Everything I Needed To Know About Business I Learned from Driving My Car

I wrote this for my company’s newsletter in 2003.  Some parts are good, others need some editing but I still thought this to be one of my better efforts from my “olden” days.

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Many of you may have read Robert Fulgham’s book All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It is a short and simple thesis that explains that there are no great mysteries to life and that we have all been taught the basic concepts in some form or fashion a long time ago.  Some of his basic concepts are:

  1. Share Everything
  2. Play Fair.
  3. Don’t hit people
  4. Put things back where you found them
  5. Clean up your own mess
  6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours
  7. Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone
  8. Wash your hands before you eat
  9. Flush
  10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you
  11. Live a balanced life
  12. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Now many times I hear employees lamenting about how they are not accountants or business analysts and therefore should not be expected to understand the nuances of the business world.  However, I would submit that you probably already know the basics, truth be told.  Therefore, I decided to plagiarize Mr. Fulgham’s approach in order to present:

Everything I Needed to Know about Business I Learned from Driving My Car

By Claire Gillian, CFO and Real Smart Person

1.  If you don’t put more gas in your car than you burn, you will come to a complete stop—Profit is the fuel that keeps a company alive, unless you work for the government, of course.  There can be no viable company if there are no profits to sustain and grow it.  Every decision we make, every action we take must be done with the profit to be earned in mind, either current or future.  We all need to be aware of the profit potential of new clients, new products as well as the risk of loss.  Likewise, keeping our costs in line with the revenue potential of the client and product is just as critical.  We should not be willing to pay as much to create a product that commands a reduced price in the market.  Therefore, good operational and accounting systems are designed to not only measure customer and product results but also to measure how efficiently you achieved those results as measured by profit.

2.  Big or small, foreign or domestic, the most critical (but most easily underestimated) features of a car are those that protect the driver –People are the most critical assets of any business.  It is a significant investment your company makes when hiring a new employee—think of all the on the job training time as well as lost revenues.  Therefore, hiring and firing should never be taken lightly.  Retaining good employees in is therefore by far the cheapest alternative to frequent hiring because of high turnover.  How do we protect our investment in people?  Certainly, fair compensation is key but so too is making the objectives and expectations of the job crystal clear as is the applicability of  impartiality and respect.

3.  Changing your oil periodically is cheaper than buying a new engine and a lot less trouble in the end–This means it is usually worthwhile to spend the extra time up front to ensure accuracy and quality than it is to correct errors later…assuming you even find them before disaster occurs.  We owe our clients a good and consistent product every time we deliver.  It also means that cutting corners or inconsistent application of our operating procedures will eventually come back to haunt us.

4.  Hitchhikers may make fun traveling companions but unless they make the car payment, you don’t owe them anything.—Similarly, customers who don’t pay aren’t your friendsno matter how good the deal seemed at the initiation, the proof in the pudding is the cash in the bank.  This principle goes hand in hand with principle #1.

5.  A car without wheels is just as useless as four tires if your objective is to get somewhere—Support personnel need producers to generate the revenues to pay the bills but producers need support personnel to handle the details that are outside of their area of expertise or that can and should be handled centrally by lower cost personnel.  It is only a well-balanced and oiled combination of the two that gets a company to its destination; one without the other is useless.

6.  The speedometer, tachometer and fuel gauge are your friends—These instruments measure performance and provide valuable feedback to let you know when you need to fill up, change gears or adjust your pace to stay within prescribed guidelines.  In the business world, performance metrics are there to drive and reinforce desired behaviors as well as highlight undesirable ones.  However, it is not enough to know simply what your metrics are vs. what they should be.  You also need to understand what actions you need to take to move your metrics in the right direction when adjustments become necessary.

7.  A bicycle that works is better than a car that does not—also known as “Substance over Form”.  When your primary objective is to arrive at a destination, better to deal with the scorn of the parking valet upon arrival than miss the party altogether.  Bottom line, use your common sense and ask yourself when challenges arise, what is the most important objective?  If the preferred mode is unavailable, seek out creative (but legal) solutions to address the “substance” of the objective and don’t become paralyzed into inactivity by the unavailability of the preferred “form”.

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