50 things I love in the world of business
In business, the people who endure have values that endure.
My first field of study, as a young undergraduate student in the 1970s, was business administration.
I didn't like it. Or, more to the point, I didn't feel like I fit in. My epiphany occurred in an accounting class in the early months of 1974. As best I can recall, there were about forty guys in the class—maybe one or two young women, but there weren't many female business students in those days (which, come to think of it, may be another reason I didn't take the B.B.A. option). They were all good people. But they weren't my people, or so I thought.
"I can't," I said to myself, "spend the next forty years of my life with these guys."
And so it came to be that I obtained a B.A. in Political Science from Acadia University, followed a couple of years later by a year of journalism at the University of Victoria, although I am now of the view that the very idea of educating journalists—at least via most of the vehicles currently in vogue—is preposterous.
I am very much inclined to this position, presented last year by Jonathan V. Last in the Wall Street Journal:
Instead of educating future journalists on the nuts and bolts of journalism—because let's be honest, it isn't rocket science or even carpentry—it would make more sense simply to teach them things. Facts, it turns out, are useful. Most people can write a nut graf after 30 minutes of practice, but comparatively few people can explain, say, econometrics, or fluid dynamics, or the history of the French Revolution. Aspiring journalists don't need tradecraft—they need a liberal arts education that gives them a base of mastery in actual academic subjects.
Still, my initial career decision allowed me, for the first several years anyway, to avoid the guys in my accounting class who I feared would bore me to death long before I reached middle age which, happily, I have.
Over the years my view matured and once I reached the levels of editor in chief and publisher, I realized that revenue streams, marketing options, strategic planning, human resource policy, and finance are all part of daily life and bring with them attractions to which I was once blind. Today I operate my own business, although the accounting, thank goodness, is handled by paying money to people with that particular expertise.
As a director on the board of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, I now spend a lot of time with "those guys" whom I shunned in university. They are my friends and my colleagues.
There are, however, a number of things I don't like about business. I appreciate and praise the profit motive, a sound Presbyterian work ethic, and the entrepreneurial spirit, but I don't like greed. I don't like what it does to both the avaricious and their victims. It is not pleasant to watch the covetous and how their envy destroys them. I have watched in horror as sociopaths cut a swath through otherwise happy corporate cultures.
Most of all, I am appalled by the ability of some to separate their soul from their work, as epitomized by the quite popular phrase: "It's not personal; it's just business." Forgotten by those who jovially bandy this about is that it was popularized by Marlon Brando's character Don Corleone in the film, The Godfather, based on the book by Mario Puzo. Why people think it's acceptable to adopt the values of a criminal for the business third of their lives is a question one can only hope they are prepared to answer when the time comes—as it will.
This assignment, though, is about the 50 Things I Love About Business. So here they are, in no particular order other than this is how they occurred to me:
- It is hard. The more experience I have, the more I realize that life's most meaningful experiences stem from its most difficult moments. Now, when work is hard, even frustrating, I am buoyed by that knowledge.
- When it is hard, it forces me to fall back on a personal motto that was instilled in me as a soccer player when I was young and that I hope I passed on to my children: No matter how bloody, muddy and battered, "Never Quit."
- There is great nobility of spirit to be found in endurance, which even in defeat builds the character for success. Did you ever wonder why, in a sports encounter, a team keeps playing in the final minutes even though all hope of a result might be lost? Watch a team losing 8-0 with five minutes to play. Some of the players may have lost their spirit but watch for the ones who are still giving it everything they have. I love those guys—on the field and in the office. Their spirit endures.
- It demands ingenuity and imagination.
- It doesn't work, in the long run, unless people are honest. Oh, it has its robber barons, big and small, but the people who endure are the ones with values that endure.
- It creates meaningful and rewarding jobs for people, feeding their families and enriching their lives.
- Business comes in all shapes and sizes.
- People who run businesses are often pursuing their passions, from plumbing to quilting.
- The diversity of business illustrates the diversity of beauty within each of us.
- Business builds economies which build communities.
- The very best of them exude and release the spirit of the people who work for them. They can be beautiful.
- They can understand, despite the constant of change, that good people are not a cost, but a resource.
- The people who work in business care more about people than most people believe.
- Moments of great triumph, like championships on the sports field, are extremely rare. But they do happen. Love it when they do. Embrace it.
- Business requires that people work with each other.
- When people work with each other, their respect and understanding for different perspectives grows.
- Learning respect and understanding different perspectives is hard.
- Learning hard things is rewarding.
- The development of ideas from an inkling of a kernel of a notion to a proposal, to a plan to a team and then a project.
- Building teams.
- Working together as a team.
- Finding success as a team.
- Successfully managing the most difficult problems: who gets what parking spot and issues of personal hygiene.
- Observing workplace cultures and how the good ones inevitably triumph over the narcissistic ones.
- The company of colleagues; camaraderie.
- Rags to riches stories. One of my favourites was at the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards when two men, both immigrants from different non-English speaking countries whose first jobs in Canada involved cleaning toilets were honoured for building a janitorial services company that now employs more than 4,000 Canadians from coast to coast.
- Managers who understand that their job is tough at times and refuse to hide from their responsibilities by pretending "it's just business" when they lay people off. For most people, saying "it's just business" is like saying "I know this will cause you and your family pain, but it doesn't bother me a bit." Management demands that a person perform difficult tasks that cannot be avoided. Empathizing with people at these moments is not weakness, it is strength.
- Employees who develop great ideas on their own.
- Businesses that give people credit and reward them for ideas they develop on their own.
- Businesses that grow and thrive because they foster an atmosphere of ingenuity and innovation.
- Leaders such as WRF senior fellow Jonathan Wellum who promote long- versus short-termism and the casino-ization of the stock market.
- Successful people who understand the meaning of noblesse oblige and engage in rampant philanthropic acts.
- People whose success is modest but still understand the need to engage in philanthropic acts.
- Friends and friendship.
- The emotional reward that comes from a hard day's work.
- The ability to share that emotion with colleagues and family.
- How businesses and business people engage with other companies to access needed and/or complementary skills and learn about each other.
- How one idea leads to another.
- How even an idea that doesn't work can spawn another idea that leads to something that works.
- How businesses can be the catalyst for the creation of entire cities with homes, sports teams, theatres, and churches. How a complete civic aesthetic or culture can evolve from them.
- The fact that many businesses derive from and serve human needs, whether they be the automobile, the vacuum cleaner, the light bulb or the need to fight disease and how that can make people's lives easier and relieve suffering.
- The adrenalin rush that comes from "clinching the deal" or "winning the contract."
- The way teams of people pull together in a crisis.
- Its universality. Where ever you go in the world is there is somebody selling something to somebody else and in turn buying things from people. The market, ancient and modern, is the alpha and the omega of commercial life in all languages and ethnicities.
- The art of the bargain, or working the deal. From the kasbahs of North Africa and the Middle East to the towers of Bay Street in Toronto and Wall Street in New York, there are people bargaining and bartering to get the best deal possible.
- That business is the vehicle for the expression of those special gifts that God has granted each of us. Without that expression, whether it comes through the craftsmanship of a house well-framed or the authorship of a theological thesis, we remain unfulfilled.
- How the pressures of business force us to face moral and ethical dilemmas that reveal the essence of our character to ourselves and others.
- How, when business pressures force us to ask these questions, we don't always get the answers we hoped for.
- The privilege—and it is a privilege—of serving people through leadership whether that be in a managerial capacity or through setting an example of fine workmanship.
- How business gives you a chance to show what you've been given and how after that, it's all down to you. Or so you think. In the end, as within everything else, help is there for those with the faith to seek it.