his son’s investment.
“H. L.,” said the friend, “it’s none of my business, but I hope you know your boy could lose a big sum of money getting mixed up in something like that.”
Hunt himself had doubts about the venture. “I do believe you’re right,” he sighed. “I told him to stay away from it, but he wasn’t listening to me.”
“Paying all those players, not getting any TV money,” the friend continued. “Why, he could lose a million dollars a year!”
Hunt nodded grimly. “I know it.”
“Well, how long can you let that go on?”
Hunt stared into his branch water. “I suppose about a hundred years,” he said.
Lesson for graduates: Know your own strengths and limitations—and those of your competitors.