As I began to read this book, I was reminded of comments by then CEO Jack Welch at one of GE's annual meetings when he explained why he admired entrepreneurial companies: "For one, they communicate better. Without the din and prattle of bureaucracy, people listen as well as talk; and since there are fewer of them they generally know and understand each other. Second, small companies move faster. They know the penalties for hesitation in the marketplace. Third, in small companies, with fewer layers and less camouflage, the leaders show up very clearly on the screen. Their performance and its impact are clear to everyone. And, finally, smaller companies waste less. They spend less time in endless reviews and approvals and politics and paper drills. They have fewer people; therefore they can only do the important things. Their people are free to direct their energy and attention toward the marketplace rather than fighting bureaucracy."
Although there is a great deal of valuable material in this book for those who are planning to launch a new company or have only recently done so, what Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham provide can also be of substantial value to all other executives who also wish to establish and then sustain the kind of a company that Welch describes. Their choice of a first-person narrator is a wise one because it ensures an immediate and personal rapport with the reader. Presumably the voice is Brodsky's. but those who have read Burlingham's Small Giants will immediately realize that Brodsky speaks for both of them. It should also be noted that Brodsky launched seven successful start-ups and now provides a monthly column, "Street Smarts," in Inc. magazine.
They are impiricists whose insights are based a wealth of real-world experience; they are also pragmatists who understand what works...and what doesn't...in the contemporary business world. The "toolbox" metaphor is especially appropriate because the reader will find in this single source just about all they need to achieve and then sustain success. For example, in the first two chapters, Brodsky and Burlingham explain how to
Make the right decisions
Manage cash flow properly
Balance the sales mentality with the business mentality
Anticipate and then prepare for changes with analytics
Be resilient when countering failure and learn from it
Identify root cause rather than respond only to symptoms
Balance focus and discipline with resiliency
Recognize answers and solutions with peripheral vision
Then in Chapters Nine and Fourteen, Brodsky and Burlingham explain how to
Build relationships that retain your most profitable customers
Help those customers to become "smarter buyers" by understanding your business
Treat long-time customers like new prospects so they won't feel taken for granted
Allocate sufficient time for face-time with customers
Select salespeople who will be appropriate representatives of the company
Determine criteria for determining who should not be hired to sell
Compensate salespeople to avoid internal competition and division
Involve all other employees as an extended sales force
My references to "how to" are deliberate because all of Brodsky and Burlingham's suggestions and recommendations throughout their lively narrative are results-driven. They also explain various "how not to's" so that the reader can avoid unfavorable results. (As noted in the Introduction, "A smart person learns from his or her mistakes. A wise person learns from other people's mistakes.") In this context, I am reminded of what Peter Drucker said in a Harvard Business Review article in 1963: "There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all."
To repeat, this book will be of great value of those preparing to launch a new company or have only recently done so. It will also help an owner/CEO of a small company that is currently struggling to survive, especially given recent developments. But it will also be of substantial value to other executives who are under many of the same pressure to produce more and better (fill in the blank) in less time and at a lower cost, to retain both valued workers and valued customers, and meanwhile to be well-prepared to respond effectively to inevitable changes in the given competitive marketplace. Over a period of several decades, Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham have acquired the "street smarts" needed to cope with these pressures, and share them in this book. It is a brilliant achievement for which I congratulate them. Now it is up to their readers to absorb and digest the material, then apply what has been learned with both passion and determination. The choice is theirs.