Business Thoughts

Business Thoughts10 Mar 2006 09:44 am

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Romans 12:3-8

I recently read Good to Great by Jim Collins. One of the authors observations, which was supported by case studies, was that great companies were lead by executives who were low key. Collins called these leaders, Level 5 Leaders. Rather than being “Rock Star CEO’s” like GE’s Jack Welch, or Donald Trump, these executives were focused outwardly.

It’s not that Level 5 Leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost the institution, not themselves. from

Servant Leadership is 1) finding our place in the maze, as outlined in Romans 12:6-8, and 2) realizing that the other rats in this maze are just as important as described in Romans 12:3. Rats in a Maze
Business Thoughts06 Mar 2006 09:47 am

Andrew Fastow is expected to testify today in the trial of Kenneth Lay, and Andrew Fastow. Fastow, is the ex-Enron CFO, who was the architect of the Raptors, and the dubious LJM partnerships. Fastow attempted to funnel millions in illegal profits.

“Fastow might not make the most sympathetic or believable witness because he lined his pockets,” said former prosecutor Kirby Behre, now a partner at Paul Hastings in Washington, noting some believe Fastow’s personality may turn off jurors.

I am curious to see how loudly Fastow sings. I think the Feds were so bent on getting Lay, that they gave Fastow a lighter sentence to sing. Considering what Fastow has confessed to, I wonder if he got off light.

Fastow’s credibility did come under attack late last year after newly unsealed documents in the case showed the former CFO denied being involved in a tax conspiracy with his wife. Despite the earlier denials, his wife, Lea Fastow, later pleaded guilty in the tax case while Andrew pleaded to other charges and agreed to testify against his former bosses.

Business Thoughts05 Mar 2006 08:15 pm

1When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.[a] 2For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. 1 corinthians 2:1-5

Servant Leadership is not about weakness or fear.

Servant Leadership is not the exercise of abdicating authority to employees. A leader who has been put in a position of leadership has been placed there by God.

In the scripture above, Paul describes how he comes to serve in weakness and fear, but in demonstration of the Spirit’s power. Paul in his person brings his hangups and fears, but to his audience he appears composed, confident, wise, and energetic.

When I was a kid, I loved the Wizard of Oz. In the end, the wizard is shown to be a timid man, who with microphones, smoke and curtains becomes the great and powerful Oz. Paul is the man behind the curtain, saying “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” Man behind the Curtain

Servant Leadership is a powerful transformational process. From our weakness, to his strength, to serve our employers, our employees, our customers, and our vendors.

Business Thoughts04 Mar 2006 10:36 pm

I have often described by management style as servant leadership. It sounded good, and it was something that I worked to try to live by. Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with several people who I felt were great Servant Leaders. As time goes by though, I look back on their leadership, and my own leadership and wonder if Servant Leadership, as I have defined it is really what my management style is.

I have defined Servant Leadership as the process of leading teams by serving them. That is, to emphasize the role of the team members, and to deemphasize the role of the leader. The idea of Servant Leadership is based on Jesus’s call to his disciples to service.

25Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28

Over the next days, I will share my study of Servant Leadership, and encourage all observations.

Business Thoughts01 Mar 2006 10:58 am

David Delainey, the former head of the energy services unit, said that Skilling signed off on a controversial accounting move that involved shifting losses. “There was no business purpose but to hide the loss and I knew that was not proper,” he testified. In a moment revealing Skilling’s softer side, Delainey testified that Skilling became overcome with emotion when Delainey told him that his unit was so profitable that it would give the company financial flexibility for a few quarters. “He gave me a hug,” said Delainey. from the WSJ Law Blog.

In his book Conspiracy of Fools, A True Story, Kurt Eichenwald (who is a very good business author), portrays Jeff Skilling as a ruthlessly ambitious, yet conflicted individual. On one hand, he wants to quit Enron to protect his family, yet on the other hand he is working the angles so hard and fast, that ultimately the corners become round. In Eichenwalds book, Andy Fastow is portrayed as the chief crook, while Kenneth Lay, and Skilling serve as willing and silent accomplices.

Fastow’s guilt is easy to see. It is written in checkbooks, and legal documents everywhere. Lay and Skilling’s crimes are harder to see. I have felt, that the truth to this, as is most often the case lies somewhere in the middle, and that Lay, and Skilling were complicit in the crimes. Their crimes were not written in emails, contracts or checks, but in the consience of the team they served. This testimony seems to validate this.

Business Thoughts and Encouragement28 Feb 2006 12:29 pm

Came across this christian podcast site today:
Bible Stories My Kids Like – Just what it says.

Business Thoughts27 Feb 2006 01:33 pm

Free Money Finance has a great post on being faithful with what you have. While their emphasis is on money, it is equally important in all aspects, including time.

Business Thoughts and News30 Jan 2006 10:47 am

Jury selection starts today in the trial of former Enron Executives Kenneth Lay and Jeff Skilling. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog has a full roundup of the kickoff to the trial. I have followed this case closely, as it coincided with Worldcom, where I knew people who were convicted, and where friends worked.

Make no mistake about the temptations inherent in the halls of the powerful. Million dollar CEO packages seem outrageous, but the power that these men and women yield is enormous. The money, power, and ability to significantly influence others is a powerful drug that lead many astray.

In the movie Wall Street, Michael Douglas plays a tough financial baron named Gordon Gecko who coldly declares “Greed is Good”. On the face of it, this seems plausible, even admirable. Without ambition to find new frontiers, new drugs, or new technologies, where would we be. Is ambition wrong? Does power corrupt?

Ambition is a word that I have struggled with. Certainly it would be nice to be financially comfortable, and the ability to lead others is something that is always exciting. I have been blessed with skills useful in leading teams, and helping businesses grow. My answer to the ambition dilemna came when I realized that the key idea is purpose. Why do you want to grow, to progress, to do more? It is similiar to money. The love of money is the root of all evil, not the money itself. We accept money in exchange for our services. The more valuable those services, the more money we accept. How we use that money, reflects how we viewed our service, and where our hope and future lie.
My grandmother was a school teacher, and a sweet lady, who in her last years saw her mind become clouded. She would move between lucidity, and darkness, but she would always remember to send us off with the admonition: “There’s good and there’s bad. Be Good”.

As Business Leaders, we must work to make sure that we are on the right team. The world has seen selfish leaders, who enriched their own coffers, while leaving shareholders with the bill. We cannot continue business as usual and expect different results. We must Be Good!

UPDATE: 2:40pm and Exxon announces record profits, the largest in US Corporate History.  Certainly glad to see profits being made, but I am having trouble reconciling this with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when 2 and 3 hour waits for gasoline were routine.

Business Thoughts28 Jan 2006 10:25 am

In an article in the Knoxville News Sentinel – Some Christian Retailers Left Behind (registration required), a christian retailer laments the fact that after investing a significant amount in the Left Behind book series, he was unable to compete when Wal Mart began carrying the books at a lower price. From the article:

The success of best-selling Christian titles like “The Purpose-Driven Life” and
the “Left Behind” series has unexpectedly hurt Christian bookstores by
attracting the book chains and discount retailers.

The Wal Mart effect comes to the Christian arena. Like most American’s, I have mixed emotions about Wal Mart. The great Wal of China, does offer low prices which have been tremendously helpful when we were in tight spots. Having tried to compete with Wal Mart I have seen the force of the dark side.

In 2003, part of the merchandise in my online store was card shufflers – those handy tools which automatically shuffle playing cards for you. About that time, there was a spike in poker playing, and all of a sudden my sales in card shufflers tripled. I couldnt keep the shufflers in stock. About three months later, the buying stopped cold. During a scouting trip to Wal Mart I discovered why- Wal Mart was selling a similiar shuffler for lower than my cost!

In the book “Ambient Findability” by Peter Morville, the concept of the Long Tail is discussed ( The concept was originated in a Wired Magazine article). The Long Tail is the phenomenom of how the internet makes obscure items findable. From the Wired Magazine article:

The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon’s book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles. Consider the implication… the market for books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is larger than the market for those that are.

The implication for retailers, especially Christian retailers is that findability – the ability to be recognized as “the source” for Christian life products, plus excellent customer service – the ability to go beyond answering questions and checking the customer out, are key to brand differentiation. I think this quote from the Knox News Sentinel article is right:

Bill Anderson, president and CEO of the Christian Booksellers Association, said independent retailers need to emphasize their strengths: wider selection, more knowledgeable employees and partnerships with local churches.