Sunday, 31 August 2014

Never, Ever Give Up: Our Series on Perseverance. Day 14; Macy's

Profiles in Greatness: Rowland H. Macy

When Rowland Hussey Macy was 15, he started working aboard a whaling ship. Macy, born in 1822, had grown up on Nantucket Island, Mass.—once the home of more millionaires than anywhere else in the United States, thanks to the whaling industry—and watched his father sail on two previous expeditions.
But young Macy was a little more ambitious than his father. He earned about $550 on that first voyage, a disappointing paycheck for such hard work. So at 19, he started working as a printer’s apprentice in Boston. He had read about Benjamin Franklin’s success and decided to model his own career after the legendary statesman.
Unfortunately, printing didn’t suit Macy as well as it did Franklin, so, with the backing of one of his brothers, Macy opened his first dry goods store in 1843. Over the next 10 years, Macy failed at four retail ventures.
He had moved to California in search of gold and also dabbled in real estate speculation, so despite his retail failures, he returned home to Massachusetts with $4,000 and a wealth of new life experiences. He opened the first Macy’s store in Haverhill, Mass., in 1851.
Immediately, he put to use what he had learned from his failed stores and instituted groundbreaking initiatives in retail management. Macy offered lower prices for cash purchases in an era when most shoppers used credit, and he offered fixed prices rather than opportunities to bargain, which was the norm.
While the Haverhill store ultimately failed, the 36-year-old Macy had no intention of giving up. He moved to New York City in 1858, and started R.H. Macy Dry Goods on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 14th Street. The red star he had tattooed onto his hand during his youthful whaling days would become the shining symbol of his new venture.
Again building on lessons learned from previous stores, Macy bought and sold merchandise only if he could do so with ready cash. Even as his business grew and wholesalers offered him credit, he refused it, deciding instead to work exclusively on a cash basis.
In its first year, while a recession loomed over the country, Macy’s did $90,000 in sales. As the business grew, Macy obtained the leases of 11 neighboring buildings, creating the concept of what we know today as the department store, selling everything from clothing and jewelry to toys and housewares. In 1874, Macy leased the basement of his building to L. Straus & Sons. Lazarus Straus and his sons, Isidor and Nathan, sold china, glassware and silver (and later took ownership of the Macy’s chain when it passed from the Macy family in 1895). The china department soon became the store’s most famous. Macy introduced new products to the public as well, including tea bags, Idaho baked potatoes and colored bath towels. He also began accepting mail orders.
Despite a recession, these were boom years for Macy, who became a master of advertising and publicity. He developed marketing strategies that would one day become part and parcel of the retail industry. He was the first, for example, to have a store Santa Claus during the holidays, and he originated themed store exhibits and lighted window displays to draw customers in from the street.
Because his store was beyond the borders of the main shopping district, Macy knew he had to be innovative to draw customers, so he used his printing industry experience to launch some unique newspaper advertising campaigns. The ads emphasized keywords again and again, used bold headlines and quoted exact prices of store items, something none of his competitors had ever done. He advertised in five city newspapers. Macy also offered his patrons a money-back guarantee, and the store continued to only accept cash well into the 1950s.
Macy’s innovations didn’t end with business strategy. He was also the first to hire a woman executive in retail sales, promoting Margaret Getchell to store superintendent in 1866. Having grown up on Nantucket, where women ran family businesses and households in the absence of husbands, fathers and brothers who were on whaling expeditions, Macy believed that women were just as capable as men. His Quaker upbringing also promoted the idea of spiritual and intellectual equality of the sexes.
Getchell, a distant relative of Macy’s, was a fellow Nantucketer, and she not only had a good head for business but helped Macy understand what his main customers—women—wanted. Four years after Getchell became store superintendent, Macy’s revenue topped $1 million.
Macy died in Paris in 1877 of Bright’s disease. An obituary in The New York Times praised his accomplishments.“His energy and enterprise in business and the strict attention he gave to every detail of it gained for him a host of staunch friends,” the obituary noted. “In fact from comparatively nothing, he became one of the best known and most successful merchants of the day.”
That year, Macy’s famous department store employed 400. The Straus brothers ultimately became owners of the store after Macy’s death.
In 1902, the flagship store on Herald Square was built and, after a 1942 expansion, it became known as “the largest store on earth.” In the century that followed, the Macy’s brand expanded exponentially and has since become a household name, with more than 800 stores across the United States.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Never, Ever Give Up: Our Series on Perseverance. Day 13; Stephen King

Stephen King is one of my favorite authors ever. I am so inspired each time I hear him speak about his journey to success. In case you don’t know, his now famous book Carrie was rejected 30 times. He was so frustrated and discouraged that he took his manuscript and threw it in the garbage can. We’ve all heard the saying that behind every great man is an equally great woman. Stephen King’s wife is the one that picked him up, brushed him off and persuaded him to not give up. She took Carrie out of the trash and asked him to try again. The rest is history. In this video, Stephen King describes what he calls the magic moment that all writers experience.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Never, Ever Give Up: Our Series on Perseverance. Day 12; U2

It sucks to hear the word "no."
Even when you've gotten rejected thousands of times (as any successful person has), it's still discouraging.
When you hear the word "no" — when a proposal of yours gets rejected — it's easy to think that there might be something wrong with the proposal. Or worse, you.
So it's helpful to remember that everyone has heard the word "no."
Lots of investors passed on Facebook, Google, Twitter, et al, for example.
Lots of publishers sniffed at "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" (the U.K. title of the original book before one brave U.S. publisher finally bought it).
And at least one record company, it seems, rejected the early recordings of an unknown teenage Dublin band called "U2."
U2, needless to say, is one of the most successful bands in history. And the record label that said "no?" They're almost certainly toast.
So have a look at this U2 rejection letter that @uberfacts just tweeted around every time you get rejected. Use the feedback to improve your proposal or presentation, perhaps. But don't doubt yourself or stop moving forward just because you heard the word "no."

Read more:

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Never, Ever Give Up: Our Series on Perseverance. Day 11; Sir James Dyson

Sir James Dyson, British inventor and founder of the Dyson company, is a firm believer in failure. In fact, he sees it as an essential part of his success -- a step toward a truly innovative solution.

When Dyson invented his first Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaner, which hit stores in 1993, he spent 15 years creating 5,126 versions that failed before he made one that worked. The payoff was a multi-billion dollar company known for its creativity and forward-thinking designs.

We caught up with him over the phone on a recent trip to Chicago to discuss how failure has driven his success.

Here is an edited version of our conversation:

Entrepreneur: You often talk about the value of failure. How has it helped you?
Dyson: Failure is interesting -- it's part of making progress. You never learn from success, but you do learn from failure. (When I created the Dual Cyclone vacuum), I started out with a simple idea, and by the end, it got more audacious and interesting. I got to a place I never could have imagined because I learned what worked and didn't work. 

Entrepreneur: How do you embrace a long series of failures without letting frustration overwhelm you?
Dyson: We have to embrace failure and almost get a kick out of it. Not in a perverse way, but in a problem-solving way. Life is a mountain of solvable problems and I enjoy that.

Entrepreneur: Your cyclone technology is often held up as a model of creative problem solving. Does failure help spur your creativity?
Dyson: It absolutely does. You don't have to bother to be creative if the first time you do something, it works. Creativity is creating something that no one could have devised; something that hasn't existed before and solves problems that haven't been solved before. Making something work is a very creative thing to do. 

Entrepreneur: When you fail, how do you approach the next iteration?
Dyson: What I often do is just think of a completely obtuse thing to do, almost the wrong thing to do. That often works because you start a different approach, something no one has tried. You get a different perspective and view of (the problem). 

Entrepreneur: What do you do to encourage taking risks among your employees? 
Dyson: You must remove any sort of criticism. A revolutionary suggestion often sounds stupid and you don't want people who make cynical remarks. It's a matter of having the right attitude -- humble, curious, determined, willing to fail and try. (I hire people who) embrace the fact that failure is interesting.

Entrepreneur: What would you say to entrepreneurs or inventors who feel afraid to fail or worried that they'll be judged? 
Dyson: That's a sort of lesson in life, isn't it? You mustn't be worried about what people will say about you. If you want to do something different, you're going to come up against a lot of naysayers. 

Big companies tend not to take risks, so there's a big opportunity for entrepreneurs to take them and march on competitors. Business is constantly changing, constantly evolving. You've got to try things out.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Never, Ever Give Up: Our Series on Perseverance. Day 10; Henry Ford

One day in 1885, the twenty-three-year old Henry Ford got his first look at the gas-powered engine, and it was instant love. Ford had apprenticed as a machinist and had worked on every conceivable device, but nothing could compare to his fascination with this new type of engine, one that created its own power. He envisioned a whole new kind of horseless carriage that would revolutionize transportation. He made it his Life’s Task to be the pioneer in developing such an automobile.
Working the night shift at the Edison Illuminating Company as an engineer, during the day he would tinker with the new internal-combustion engine he was developing. He built a workshop in a shed behind his home and started constructing the engine from pieces of scrap metal he salvaged from anywhere he could find them. By 1896, working with friends who helped him build a carriage, he completed his first prototype, which he called the Quadricycle, and debuted it on the streets of Detroit.
At the time there were many others working on automobiles with gas powered engines. It was a ruthlessly competitive environment in which new companies died by the day. Ford’s Quadricycle looked nice and ran well, but it was too small and incomplete for large scale production. And so he began work on a second automobile, thinking ahead to the production end of the process. A year later he completed it, and it was a marvel of design. Everything was geared toward simplicity and compactness. It was easy to drive and maintain. All that he needed was financial backing and sufficient capital to mass produce it.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Never, Ever Give Up: Our Series on Perseverance. Day 9; Dr Seuss

Was he already dreaming up “The Cat in the Hat” or “Green Eggs and Ham”, when he became a household name? 

Theodore Seuss Geisel, best known as Dr Seuss, became best known as the author of some of the funniest and most amazing children's books ever published. His stories are full of tongue twisters and some very innovative vocabulary. 

But did you know that his first manuscript titled “And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street (1937)”, was rejected by twenty-eight publishers before Random House/Vanguard Press chose to publish it? Incidentally, the former President of Random House/Vanguard Press, Bennett Cerf once remarked, “I’ve published any number of great writers, from William Faulkner to John O’Hara, but there’s only one genius on my authors list. His name is Ted Geisel.” Persistence is the key…

“Nothing in the world will take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than the unsuccessful person with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."- Calvin Coolidge

Monday, 25 August 2014

Never, Ever Give Up: Our Series on Perseverance. Day 8; Vincent van Gogh

We've all heard this sad story. Vincent van Gogh lived a short, deeply tormented life, throughout which he sought (in vain) his place in the world. He died, by his own hand, feeling his life was a miserable failure. Unbeknownst to Vincent, the work he did pioneered the Expressionistic style and, 150 years after his birth, his name would be world famous.
Movement, Style, School or Period:
Post-impressionism > Expressionism
Date and Place of Birth:
March 30, 1853, Groot-Zundert, Netherlands
Early Life:
Vincent was the son of a Dutch Protestant minister, and grew up believing that his calling, too, lay in serving his fellow man. Unfortunately, his nature was such that anything he attempted was doomed to failure. He wasn't inattentive to career moves but, rather, threw himself into endeavors with such ferocity that he quickly exhausted his body, followed by his mind. By the time he was 27, van Gogh had been a theology student, a semi-trained evangelist in the slums of London and the mines of Wasmes (in Belgium), a French tutor, an unsuccessful art salesman and spurned by love.
Body of Work:
During his time with the miners, van Gogh painted the rough, miserable lives of the peasants with which he lived. One of these works, The Potato Eaters (1885), is acknowledged as his early masterpiece.
In 1886, Vincent moved to Paris, where his devoted brother, Theo, was an art dealer. He quickly launched himself into study of the Impressionists and Japanese prints and emerged, after two years, with a highly original palette. He relocated himself to Arles, in Provence, where he began a frenzy of painting (sometimes going through a canvas per day) that showed his love for the town, countryside and sunlight of the area. Better known works from his time in Arles include Bedroom at Arles (1888), The Night Café (1888) and Starry Night (1889). His painting increasingly showed a lack of brushwork as he, in his haste to capture it, spread the color he saw in life thickly on to the canvas with his palette knife - and even straight from the tube.
In the last two years of his life, van Gogh also executed a number of self-portraits, had a brief, turbulent friendship with Gauguin (they were roommates until one final argument took place), veered in and out of madness (institutionalizing himself from time to time) and continued to have a disastrous love life. In a bungled suicide attempt, he shot himself on July 27th, 1890, but didn't die until two days later. Vincent van Gogh died having sold one painting in his lifetime.
Picture; Imagno/ Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Never, Ever Give Up: Our Series on Perseverance. Day 6; Stephen Spielberg

Due to poor grades in high school, Steven Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California three times. He was awarded an honorary degree in 1994 and became a trustee of the university in 1996. "Since 1980, I've been trying to be associated with this school," joked the 62-year-old filmmaker. "I eventually had to buy my way in," he told the Los Angeles Times. Spielberg has to date directed 51 films and won three Oscars. Forbes Magazine puts Spielberg's wealth at $3 billion.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Never, Ever Give Up: Our Series on Perseverance. Day 5; Einstein

The Legend of the Dull-Witted Child Who Grew Up to Be a Genius

At the age of 26, the patent clerk Albert Einstein emerged with a couple of scientific papers that soon would be considered products of an extraordinary creative mind.

How does that match the image of the young Albert labeled dull, dyslexic, even autistic or schizophrenic, by a considerable number of today's experts and interested parties?

In order to find a reliable answer, we should abstain from repeating, and perpetuating, all the dubious conjectures spread decades after Einstein's death, and rely, first of all, on the contemporaneous, original sources to determine whether any of these labels actually apply to the real Einstein.

In that context, a widely held belief regarding Einstein’s handedness can immediately be rebutted. As photos show him holding a pen in his right hand, seizing a paper with the right hand and playing the violin like a right-hander, and as no evidence was found of him being or originally having been left-handed, one may take for granted that he was a right-hander. All this being said, little, though, is known about Albert Einstein’s early years.

In the recollections of the family recorded by Einstein’s younger sister, Maja, in 1924, Albert appears as a calm, dreamy, slow, but self-assured and determined child. Another three decades later, Einstein himself told his biographer, Carl Seelig, that “my parents were worried because I started to talk comparatively late, and they consulted a doctor because of it.”

The grandparents, visiting two-year-old Albert, did not observe any developmental particularities and, in a letter to other family members, expressed enthusiasm about the grandson's good behavior and “drollige Einfälle” (funny or droll ideas or vagaries). Yet the reputed handicap of late talking became part of the family legend and is confirmed by Maja. The same family legend, though, reports that, at the age of 2 ½ years, when his newborn sister (a Mädle) was shown to the boy, Albert, obviously expecting a toy to play with, could already verbalize his disappointment: “But where are its wheels (Rädle)?” Might one assume that the “comparatively late” talking reflects the anxiety of an overambitious mother rather than the child actually having an identifiable problem?

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Never, Ever Give Up: Our Series on Perseverance. Day 4; Colonel Sanders

When I read last week that a majority of Americans ages 18 to 25 didn't know who Colonel Sanders was, I was shocked. According to USA Today, 61% of respondents didn't know who the guy with the beard in the KFC logo was. What? They don't know who the most famous chicken icon in the world is? A face that says "fried chicken" to hungry people from China to Peru?
For anyone who grew up in America in the second half of the 20th century, the Colonel was a true icon. You didn't need to be able to read to know who he was; you didn't even need to watch TV. Anyone who drove a mile in any direction would see his beaming, grandfatherly visage and white suit and know that Kentucky Fried Chicken could be found there. Maybe not everybody knew that he was the chain's founder or remembered his TV commercials from the '60s and '70s, when he talked about how each piece was dipped in an "egg warsh" before frying. But, at least, they knew he was real. Half of the young adults in the survey, which was ordered up by the chain, assumed that he was the creation of KFC, rather than the other way around.
I find this very disturbing. And not because I'm in the process of writing a book about Colonel Sanders. I don't expect anybody under 25 to read it — or anybody else, for that matter. But it hurts me as an American to think that so many people lack such a basic piece of cultural information. I mean, it's one thing to not know who Thomas Jefferson was or when the Vietnam War ended. College professors brace themselves for the ignorance of their charges and, in fact, have a good laugh about it every year, when two academics in Wisconsin circulate, with much fanfare, a list of how much the incoming freshmen don't know.
But by not knowing that Harland David Sanders was an actual man, who lived an actual life, people miss out on more than they might imagine. For one thing, the Colonel wasn't just a fast-food baron who represented his company on TV, the way Dave Thomas (a Sanders protégé) later did. Sanders was the living embodiment of what his food supposedly stood for. His white suit wasn't the invention of a marketing committee; he wore it every day and was never seen in public for the last 20 years of his life in anything else. (He had a heavy wool one for winter and a lighter cotton one for summer.) He was a failure who got fired from a dozen jobs before starting his restaurant, and then failed at that when he went out of business and found himself broke at the age of 65. He drove around in a Cadillac with his face painted on the side before anybody knew who he was, pleading with the owners of run-down diners to use his recipe and give him a nickel commission on each chicken. He slept in the back of the car and made handshake deals. His first marriage was a difficult one, so he divorced his wife after 39 years. (His second marriage was much happier.) He once shot a man in a gun battle, but was never charged as the other guy started it. He was a lawyer who once assaulted his own client in court. He was indeed a Kentucky Colonel, an honorary title given to him by not one but two governors. He was a Rotarian and a Presbyterian, and he deserves to be remembered at least for having a verifiable existence.
But after he died, at the age of 90 in 1980, his image was up for grabs. By the 1980s, the Old South was not the most appealing image for a national chain. Nor was fried chicken any longer the perfect food to feed your family in a time when calorie-counting and healthy choices were already becoming omnipresent concerns. The Colonel was for a time even transformed into a frisky cartoon character who danced around, dunked basketballs and affected hip-hop lingo when he wasn't plugging Pokémon toys. Later, perhaps in a fit of remorse, KFC outfitted him in an apron to remind the world of his culinary skill.
Since the Colonel's death, his company has changed its name, dropping Kentucky Fried Chicken for the more generic and unthreatening initials KFC, even going so far as to suggest that the letters stood for "Kitchen Fresh Chicken." Nobody was fooled. Frequently KFC has wanted to shift its identity to something more in keeping with the times, but it is yoked to the Colonel and his fried legacy. And its inability to change is, in fact, the best thing about it. There is no "original recipe" for McDonald's; that company can change the way it makes burgers tomorrow, just like it has in the past. The food at Taco Bell doesn't reference any particular place or time; there's nobody to recognize, no frame of reference to miss. Many KFC franchisees, particularly in the South, wish that Yum! Brands, KFC's parent, would see that, and these franchisees feel so strongly about the matter that they have sued KFC. They feel that KFC'S rebranding efforts hurt the brand, and couldn't care less if the chain's core product is "relevant," as KFC puts it.
It's hard not to see at least some grounds for their position. After all, Colonel Sanders' 11 secret herbs and spices are their greatest asset. That recipe is kept in a vault deep inside corporate headquarters in Lexington, Ky., surrounded by motion detectors and surveillance cameras; only two executives have access to it at any time. Inside that vault, those spices are written on a piece of notebook paper, in pencil, in Sanders' own hand. I'm told that the paper is yellowing and the handwriting, by now, is faint. That fragile connection to a real man and a real vision is what makes KFC unique. I wish more people would appreciate that.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Never, Ever Give Up: Our Series on Perseverance. Day 3; Walt Disney

You are a struggling entrepreneur and sometimes it feels like you are pushing a 3 ton boulder up a steep hill. Costs keep mounting and you are considering giving up. Well before you do, check out these 10 setbacks that Walt Disney had, some were financial nightmares that put him millions of dollars in the red:

  • Walt formed his first animation company in Kansas City in 1921. He made a deal with a distribution company in New York, in which he would ship them his cartoons and get paid six months down the road. He was forced to dissolve his company and at one point could not pay his rent and was surviving by eating dog food.

  • Walt created a mildly successful cartoon character in 1926 called Oswald the Rabbit. When he tried to negotiate with his distributor, Universal Studios, for better rates for each cartoon, he was informed that Universal had obtained ownership of the Oswald character and they had hired Disney's artists out from under him.

  • When Walt tried to get MGM studios to distribute Mickey Mouse in 1927 he was told that the idea would never work-- a giant mouse on the screen would terrify women.

  • The Three Little Pigs was rejected by distributors in 1933 because it only had four characters, it was felt at that time that cartoons should have as many figures on the screen as possible. It later became very successful and played at one theater so long that the poster outside featured the pigs with long white beards.

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was sneak previewed to college students in 1937 who left halfway during the film causing Disney great despair. It turned out the students had to leave early because of dorm curfew.

  • Pinocchio in 1940 became extra expensive because Walt shut down the production to make the puppet more sympathetic than the lying juvenile delinquent as presented in the original Carlo Collodi story. He also resurrected a minor character, an unnamed cricket who tried to tell Pinocchio the difference between right and wrong until the puppet killed him with the mallet. Excited by the development of Jiminy Cricket plus the revamped, misguided rather than rottenPinocchio, Walt poured extra money into the film's special effects and it ended up losing a million dollars in it's first release.

  • For the premiere of Pinocchio Walt hired 11 midgets, dressed them up like the little puppet and put them on top of Radio City Music Hall in New York with a full day's supply of food and wine. The idea was they would wave hello to the little children entering into the theater. By the middle of the hot afternoon, there were 11 drunken naked midgets running around the top of the marquee, screaming obscenities at the crowd below. The most embarrassed people were the police who had to climb up ladders and take the little fellows off in pillowcases.

  • Walt never lived to see Fantasia become a success. 1940 audiences were put off by it's lack of a story. Also the final scene, The Night On Bald Mountainsequence with the devil damning the souls of the dead, was considered unfit for children.

  • In 1942, Walt was in attendance for the premiere of Bambi. In the dramatic scene where Bambi's mother died, Bambi was shown wandering through the meadow shouting," Mother! Where are you, Mother?" A teenage girl seated in the balcony shouted out, " Here I am Bambi!" The audience broke into laughter except for the black-faced Walt who concluded correctly that war-time was not the best time to release a film about the love-life of a deer.

  • The sentimental Pollyanna in 1960 made Walt cry at the studio screening but failed at the box office. Walt concluded that the title was off-putting for young boys.

Walt was human, he suffered through many fits of anger and depression through his many trials. Yet he learned from each setback, and continued to take even bigger risks which combined with the wisdom that experiencing failure can provide, led to fabulous financial rewards.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Never, Ever Give Up: Our Series on Perseverance. Day 2; Oprah Winfrey

She wasn't always a media titan. Her start in Baltimore was rocky, but it ultimately made her the star she is today

Oprah Winfrey in her first photo taken at WJZ in 1976. (From the personal collection…)
May 18, 2011 By David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun. 

Oprah Winfrey is one great storyteller. So let her set the stage for the story of her years in Baltimore — seven and a half years starting in 1976 that would profoundly shape not only the life of the young anchorwoman, but also give birth to the media phenomenon known as Oprah.

"I came to Baltimore when I was 22 years old. Drove my red Cutlass up from Nashville, Tenn., arrived and was as close to 'The Beverly Hillbillies' as I could be," Winfrey says in that rich, inviting voice that millions have tuned in to for decades. "I had no idea what I was in for or that this was going to be the greatest growing period of my adult life. … It shook me to my very core, and I didn't even know at the time that I was being shaken."

Winfrey says she has been thinking quite a bit about her Baltimore days this spring. Perhaps, because her departure from Baltimore in December 1983 so relates to what she's going through now. In a few days, she'll walk away from a syndicated talk show that has dominated daytime TV for 25 years, making her one of the richest and most influential women in the world.

Of all the shows in the history of American television, only "60 Minutes" has been more successful in terms of doing critically praised work, making piles of money, influencing the culture and running for a long, long time. And "60 Minutes" had a major TV network behind it in CBS. "The Oprah Winfrey Show" was built on the vision, talent and will of the young woman who left Baltimore for Chicago.

Now everyone knows her name. But when the 22-year-old native of Kosciusko, Miss., arrived in Baltimore, her viewers were actually asked "What is an Oprah?" And they were stumped. When Winfrey recalls her Baltimore history, she talks about being "humiliated," "embarrassed" and "sexually harassed."

"Not all my memories of Baltimore are fond ones," she says. "But I do have fond memories of Baltimore, because it grew me into a real woman. I came in naive, unskilled, not really knowing anything about the business — or about life. And Baltimore grew me up."

There are easier ways to grow up than getting publicly fired, after a big buildup, within months of starting a new job in a new town. But that's what happened to Winfrey, who began near the top of the local TV news food chain as co-anchor of WJZ's 6 p.m. weekday newscast with the legendary Jerry Turner. Winfrey's seven and a half months in that co-anchor chair amounted to the first and worst failure of her TV career.

She doesn't dwell on it, and the overall story she tells about Baltimore ultimately fits the larger grand narrative of her career and life: Obstacles and pain encountered. Pain endured and obstacles overcome. A better, stronger Oprah emerging and going on to greater triumphs. But she doesn't pull any punches either about the outrage she still feels 34 years later at the sexism she encountered in Baltimore — and the way Turner and station management treated her.

Winfrey's best friend, talk show host and "O Magazine" editor Gayle King, insists that a sense of balance is crucial in judging the Baltimore years. It is true that they were tough emotionally and professionally in some ways for Winfrey, but good things happened here as well — like the community she discovered at Bethel A.M.E church, the lifelong friends she made at WJZ and the TV talk-show voice she ultimately found in front of the camera alongside a more supportive co-host in Richard Sher.

Winfrey met King in Baltimore while both were in their early 20s and worked at WJZ, and their friendship has been one of the mainstays of her popular talk show.

It started when King spent a night at Winfrey's apartment because a snowstorm made it dangerous for the 21-year-old production assistant and budding news writer to drive back to Takoma Park, where she lived near her alma mater, the University of Maryland, College Park.

"What makes it so extraordinary is that I was in an entry-level position, and she was a news anchor, and in the newsroom hierarchy, there is quite a difference," King says today. "But we were the same age and we were both black and we were both single. And I ended up spending the night at her house, and we realized we had a lot in common. We talked that night — practically all night — and we've been talking really ever since."

'What is an Oprah?'
Winfrey's Baltimore story actually starts just before she arrived in that red Cutlass from an anchoring job in Nashville at a station that she says nurtured her — something that didn't happen here at first.
"When I came to town, there was a promo called 'What is an Oprah?' To this day, I wish I had saved it," Winfrey says. "If anybody out there has it, please let me know, and I will buy it from you. I've been looking for it forever, and we have not been able to locate the 'What is an Oprah?' tape."

Monday, 18 August 2014

Never, Ever Give Up: Our Series on Perseverance. Day 1; Churchill

Today we start a series on 'Perseverance'.  Some of the greatest leaders of our time (and recent history) had great failures during early parts of their lives and career.  It was often the lessons learnt in the hard times that not only inspired them to carry on and achieve, but also this experience gained allowed them to develop into world leaders.  Over the next couple of weeks we'll look at Walt Disney, JK Rowling, Einstein and U2 among others.  We kick off the series with the greatest war time leader, Winston Churchill.

Churchill described the period between 1929 and 1939 as his 'Wilderness Years', when many in his own political party, the Conservatives, distanced themselves from him.  Years earlier he had joined the Liberals, only to rejoin the Conservatives, and some felt idealogical differences that showed themselves during these times, meant Churchill lack judgement.  

Of course, just a few years later he went on to be the great wartime leader that we remember, and indeed often considered to be the greatest Prime Minister Britain ever had. 

Here are two extracts from superb articles on the subject - but if you really want to know mnore, I recommend a day out at Chartwell, in Kent, UK, Churchill's home.  He exclaimed 'A day spent away from Chartwell is a day wasted!

'In the Spring of 1929 when the Conservative Party lost the General Election and the 54 year old Winston Churchill stepped down as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had served in every major British Cabinet post save two: Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister. Yet Churchill was never popular with the Conservative Party’s rank and file or its leaders.'

Winston Churchill's life was a trajectory of events leading to his stand against Adolph Hitler's threat to control Europe. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill helped lead a successful Allied strategy with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and General Secretary Joseph Stalin during WWII to defeat the Axis powers and craft post-war peace. After the breakdown of the alliance, he alerted the West to the expansionist threat of Soviet Communism.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

What will your verse be?

Following the tragic death this week of Robin Williams, here's a wonderful piece from Dead Poets Society - to inspire you!  Words and ideas CAN change the world!

Saturday, 16 August 2014

5 Leadership Lessons: Opportunity and Risk are Soul Mates

5 Leadership Lessons

A very good piece from


The Risk Advantage by Tom Panaggio is designed as a guide for those who are contemplating an entrepreneurial pursuit, are already engaged in building a business, or are currently working for someone else and want to inject their entrepreneurial ideas and attitude. “Those who understand where risk belongs in their lives,” says Panaggio, “will ultimately be successful.” 

1  When failure occurs, it’s natural to say, “We made a bad decision.” But what you need to do is ask yourself this question: Was it a bad decision or simply a bad outcome? A decision is a choice you make. Without the benefit of clairvoyance, you base that choice on timely information. It would be unfortunate to measure the decision’s value based solely on outcomes. If we only accept the value of favorable outcomes, then we limit our ability to take risks, and forward progress stops. 

The reality is that important decisions made by intelligent people having the best information and intentions could still result in an undesirable outcome. Leaders make decisions to determine the company’s direction. Promoting the proactive nature of decision making is the objective because in an environment where there is decision paralysis, forward motion ceases, and that is bad outcome. 

2  Go for clarity, not certainty. The idea of clarity pertains more to the direction you want your business to be moving rather than the degree of detail and the language you use. 

3  I have heard all the “If I had” excuses over the years. Unfortunately, this way of thinking is based on false reality, because the road to success is through action, not tools or accessories. While tools, technology, and accessories might be helpful, they do not guarantee success. Effort guarantees success—you have to keep your foot on the accelerator longer and more often than your competitor. 

4  Opportunities are not only an advantageous circumstance but also chances to correct, rectify, or prioritize a situation that needs attention. Besides forgoing an opportunity for success because we are waiting for ideal conditions, many business leaders fail to solve problems or correct mistakes because, in their minds, the timing wasn’t right. Opportunities are not one-time occurrences; they are continuous events that present themselves throughout our entire journey. 

5  Hoping that something will change to improve your situation will result in defeat, the end of your dream. As a leader, your example of enthusiastically seeking opportunity to execute, improve and deliver results will be the beacon that guides all who follow you. 

Read more;

Friday, 15 August 2014

Leadership Qualities of Bill Gates

A good piece on what makes Bill Gates, Bill Gates...
Growing and learning –
After landing billionaire lists several times, it would be easy for Gates to become prideful or think he knows it all. But he’s not that way. In fact, a recent Forbes article highlighted his efforts to improve on his communication and public speaking skills (Forbes). Gates is also known for his wisdom in seeking council from others. He often speaks of how much he has learned from Warren Buffett. Gates once commented that Buffett has a “brilliant way of looking at the world” (BBC). Like a sponge, Gates tries to soak in lessons learned from his mentor in order to become a better leader.
Having vision –
Without a doubt, Bill Gates is a man with vision. It was vision that inspired him to pursue the creation of a graphical interface that became Microsoft software. Looking back to his interviews about the development of Microsoft, Gates says he always knew he wanted to have more than a single product. The company wanted to hire in more software people and develop a full product line. From the beginning, he recognized potential for growth and opportunity. His ability to envision goals also reaches into his philanthropic pursuits. It can be seen in the malaria project he is now pursuing at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal is to eradicate malaria, and he’s laid out a strategy to get from A to B. His abilities to envision and strategize make it easy for others to follow him.
Caring about people –
It would be hard to talk about the life of Bill Gates and not discuss philanthropy and humanitarianism. Along with Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates were the founders of the giving pledge, a pledge taken by some of the world’s wealthiest people to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes or charitable organizations.  Gates once said “I hope you will reflect on what you’ve done with your talent and energy. I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you work to address the world’s deepest inequities, on how well you treat people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity” (Bloomberg Businessweek). This is the kind of caring and empathy that causes people to stand behind a leader. He is the type of person who isn’t working toward his own goal of personal gain; he is working to help others grow. This is a key quality that successful leaders often embody.
Anyone who wants to inspire or lead can do so. The key is to not lose key qualities like a humble attitude, vision, or empathy in the process. Great leaders like Bill Gates are successful in staying grounded which enables success. His qualities and achievements set a great example for rising leaders.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

How to manage the boss!

Interesting piece from Dan McCarthy on 'Managing Up!'
What is “managing up” and why is it so important? Managing up means establishing and maintaining a positive and productive relationship with you manager so that your manager’s needs are met and you get what you need from your manager.
For some people, “getting what you need” means keeping your boss off your back so that you have the autonomy to do your job. For others, it means support and recognition, or getting the resources needed to achieve your goals.
Those that can’t seem to manage up will always end up in jobs where they are at odds with their bosses. Everyone gets a bad boss at some point in their careers. However, if someone has a continuous pattern of one “bad boss” after another, then perhaps it’s time to take a look in the mirror and learn how to proactively manage up.
Here’s how:
1. Find out what’s important to your boss. It’s important to find this out early in the reporting relationship. A lot of managers won’t come out and tell you – so don’t try to guess or wait and learn the hard way – proactively ask! Ask what drives them nuts, how they prefer to stay informed, how often they need to meet with you, and anything else that’s important to them. You could also talk to your new manager’s former employees to get some tips and advice.
2. Let your boss know what’s important to you.Again, why have your boss guess how to manage and motivate you? Give them the “you owner’s manual”. Just keep in mind that if your boss needs weekly status reports, and you hate doing weekly status reports, then you’ll just need to suck it up and get used to doing status reports. Just let it go and do it – that’s why it’s called work – we get paid for doing stuff we don’t always like to do.
3. Deliver on results and make your boss look good. This is by far the number one way to manage up – don’t give your boss any reason to need to “manage” you. When you are hitting your numbers, or goals, your boss will leave you alone and turn his/her attention to more urgent matters (your peers who are not performing).
4. Respond promptly to all emails, requests for information, etc… As a manager, it made me CRAZY when I would ask for something from my employees and the same ones would always seem to “forget” or “be too busy” to respond. If you want to be micro-managed, then force me to me to and I will.
5. Establish trust. Let your boss know that you can be trusted to watch their back and that you trust them to do the same for you. While it may be early in the reporting relationship, it’s better to establish trust as an expectation instead of having to “earn it” over time.
6. Reinforce desired behavior. If your boss does something that meets your needs (because they are attempting to follow “the book of you”), then let them know how much you appreciate it. This is not “sucking up”! Sucking up is complementing your boss for everything and anything, just to score brownie points.
7. Let your boss know about anything that could possibly come back and bite them. Don’t let your boss hear about a problem or sensitive issue before they hear about it from you. Give them an early warning “heads up”, and if you made a mistake, own up to it.
8. Proactively address anything that really bothers you. Don’t let it fester. Your boss may not even have a clue. If something’s that important to you, then be assertive and discuss it with your boss in a respectful, constructive way.
9. If you bring a problem to your boss, always have a recommended solution. Yes, while it may be a tired cliché, it’s still true.
10. Talk about your boss behind their backs. That is, be supportive of your boss in front of others, especially your bosses’ boss. When you talk about someone behind their backs, it usually gets back to them.
Follow these 10 tips and you’ll increase your chances of having a positive, trusting, and productive relationship with your boss.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Don't forget what we learnt at the Dead Poets Society...

Following the sad news of the death of Robin Williams, I am posting this lovely piece on leadership lessons from his classic film, Dead Poets Society.
Have you ever seen the DVD Dead Poets’ Society? This film really depicts a young teacher in action who is even younger at heart and thus able to connect with his students on their level. He really understood young men, their desires, battles and struggles to find meaning in life.
Robin Williams, my all-time favourite actor, excelled in his role as Mr Keatings. But what made him so special and what did he do? Consider the following examples of a man thinking out of the box:
  • He asked his students to rip the introduction from their poetry text books
  • He asked them to get on his desk to view the world from a new perspectiveand angle
  • He taught soccer while getting them to think creatively and reciting some prose and purpose
  • He allowed them to march in the quad while listening to the chaotic rhythmbefore finding their true and orderly rhythm which kicked in after a while
  • He instilled a deep love for poetry and the English language
  • He offered them a secret affiliation with the Dead Poets’ Society
  • He experientially invited them to write their own poetry and to do it very well
  • He invited them to live and he broke all the rules and stale traditions at the school
Do we as leaders provide the following to our followers?
  • An opportunity to formulate their own opinions and have them honoured by others and not be YES MEN to our own thinking
  • Opportunities to see the world of work and life from a  new perspective
  • Do we allow our staff to have fun while they work? This will make work enjoyable and something they may like to escape to.
  • Whose rhythm are they dancing to at work? Is it the rhythm and pace provided by a slave driver or the harmoniously offered rhythm provided by an allowing participant leader?
  • Do your staff feels part of the bigger scheme at work or do they see work as something they have to do to survive? Help them find meaning in what they do and you will develop a spirit to be proud of
  • Do you honour their work and input while offering gratitude and acknowledgement for their input?
  • Are you brave enough to invite your staff to break the rules and find better ways of performing their duties? Let them take ownership and allow them to be creative, innovative and daring.
I suppose breaking the well-rehearsed traditions may be a tough one for manyto cope with. I find traditions to be a barrier in the face of change, growth and development. Finding the balance may be the answer.
Our learning: Life has so many lessons and teachings to offer us, if we were only willing to look like we have never looked beforeFind your inspiration in every moment and even in the most trivial of moments, DVDs, music or books.