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A CEO’s Secrets of Power

Recently I was asked to be on a panel at the local university about the topic “What’s it like to be a CEO?” Members of the panel included the chairman of a technology company with a market cap of over $250 million, a woman who sold her thermoplastic start-up last year for multi-millions and just founded a new company to develop improved rechargeable batteries, the head of a biotech firm that is developing proprietary stem cell based therapies targeted for the treatment of ischemia, and me, President of Funny Times. The audience was filled with the kind of students I had never come across when I was in college struggling to get my B.A. in General Studies: graduate business majors dressed in suits and ties, with clipboards and briefcases, looking for all the world like the masters of the universe they intended to someday be. Here are some of the secrets of power I might have shared with them, if they had bothered to ask me any questions:

Before you can conquer the world, you must first figure out how to get your children to go to school.

For me the most difficult part in becoming a successful CEO has been to get up super-early every morning, in order to allow enough time to rouse, prod, cajole, coerce, beg, and bribe my children to get up and go to school. I recommend that anyone who wants to be a CEO be required to take at least a one semester course where they are forced to live with two or three elementary school age kids, and see if they can successfully wash, dress, feed, organize, motivate, lunch pack, crisis solve (and there’s guaranteed to be some crisis EVERY morning), get them out the door and still make their 9 am Strategic Planning seminar. If you have the mettle to successfully pass this test (and make sure that the kids pass all their tests), then you might have what it takes to control the markets in Europe or China. And believe me, China doesn’t scream half as loud as a five-year-old who doesn’t want to go to school.

Your employees know more than you do, they’re just afraid to tell you.

Whenever there is a really bad problem, the boss is the last person to know. But this is usually for the best because if he knew he’d just freak out, and find a way to delay coming up with a workable solution. Ninety-five percent of all business disasters get solved before the boss is any the wiser. The remaining 5 percent are probably unsolvable, but working on them makes us bosses feel as though we’re doing something important.

The customer is always right, except when he’s a real jerk.

To be successful in business you’ve got to do everything you can to keep the customer satisfied. But with some people, that’s not good enough. Maybe these few people are just not destined to be your customers. Let them be somebody else’s customers, preferably your competitors’. The more time your competition has to spend dealing with these jerks, the less time they’ll have to try to steal your nice customers.

Hire other people to do the jobs that you don’t want to do.

There are reasons why you don’t want to do some jobs. Maybe you were never any good at fixing the toilet or maybe you’ve fixed it so many times that you’d rather mop up the floor after it overflows, just to break up the monotony. When a job stops being fun, or at least interesting, it’s time to let someone else have a turn at it. You’ll be happy to do something else, and they’ll be happy to have a job.

Don’t surf the Internet until one hour after eating.

The Internet can be a dangerous place, and many people who have failed to take this warning have gotten severe cramps, or worse, were attacked by the sharks who prey on drowsy surfers.

Your loyal customers are the best ads that money can’t buy.

You want your company to be appreciated for who you really are and what you actually do, not some slick concept worked up by the minds of an ad agency. If you can fool customers with great advertising, then you wind up with customers who are fools. On the other hand, since most people don’t expect honesty in business anymore, if your company practices it, your customers will be so amazed they’ll want to tell all their friends about you.

Sometimes it’s better to lay down on the ground than fall off the ladder.

Richard Nixon once said, “A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.” And then he quit. Some people think they have to incessantly keep climbing the ladder of success, or else they’ll never attain their goals. But if your ladder isn’t properly secured and there’s a windstorm, or a special prosecutor with lots of witnesses, you may be destined to fall back to earth with a painful thud. Not everyone is destined to climb to the top. And laying on the grass staring up at the clouds can be quite a pleasant experience if you don’t fall off a rickety ladder to arrive there.

Footprints on the sands of time are not made by sitting down. And the same goes for footprints on the copy machine.

I’m not exactly sure why this is good advice, but I like saying it anyway. I’ve never actually seen footprints on our Funny Times copier, but since I have seen the kind of prints that come from sitting down, nothing would surprise me.

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