How to invest in people the way Warren Buffet invests in stocks.

I like investing. I started investing in stocks not long after I landed my first job out of college. Back then I didn’t really know what I was doing. I made mistakes. But I wasn’t afraid. I kept reading, and listening and studying investment strategy. Today I have a solid, repeatable approach. That’s because I stole my strategy from Warren Buffet. Who stole his strategy from Benjamin Graham.

I bought Graham’s book, The Intelligent Investor, because I heard it was the bible on stock investing. I boiled the 600 page book down to this headline:

‘Buy when a stock is undervalued. Sell when it is overvalued.’

This strategy has served me well. I’m always looking to get in on a good company’s bad news. When banks were collapsing because of the mortgage crisis, I bought Huntington, Fifth Third and PNC stock. When there was oil gushing in the Gulf of Mexico I bought BP. When Equifax was hacked, I was into Equifax stock. When there were diseases decimating the US chicken population I shouted, ‘Pass me a drumstick and some shares of Pilgrims Pride and Sanderson Farms!’

Investing in People

I invest in people the same way.  When people are hot, have the world by the bizzles and everyone wants to be close to them, I don’t need to be there too. I like to invest in people who have lost their jobs, hit icebergs, or are leaking oil. Those are the ones that really need to be infused with confidence and friendship. It is easy to divest when people hit all-time lows. But that’s when I like to double down.

People always rebound.

Your personal stock always rises again to reflect your true value. Which means that when you pick someone up who feels like they are sitting on the discard pile, the return on your invested time and attention truly appreciates. While you may have known things would get better for that person, they didn’t. Because when you feel like you are swirling around the toilet, it is hard to see past the very near term.

Take Away

Look for ways to invest in those that need it most. The good people, organizations, and teams that have fallen out of favor. Because the belief, support and confidence you invest  in them comes back to you in amazing ways. Oh, and if you have any undervalued stocks to pass my way, please post them in the comments section.

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The best $240 an employer ever spent on me.

My first job in advertising paid me $21,000 a year. I wasn’t sure how I was going to eat. But I was thrilled to be a professional copywriter. I was rolling in that thin dough for three months before I surged to $22,000. I was making it drizzle. Six months later I got another bump to $24,000. I bought a used Toyota 4-Runner with 175,000 miles on it.  Then, 18 months after I started my first job, my salary climbed to $30,000. Ever since then I have felt rich. Seriously.

However, none of those salary adjustments made me any more valuable to my employer.  They spent more money on me because I was good at my job. And because they underpaid for my value from the start.

The Best Investment

But as I look back at my career, there was one investment that an employer made in me that truly made me a more valuable asset to them. In April of 2000 Cramer Krasselt sent me to a seminar in Chicago on presenting creative.  It was led by Toni Louw.  It cost $240. And it made the agency more money than the salary they paid me.

At this one day seminar I learned how to see creative work from the client’s perspective. I learned about persuasion, about pre-selling and demonstration.  I learned about storytelling, about building a case and developing logical conclusions  I learned about showmanship and being a good host to clients. I learned about how to turn a passive audience into an actively engaged audience. I was hooked.  (I also learned that I could sew a rip in my pants, in a bathroom stall, in less than 5 minutes with the sewing kit I kept in my work bag.)

The timing could not have been better.  I had three years of experience. Which was enough time to know a few things and enough experience to recognize what I had previously been doing wrong. Yet I still had the majority of my career to get it right.  I soaked up the ideas and techniques like a Shop-Vac. Presenting was already one of my favorite parts of the job. But now I had a great base of theory and technique to build on.

When I got home I typed up everything I had learned, and added 2 scoops of my own personal style. Suddenly I had a game plan and a process for evaluating client-worthy creative ideas. I now knew how to present them in an effective and entertaining way. Altough the entertainment may be more Branson than Broadway.

Within two months I had the perfect opportunity to put my new skills to use. The Ski-Doo snowmobile account went up for review. Because of my passion for snowmobiling and enthusiasm for the opportunity, I was allowed to lead the creative charge for the pitch, despite the fact that I was only 26 years old.

I poured myself into the Ski-Doo pitch. Through a combination of my personal drive, my new learnings from the seminar and great teammates, we put on quite a show. Not only did we win the account, we proceeded to pitch and win the other Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) brands too. Those included Sea Doo, Evinrude and Johnson outboard motors, CanAm ATVs and the CanAm Spyder.

Pitching and business development became core strengths of mine.  And despite my early concerns, I continued to eat regularly.

Today I own my own ad agency called The Weaponry. As I think about investments to be made in my fast growing business I am reflecting on the ROI of that $240 that were invested in me.  It grew my skills and abilities. It help win new business and grow the agency substantially. It made the agency money, which made me a much more valuable resource.

It may be more fun to spend money on cappuccino machines, murals and foosball tables.  But if you want to invest your money and enjoy a huge return, invest in growing your people (this includes yourself). Make their strengths stronger. Make their breadth broader. Give them the tools to help them realize their potential.  Because money spent growing good employees will yield a greater return than any other investment you will ever make.

I’d like to hire the fly that landed in my ranch dressing.

Finding great people to improve your team is one of the greatest responsibilities of leadership. But how do we really know who to hire? I recently read that Jim Koch, Founder of Boston Beer (maker of Samuel Adams) said that each new hire must raise the overall average. But a resume only tells us part of the story. References come from people who say nice things (I always use my Grammy). And softball skills only add value between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

So you have to be prepared to recognize great talent wherever you see it. Recently I was having an excellent restaurant experience in Nashville. My family and I ate at one of our favorite restaurants near Vanderbilt (no, not Cracker Barrel). It was a nice day so we ate outside. The food and service were great. My kids behaved. But near the end of the meal a funny thing happened. A fly dive-bombed into my ranch dressing.  I was too surprised and amused to be mad at the little fella. But needless to say his appearance pulled the plug on all chicken dippin activities.

I quickly discovered that you can learn a lot about someone when they are up to their neck in dressing. The longer I watched him (I assumed he was a guy and named him Flynel Richie) the more I admired this little bugger. In fact, before I paid the bill I saw three of the most important attributes I see in great co-workers in little Flynel. So what do great teammates do that lesser teammates do not?

1. They go for what they want.

Flynel knew what he wanted. You must too. You need to know exactly what you want in your career. Write it down. Focus on it, dream about it. Whether it’s a better job, more money, or a nice crunchy crouton, set the image in your mind.  Then when you see the opportunity to make progress towards it you dive-bomb your goal like my little guy.

2. They keep on moving

Rodney Atkins had a hit country song in 2006 called, “If you’re going through Hell keep on going.” Since we were in Nashville I assume the fly had heard that song.  Because that little guy was motivated. He kept moving. Kept working. Kept pumping all six of his little multi-jointed legs. He never gave up.  And he kept making slow but steady progress.  Flynel was the kind of fly you’d want to share a foxhole with.

3. They build connections.

The thing that ultimately saved Flynel was his networking skills.  As I watched him work his way across the Great Ranch Lake he kept looking at me. Seriously. In that moment I was his only friend, his cheerleader and ultimately his lifeline.  He looked up at me as if to say, ‘Hey Sport, imagine if you were me.  Pretty rough, huh? Just a fly who saw some delicious ranch dressing he knew he wanted, went after it, and got in a little too deep. Yeah, I see you sitting there with your wife and kids. I’ve got a wife and kids. And I’d sure like to make it out of this dressing to see them again.’

So I lent him a hand. Actually, I lowered him a butter knife.  He walked on. I airlifted him out like the Ranch Dressing Coast Guard. I wiped him off.  And set him on the ground. The little guy Tebowed for a moment and then took off.

I took a moment to reflect.  I have a strong vision of what I want in my career.  I am careful not to lose my head in the dressing. And you’re not likely to find me giving up. But I sure hope I’m making personal connections strong enough to ensure that when I need help someone will lend me a butter knife.

 

 

The A-holes Rule.

I’m not a huge fan of rules.  Creative people as a species are naturally averse to them.  But if you want to develop a business with a strong culture you need some rules to guide you.

When I joined my first agency executive team our first order of business was to create some simple rules to govern the organization. Because we believed that a great organization is made of great people who enjoy working together the first rule we unanimously agreed on was the ‘No Assholes’ rule. For those not familiar with the rule, or the obviousness of the phrase, it means that your organization will not tolerate people who act like A-holes.

Preventing the A-holes from joining your team isn’t easy. Because they are on their best behavior in interviews. Sometimes we sniff them out (yeah, I said it). But often they sneak past our filters.  So as much as we try to prevent an A-hole from getting into our organizations in the first place, they get in. So now what?

You just get rid of them, right?  After all, no one likes an A-hole. Unfortunately it’s typically not that simple. Because let’s face it, there are a lot of talented A-holes. The drive, intelligence, confidence and will of a typical A-hole makes things happen. It’s common for them to make a quick impact and create immediate wins.

But that upside comes with an equally significant downside. Because A-holes are uncomfortable to be around, they drain morale and sap energy. The unfortunate reality is that when you retain an A-hole, it sends a terrible message about your values to your most valued employees. You’ll watch them drop like flies.  Among the employee your retain you’ll lose untold dollars in productivity as co-workers gather to talk about what an A-hole the A-hole is.

Of course the worst problem of all occurs when the A-hole develops a close relationship with the client.  Because then the agency has to decide whether they want to lose the valuable contributions of the A-hole and irritate or lose a client.

I recommend a proven 2-step process to handling such problem employees.  First, ask a handful of cross functional team members if they think the co-worker in question is an A-hole.  If the consensus is yes, put on your scrubs and perform the Assholectomy.

There simply is no room for the distraction, the division and the drama caused by A-holes. Accepting them tells the rest of the organization that it’s okay to be an A.  That can’t happen. Because eventually enough people will leave, or threaten to leave that you have no choice but to get rid of the jerk anyway.

After implementing the A-hole rule in the past, I’m proud to say we purged several very talented but very difficult people. And the culture, vibe, productivity  and love for the organization improved as a result. That’s why the ‘No Assholes’ rule will be printed on page one of The Perfect Agency Project handbook.