Squirrels, Boats, and Thoroughbreds

Squirrels, Boats, and Thoroughbreds

by Jamie Gerdsen


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Squirrels, Boats, and Thoroughbreds by Jamie Gerdsen

In this lively and irreverent book, Jamie Gerdsen presents hard-learned lessons for inspiring innovation in traditional industries, such as manufacturing or his own heating, cooling, and plumbing company. Through personal stories of trial and error and eventual triumph over the roadblocks to change, you'll discover how to embrace and foster innovation in your own organization. Discussions include hiring, employee motivation, professional focus, coaching, the business cycle, and work-life balance.

In traditional industries, you might find more dogs than squirrels, more thoroughbreds than quarter horses. A leader's first instinct might be to work himself into a stupor trying to manage all of the tasks required to make change stick. But with Gerdsen's guidance and relatable tales, you'll see how to get everyone rowing in the same direction to pull the company forward together.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781938416316
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group, LLC
Publication date: 06/04/2013
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.53(d)

Read an Excerpt

Squirrels, Boats, and Thoroughbreds



River Grove Books

Copyright © 2013 Jamie Gerdsen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-938416-31-6



Call to Action

It was a doozy of a wake-up call.

I was working in sales at a Tampa-based telecommunications company. My boss—a nice guy who had been with the company only a few months and had just relocated his family from the Northeast—was fired by fax. That's right, by fax. Can you believe that? No spanking session in the corner office. No obligatory sit-down session with HR. No "Sorry it didn't work out," "The company has hit a rough patch," or "We're consolidating divisions and there wasn't a spot for you."

Just poof. You're gone.

I'd joined this company when it was a start-up and witnessed its transformation to a corporation interested only in maximizing income. It was sort of the corporate version of Jekyll turning into Hyde. It was no longer a culture in which I wanted to work. If they would fire my boss by fax, they could fire me the same way.

I left that very day.

That was the first smart thing I did. The second was to go to work with my dad at Apollo Heating and Air Conditioning.

Not that everybody at Apollo was pleased to learn I'd be joining the company. When I showed up that first day, nobody liked me. In fact, one staffer actually said, "It's over. In five years, the place will be out of business."

I know what you're thinking—as the son of the owner—I'd probably been given some cushy job. Say VP of Marketing or Executive Vice President with a starting salary in the low six figures. Well, you'd be wrong.

I wanted to work with my dad because we'd always had a great relationship. But I didn't want to live off my dad. I wanted to make it on my own. So I started as a sales guy totally on commission. I only earned when I sold.

Some people told me that was crazy. I like to think it was the third smart thing I did: I gave myself adversity to overcome knowing that I'd work harder rowing against the current.

It worked. I worked, like the proverbial government mule. I had a half-million dollars more in sales than the next leading salesman. I sold things the other salesmen couldn't. I beat every sales quota on Apollo's books. I had to. I had a family to support.

About that five years and the company will be history comment: It's now been ten years and the company is thriving. I give my dad much of the credit for that. But I give myself a little, too. I bought the company from him three years ago, and since then we've grown exponentially.

It's interesting to me that all you hear these days in the way of business success stories are ones about dot com start-ups, e-tailers, or social media outlets. But there's success to be had with more traditional businesses. Like mine. And potentially yours.

What I had to do—and what you'll have to do if you're in charge of leading a traditional business—is separate sound thinking from conventional thinking. One leads to success. The other merely continues the status quo. This book endeavors to move you into the realm of sound thinkers.

You see, much of the advice I received as a young entrepreneur was conventional. I learned the hard way that conventional thinking seldom produces results. It was only after I shifted to sound thinking that Apollo began its run of exponential growth.

"Smart is the new rich," a leading financial pundit announced the other night on his syndicated TV show. I believe him. I'm not rich; not yet at least. But I'm going to be. Rowing against the current smartened me up. What I learned, I'm happy to share. My hope is that this book will make you smarter, and if the pundit is right, that's going to make you richer.


What Success Feels Like

Most businesspeople don't know what success feels like. They oft en describe success as making a pot of money, enough to buy all sorts of fancy adult toys. To many, nothing says success like a yellow Lamborghini parked in his or her reserved CEO space. Other less-materialistic executives describe success as a destination, the end of a hard-fought journey. They say, "When I get there, I'll know it."

I was fortunate. I got a taste of success at a very early age. And perhaps because no one expected me to achieve it, it tasted all that much sweeter.

As a child, I was diagnosed with a learning disability. Maybe I had one. Maybe I didn't. Either way, school never came easily to me. But just being labeled with something like that affects you. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fact that I was big for my age only compounded the problem. It snowballed. Big and dumb.

During my freshman year in high school I discovered competitive rowing, and it transformed my life. I'd finally found something at which I was really good. I was part of a four-man team that competed at nationals that year. It was a little bit like the movie Hoosiers. We were the team no one expected to do anything, and yet we finished a respectable fourth. I was hooked.

My sophomore year, we had a new coach and better equipment—an eight-man rowing shell. Practices were physically draining. I worked harder than I'd ever worked in my life. By nationals, the team was strong and in sync.

Nationals that year were in Indianapolis, a place I hadn't rowed before. During the heats, we did not have good rows, and our coach called us out on it. He knew we all thought we were just a small-town team and that we might not belong on the national stage. He changed all that the night before the final.

He had us visualize the race second by second, minute by minute. The race itself would last a mere six minutes, but during the visualization process, he took us from launch to finish. He had us start by visualizing putting our hands on the boat in preparation for launch, then the warm-ups, and finally the sprint from the starting line to the finish.

On race day, the events up to the start were just how we visualized them. As we pulled up to the start, my heart felt like it was going to come through my chest. We sat, waiting, for a long moment of pin-drop silence. Boom the 2,000-meter race was on. At the 1,000-meter point we were in fifth place. My hopes of winning were fading quickly until our coxswain called a "power 20." That's twenty strokes as hard as you can do them. I closed my eyes and lost myself in putting everything I had into each stroke. With about 200 meters to go, I opening my eyes as the coxswain called out twenty strokes to the finish.

We won the USRowing Youth National Championship by four seconds. It was a glorious feeling, my first taste of success. And, oh, how I savored it.

Many times during the early days at Apollo I called on that experience for motivation.

As a commission sales guy, I was driving from customer home to customer home in my 1991 burgundy Saturn with its beige interior and over 130,000 miles on the odometer. I'd finish the call, only to find my car—parked in the prospect's driveway—had a dead battery. How embarrassing to have to go back, ring the doorbell, and ask the prospect for a jump. Ugh. I took comfort that this was like rowing practice in the rain. The tougher it goes, the stronger it makes you.

Just like rowing, I committed totally to selling. No distractions. No slacking off. I ran my calls, spending as much time as needed to make sure a prospect felt good about Apollo. I returned after the installation to make sure prospects—now customers—were happy with the work. If they weren't, I made sure it was made right.

I worked constantly to make the installers and the service techs know we were teammates. I wanted to make them the best they could be, because I knew that would help me be successful.

And last, I applied my own visualization. I pictured myself being successful at sales, and I began envisioning what my next steps at Apollo might be.

Success, I discovered, can have many facets. When I first arrived at Apollo, success was earning enough in commissions to put food on the table. (I used to jokingly say I could starve with the best of them.) When my sales efforts took off, success became understanding the intricate runnings of the business, and still later, success became putting the new leadership team in place.

My point is that success changes. It's like a video game. You reach one level only to realize you have a new challenge in reaching the next. Savor each level as you complete it, and relish the challenge of the next. Never become satisfied. That's the kiss of death.

I had a friend who was driven to make his company the premier one in his region. He worked tirelessly. Did whatever it took. Made the investment back in the company to fund growth.

Over a period of five years, he did it. In fact, he did it so well his trade association honored him with a dinner and big plaque of achievement. In my mind I can still see him holding it high over his head and grinning. It was the beginning of the end.

He'd tasted success. He'd reached his goal. Unfortunately, because he didn't have other goals and never adjusted his goal upward, his company began to wither away. Within three years, it was a shell of its former self. Only the plaque remained as a reminder of the glory days.

This doesn't have to happen. As you grow, set new goals. Think both vertically and horizontally. You can grow your core business—vertical growth. Or you can add ancillary businesses—horizontal growth—that allow you to diversify and potentially extend into new markets.

Consumer goods companies, like Procter & Gamble, are constantly readjusting their portfolios and adding line extensions to their most profitable brands. We can all learn from what companies like P&G, Apple, and Google are doing. They're never content. They visualize growth both vertically and horizontally, and because they're big companies, they have the resources to make that growth happen.


[] Visualize your own success. Once you have, commit it to writing so that you have a record. Journaling your thoughts will help make your visualization and subsequent ideas tangible. I've journaled the events in my life for years. I even took it a step further and have each year's written pages professionally bound together in leather.

[] Now that you've visualized success, begin to list the things you need to do to make that success a reality. This can be behavior modification, financial investment, trying something new, and so on. Make this list as complete as you possibly can.

[] Now that you have a list of actions you need to take for success, put a timetable and action plan together to make each one happen. Remember, success usually doesn't come from one big thing. It happens by doing a number of smaller things. Start by working your way down your list of action items one at a time. As you accomplish each one, give yourself a pat on the back. You've earned it. You're a step closer to success.


See Your Future

Visualization is a powerful, time-tested tool. My rowing coach was tapping into a long sports tradition of visualization to help our team realize we could win the nationals. Others use visualization, too. Here is a list of examples:

• Hitters visualize what they'll be thrown by the pitcher.

• Closers visualize the final inning and see getting that final out.

• Quarterbacks visualize where their wide receivers will be on the field and see the throw being completed.

• Business executives visualize a key meeting—noting the white knights, black knights, and shape shifters at the table—and anticipate their comments and concerns.

• Speakers visualize the room, the audience, and the podium from which they'll be orating. They see themselves confidently delivering their speech.

• Orchestra musicians visualize their performance and hear the selections being played.

• Architects visualize how buildings might look long before they ever begin to draw plans.

These days, a whole industry has grown up around visualization. There are facilitators who will assist your company in developing growth scenarios. Marketing firms offer ideation sessions. Futurists predict consumer trends and offer insight into the products and trends that will be hot in the marketplace.

So why has visualization gotten to be such a big deal? Just as individuals can use it to increase performance, businesses can use it to see their future. Think of it this way. There's a saying, "Any road will get you there if you don't know where you're going." Visualization allows your organization to know where it's going so that you find the right road to get you there.

Visualization can be one of your best competitive advantages. By visualizing how your industry is changing and what future customers will demand from it, you can position your company in the best place to satisfy those consumers.

This isn't just crystal ball gazing, either. You can use visualization to see how an added service might impact the organization, what increased staffing levels might offer, how cost cutting might impact service, how a different shop layout might speed workflow, what an added location would generate in additional customers. The list goes on and on.

How do you use visualization? You'll find it's surprisingly easy. To make the most productive use of your time, there are some guidelines you should follow:

Choose the subject of your visualization. Using ourselves as an example, we might visualize how the organization would function if we added electric to HVAC and plumbing. Make your visualization topic specific. Otherwise, you'll be blue-skying everything and anything. Setting parameters works to your benefit.

Decide who should participate in the visualization. Smaller groups work best; anything over ten people is too many. Five people make an ideal group size. Don't automatically choose the five people at the top. You'd like to have a diversity of viewpoints. I always like to have someone from sales in the group because that person is closest to the customer.

Don't be afraid to include someone from outside the company. Sometimes having an objective outside viewpoint is very advantageous. If there's a subject expert, an accountant or lawyer who would add value to the discussion, invite that person to join you. Outsiders are usually respectfully quiet at the start. Make it a point to engage them in the conversation and get them actively involved.

Consider an off-site location. This visualization is important, and if you hold it in your conference room, someone will be sticking his or her head in the door every five minutes for some reason or other that he or she deems important. Those interruptions disrupt the process and hurt productivity. Don't limit yourself in that way. Go off-site where you'll have the group's full attention.

Tell the group what you'll be doing. If the purpose of the session is to talk about what the company might look like after the addition of electric, share that in advance as the task to be accomplished. Head off any speculation as to what this is about, and don't make them guess what they'll be doing.

Leave titles at the door. If everyone is waiting to hear what the boss says before speaking, your session is doomed. Make a point of telling everyone that there is no rank in the room. Everyone is equal. All comments carry the same weight.

Assign homework prior to the visualization. You'll want to make sure the appropriate people at the table have brought all the facts and figures needed to aid your discussions. Don't be caught wanting some needed piece of information.

Designate a scribe. Paper the walls and appoint someone to capture the comments of the group on those sheets so that the group visually has the benefit of what's been said. This visual flow of the meeting will keep things moving forward and keep you from revisiting old ground.

Capture verbatims. Use a recording device to capture all comments from the group. Have this transcribed so that you have a complete written record.

Try to put your conclusions or results in visual form. Most of us are visual interpreters. By putting your results in schematic form, you have a better chance of having everyone truly understand the group's conclusions.

Have a parking lot. There will be intriguing ideas that come up but are off topic. Designate one sheet as a "parking lot." List the intriguing off-topic ideas on it for consideration at a different session. Warning: Parking lot items often get forgotten. If a particularly intriguing item comes up, don't risk losing it. Put someone in charge of scheduling a visualization to flesh out that item.

Assign follow-up. If there are areas that could use further research or study, assign tasks and have the additional information that is generated circulated to the group.

Gain consensus on what has been achieved. Don't end the meeting until there is a summation of what the group has accomplished. Make sure everyone feels his or her voice has been heard. Only then can you truly move forward as a unified group. It's important that everyone have buy-in to the final recommendations.

Remember, a visualization session is a tool. Take a hammer, for example. Properly used, you'll drive home the needed nails. But you can also smack your thumb. Visualization can give you a valuable look at the future, but it can easily turn into a bitch session. Keep it positive. Keep it on-point. And keep it tactile.

Excerpted from Squirrels, Boats, and Thoroughbreds by JAMIE GERDSEN. Copyright © 2013 by Jamie Gerdsen. Excerpted by permission of River Grove Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1 Call to Action....................     1     

2 What Success Feels Like....................     5     

3 See Your Future....................     11     

4 The Positive Power of Pull....................     17     

5 The Paradox of Leadership....................     27     

6 Capital T, Little t Talent....................     33     

7 Squirrel Versus Dog....................     41     

8 Making the Circles Concentric....................     47     

9 Is Implosion Imminent?....................     53     

10 All in the Family....................     59     

11 Mindset and Motivation....................     63     

12 The Communications Conundrum....................     69     

13 Three to Go....................     75     

14 Birth to Death: The Business Life Cycle....................     83     

15 Overwhelmed....................     89     

16 R (relationships) + or - V (value) = $ (profit)....................     97     

17 The Elephant in the Room....................     103     

18 Coaching: I'll Take the Under, Not the Over....................     111     

19 Highs and Lows....................     119     

20 Taking the Long View....................     125     

21 Inside and Outside....................     131     

22 Three Rights for Success....................     137     

23 Laws of the Jungle....................     143     

24 Do It Yourself? Or Hire an Agency?....................     149     

25 The Game Changer....................     157     

26 Rings Around the Bull's-eye....................     161     

27 Time, Talent, and Treasure....................     167     

28 Four-Dimensional Leadership....................     175     

29 The Power of Pull Redux....................     195     

About the Author....................     207     

Index....................     211     

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