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What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School

What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School

By Mark McCormack

Saturday Morning. You watch Venus Williams play some tennis on TV. Change stations and watch Tiger Woods play some golf. Maybe catch a bit of an auto race. What do all these sports have in common? Mark McCormack. He's probably getting a chunk of the money everywhere. He agents the athletes. He puts together and promotes many of the events. He gets 20% of the stars' endorsements. His consulting company probably sold the endorsement as part of a larger corporate marketing plan. He probably produced the TV programming. His company is very vertically integrated through the sports industry.

After graduating Yale Law School, McCormack founded IMG in the 1960's with $500. McCormack writes, "Many of the greatest American success stories emerged from humble beginnings. If you are selling a service, a skill, or an expertise, how much more do you really need than a desk and a phone?"

McCormack decided that as a young attorney, he'd represent his friend Arnold Palmer as a golf pro (McCormack was a professional-level player himeself). This was back before sports became truly big business and IMG pioneered the sports management industry.

McCormack says he was lucky early on--his first three clients were Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus. Those three collectively dominated golf for twenty years. For the first six years, IMG focused solely upon managing golf pros. While many ultra-successful entrepreneurs believe luck played no part in their success, McCormack admirably retains a realistic view of all the factors that contributed to his success. Much of McCormack's success in growing IMG was due to his willingness to intelligently grow his company. He suggests a "get better before you get bigger" strategy.

For example, once IMG mastered agenting golf pros, McCormack decided it should branch out into tennis pros. McCormack writes that IMG's skills were in creating off-field income opportunities for athletes, not in negotiating contracts with team owners. So, IMG avoided team sports.

However, with the growing "unholy alliance" between TV and sports, IMG wanted a piece of the TV action, so using McCormack's motto of "Hire The Best To Teach You What You Don't Know," McCormack hired someone knowledgeable in TV programming to help them get into TV programming.

McCormack provides excellent advice. Some of his points I especially like:

--Make friends. People like buying from friends. McCormack asks us if we really want to spend our lives doing business with "neutrals and enemies."

--Know not only what you're selling, but know the buyer and what the product really offers. For example, McCormack says Fed Ex really sells peace of mind. Your package will get there. Know the intangible features of your product.

--In negotiation, don't ask for round numbers. Round numbers sound negotiable. Establish a "ballpark" using comparisons. "When we recently sold 'X' to company 'Y,' we received '$Z.'"

--Ask yourself two reasons why you wouldn't buy from yourself and come up with answers to them.

--Renew or extend a contract when the other party is the happiest, not when it expires.

-- Be flexible and open to opportunity. McCormack writes: "If you are tuned in and appropriately flexible, you may find that your original business is the tail and the new business it suggests is the dog." Of course, you'd better be careful with new company directions. If you go up the tail, you know where you might wind up.

--What's the doability quotient? How much time will this endeavor take? McCormack says "If you aren't making mistakes, you aren't trying hard enough."

In addition to the excellent advice, McCormack writes some things that are a bit perplexing. For example, McCormack writes: "I think it is important to keep your employees slightly off balance, even at the cost of occasional unfairness." I'm not quite sure what that means. So, maybe, keeping the reader off-balance is another goal.

McCormack writes: "In any sort of representative business, or in any business where you are paid on a percentage basis, if you aren't careful you can spend as much time representing the also-rans as you can the superstars. Many years ago, when sports clients who were in this questionable category approached us, we referred them to a particular competitor whose weakness we knew. While we could never be sure which of these players would develop into champions, we were 100 percent sure this firm would do a poor job representing them. Once the winners emerged from the pack we could go after them with absolute certainty that we could sign them up."

Although there is an undeniable logic to that statement, it seems a bit sleazy-- Intentionally giving somebody bad advice that can hurt their present career to keep an opportunity for future profit open. Given that many sports careers are short and that a contract with a bad agent could last several years, that seems poor.

Other parts of the book read like a manual about how to be a good IMG employee. For example, McCormack says he wants employees to separate their social and work life. He doesn't like his employees hanging out together. In telling employees how to get ahead, McCormack writes that there are some "executives who literally 'hoard' their clients or customers. Their overprotectiveness of these relationships indicates to me, as their employer, that they have little understanding of delegation, of how our company—and, indeed, most companies—is structured, or of the interconnections that make it work. ... I question their aptitude for management."

My interpretation: "If they leave the company, I want their contacts to stay. And, I don't much like the idea of a group of them breaking away from our company and becoming a competitor."

So, while there are good lessons for entrepreneurs, if you're an employee looking for career advice on getting ahead, I'd look elsewhere or, at least, read between the lines.

What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School
What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School

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