Words Of Wisdom

Words Of Wisdom

A few favorite quotes from top business leaders.

It’s that time of the year when we work behind the scenes on TCB events you’ll read about and, we hope, attend months from now. Video interviews done for some of these afford me the opportunity to talk with our state’s—and often industries’—smartest leaders, as they share the keenest insights about sustainable and purposeful success.

Time spent with this year’s Hall of Fame honorees got me to thinking about all of the meaningful quotes I’ve heard over the years. Here are a few that are most top-of-mind.

“The best CEOs are good conductors.”

—Richard Davis, chairman, president and CEO, U.S. Bancorp

Davis likens business leaders to their counterparts in an orchestra. “They’re not playing. They’re listening first, they’re responding back and they’re delivering a product people want to buy. … Also, they’re asking the right questions, and then they’re asking them exactly the right way. If [they] don’t, the answers won’t be as good,” Davis said in his 2012 Hall of Fame interview. CEOs should ask a lot of open-ended questions to learn more, rather than presume they have the right answer or tell people what the answer is, he says, “because they’re probably not the smartest person in that conversation.” Davis was an early believer in this approach, now becoming part of mainstream thought in corporate America. For more, go online to http://bit.ly/29rS7hT

“There’s tremendous strength that grows from the very important relationship between the community and the company. For us it’s foundational, it’s fundamental.”

—Susan Marvin, vice-chair and former president, Marvin Windows and Doors

Marvin said this at the 2012 Minnesota Family Business ceremony, accepting the award for community service. Her four-generation, 104-year-old company employs nearly 2,000 in and around its hometown of Warroad, and kept them all employed—with health insurance—during the Great Recession. While some might say this quote only still matters in small towns, it harkens back to what made America great in the 20th century: the understanding that a business is only as good—and sustainable—as its relations will all of its stakeholders, not just its shareholders. For more, go online to http://bit.ly/1KG0eRx

“I don’t believe imagination has geographic boundaries.”

—Pat Fallon, co-founder, Fallon Worldwide

Fallon was one of the advertising industry’s most creative and successful players. While he could have launched his career in New York, L.A., London or other major ad-agency marketplaces, he chose to do so in Minnesota, when he started, 35 years ago with four partners, what is known today as Fallon. His decision and subsequent success transformed Minneapolis from “fly-over country” to a world-renowned hub of marketing creativity. For more, go online to http://bit.ly/29P0ovR

“Assume nothing.”

—Burt Cohen, Twin Cities Business founding publisher

Burt Cohen has a wall hanging in his office with these words embroidered on it and I can’t help but notice it every time I walk by. To me, this is the most fundamental and important two-word combination out there. This is especially the case for journalists, but also true for anyone else trying to figure out the truth when so much of what they now go to for primary information, the internet, is clandestinely biased blind content lacking historical perspective.

A good company culture is positive-aggressive. ‘Aggressive’ is about winning, but ‘positive’ is about how you win.”

—Phil Soran, co-founder of Xiotech and Compellent; chairman, SPS Commerce and Vidku

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With positive-aggressive, you make people feel good even though you had to do a tough negotiation or a tough business deal with them. Afterwards, they still like working with you,” says Soran, who was inducted into TCB’s Minnesota Business Hall of Fame last month.

“I believe in viewing things from the point of view of how you can, rather than why you can’t. If you allow your mind to think you can’t, you’re done.”

—Bahram Akradi, founder and chairman, Life Time Fitness.

Akradi has lived by those words not only in the gym, but as he has built his chain of fitness centers across the country. While he has faced plenty of setbacks, he has always found a way to pull ahead and accomplish his goals. And that’s one reason why he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. For more, go online to http://bit.ly/29jkxcP

“If eventually, why not now?”

—Michael Gartner, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist; president, NBC News; general news executive, USA Today; page-one editor, Wall Street Journal.

Gartner told those attending a June journalism conference in Des Moines that he first heard this quote when he worked at General Electric and was managing staff reductions. He wanted to roll it out over six months, but CEO Jack Welch said these words to him. The reason? Stretching it out would have depressed workplace morale and productivity. Early in his career, Gartner heard the quote, “the easiest thing for a reader to do is to stop reading,” and has repeated it everywhere he’s gone. This phrase is worth remembering for anyone in writing, PR, marketing and advertising, as well as CEOs and others who need to communicate with their employees, managers, directors and investors. But of course, it’s especially pertinent for journalists.

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