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Out of Our Minds
Tuesday, April 06, 2004 3:30 PM
The Meaning of Business
Anita Sharpe on Business

For many people around the Southeast and beyond, Mark Kaiser is the go-to guy. He has run companies ranging from $40 million to $1 billion, has twice won Forbes magazine's High Tech 50 award, has been featured in a recent book by Jim Citrin and Rick Smith, and now advises CEOs and business owners on strategy.

Over a cup of Starbucks coffee, I asked for Mark's take on the meaning of business: 'The simplest definition of business is you solve a customer's problem and create sustainable profits over time. Anyone with vision should understand the problem they're solving. The problem with business today is that people think the meaning is about building a monument to yourself. The meaning of business is having an impact on people's lives.' (A non-Enron-type impact, one hopes.)


fouroboros - 4/7/2004 6:59:24 PM
'Good design does not have to be expensive either. You just have to remember that everything you do communicates a message. Best if it is a postive one!'

Mark, does this count?


It was done, and suddenly appeared, to crystalize the evolved mission of an organization. Side benefit of framing brand and collective ambition that way? It so captured the imagination of a visiting group of CEOs, we had to make two more. Cost: $35 each desk. $60 /hr for a welder. Pride and power in purpose? Immeasurable.
John Jantsch - 4/7/2004 6:36:02 PM
I don't know, maybe I'm getting old...but I found out that the meaning of a business is to give the owner and folks that work at that business more life.

Hey, if it does that then it will help the rest of the world by accident.

Of course the problem with that is that so few businesses do that because so few people slow down enough to figure out what more life is.

It's worth a shot though, I think.
Mark Kaiser - 4/7/2004 3:17:32 PM
Good design is also good business. Showing respect for the individual -- that is, demonstrating that everyone in the organization is valuable -- is what good design is all about to me. For example, studies show that having a comfortable chair is the number one thing people value about their work space.

Making sure a new employee's first day is great starts an important trend. Ideally, as a CEO, I liked to meet and greet as many new employees on their first day as possible. I also liked each person to have their office set up, clean, equipped with the basics and ready to go. To say welcome and communicate that 'we are glad you have joined us'.

There is no magic formula, just doing a thousand things right. You can't fake it.

I also like having real glasses, plates, etc. in break rooms vs. disposables. It's environmentally friendly and 'communicates' that we are 'worth' having the good stuff.

If you have customers come to your office, good design can show them that they are important and leaves an impression that you care.

Good design does not have to be expensive either. You just have to remember that everything you do communicates a message. Best if it is a postive one!
Mark Kaiser - 4/7/2004 3:07:33 PM
It's the chance to positively impact all you named -- and it definitely impacts the bottom line. If you help a customer solve their problem they will be a repeat customer and equally important, they will tell others about their positive experience.

A postive environment for employees maximizes the performance of any work group. High performance is acheived by showing respect for the individual, giving feedback about performance and accomplishing things.

An environment where people want to work and where they feel that they can maximize their own personal success is definitely good business and can be very rewarding for both the leader and the loyal army of professionals working together toward common success.
fouroboros - 4/7/2004 2:13:36 PM
Great topic, Anita!

Jo, we do some of that too. In fact, we have on the wall here: 'Well designed spaces focus the energy and ambition of people who want to change the world.' (We wrote & (c)'d it for a contract furnishings dealer-network client we reenginnered.)

Kevin, ideally, who's in that group should be everyone who can or wants to touch your product or idea. Not necessarily in equal percentages: Companies, in my experience, should be about the people--see above ambition and energy--but 'recognizing people's worth' should happen first for the one's closest to the epicenter of the idea within your company. Shareholders must come last, but be told why, if they want to get more. Paradoxical under our 1930s era financial mindset, but true.

In a service and transformation age, giving people a larger identity and cause is the key to having them go out and aid others, no matter what your product: Elevate and arm their Inner Florence Nightingale.

Now, think about a brand that integrates that into service, space, message and mission. Heroism does wonders for balance sheets, churn and resourcefulness.
jo rabaut, asid, iida - 4/7/2004 12:29:43 PM
We design corporate spaces for a living. Mark is my favorite type of CEO/client!! He lets us push the envelope in design, but always looks to have a wonderful working environment for his employees and their needs. He wants the space to be the best it can be for them, so they can be the best they can be.
A great strategy for any CEO.
Kevin - 4/7/2004 11:37:27 AM
No question about the monument point, as Tyco and others show. Still, the question always comes up, Mark, of whether all this meaning does anything for the bottom line. When you're talking about 'people's lives,' who is in that group? Employees? Customers? Shareholders? And how much does each factor into the meaning equation?
fouroboros - 4/6/2004 5:29:40 PM
In other words, it's not about the company, it's about the customer. No arguments here. Tell your people they are the means to someone else's journey or ends--and an equally admired journey by all--and you've found a sustainable people business model. Just remember to hire someone who can keep a checkbook. And that it's not a compliment unless you buy a billboard--metaphorically speaking, of course.
Linda Pamplin - 4/6/2004 3:58:17 PM
Mr. Kaiser is the 'best of the best.' He lives by his words. Any company would do well to seek his consultation.


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