Three questions from Kerry Packer

26 05 2013

I attended an interesting conference the other day. While most of the conference alternated between content and hard-sell (which was quite tedious – and may be the subject of another posting later), there were a couple of speakers who were not there to sell anything. Of these, the best speaker by far was Mark Bouris.

Mark Bouris is the Donald Trump of Australian television’s “Celebrity Apprentice”. I don’t watch this program, but a surprisingly large number of my female friends do – apparently just to watch Mark. Fair to say he was easy on the eye – also personable, interesting and relevant. I had little knowledge of him and therefore no preconceptions or expectations, but of all the speakers, he was by far the best and most interesting.

And easy on the eye. But I digress!

Mark told one story which really stuck with me. I can’t of course recant it word for word, but have aimed for the emotional truth instead.

Mark’s first great business success was Wizard Home Loans. If you are in Australia, you will probably have heard of this company. One day his friend James Packer, son of Kerry Packer (Australia’s richest man at the time) approached him to buy 50%. Mark gave an entertaining exposition on what it was like making a deal with the Packer Empire, but eventually a deal was struck and he was summoned to the office of the great man, Kerry.

The office he described as massive, in dark manly colours and lined with expensive paintings of deer being disembowelled by hunting dogs and other aggressive hunting types of scenes. Mark approached the desk and was given a seat to sit in – which felt some inches lower than the chair that Packer – a very tall man to start with – sat in. Very 1980s power games!

Kerry, according to Mark, asked him three questions.

1. What business are you in? Mark said “mortgage industry”.

“NO” came back the answer! “You are in the hopes and dreams business. You are selling hopes and dreams in the form of homes.”

The aim of this question, according to Mark, was to get to the emotion truth of the business – and only then can you effectively connect with and sell to your audience. He went on to say that for instance a coffee-shop owner was in the business of nurturing – what could be more nurturing than giving someone warm drinks? Therefore if you are in the nurturing business, that is the atmosphere you need to create in the shop.

The second question:

2. Who are your customers? Mark said he got this one right – he knew the demographics etc.

The third question:

3. Have you ever failed in business?

According to Mark, Kerry later explained this question to him. A leader who can lead in good times is all very good – but it is easy to get people to follow you in good times. If you can get people to follow you, if you can be an effective leader in the bad times, when the business is going down the tube – then you really have good leadership skills.

Like him or loath him, Kerry Packer was a very successful businessman. I found this anecdote provided a fascinating insight into the way he thought about business and leadership.

So if you happen to have a chance to hear Mark Bouris speak – it is worthwhile. He was better than the headline speaker at the conference, Richard Branson, whose presentation was unfortunately over-controlled and free of new content.





Tough week?

2 03 2013

Perhaps it was the full moon. Maybe it was Mercury in retrograde (I don’t actually know what that means but several people told me it was this week). Or perhaps it is all just selective attention and confirmation bias.

Whatever you believe, it seems to have been a tough week for a number of my friends and colleagues.

So when the going gets tough….how do you survive, revive and keep yourself, your team and your colleagues motivated?

1. Review what happened. Is there anything to learn from it? Learn it, discuss it and move on. Blame and guilt are pointless emotions. Learn what you can then let it go.

2. Take a long term view. This is only one incident, one week. One bad week, bad decision or one unfortunate circumstance does not define who you are or what you are worth.

3. Be kind to yourself and others. Allow them to be kind to themselves. Beating yourself up doesn’t help. Sometimes you need a little quiet time to yourself, a chat with a friend, a pleasant distraction, a little treat. The important thing is to get yourself into a psychologically better place so you can move on and not let the negativity determine what happens next. Let it go.,

4. Work out what next. Also known as “getting back in the saddle”. Focus on the future, on your next step. This is not defeat, it is a temporary (transient) set-back. Resilience and persistence are your key words.

5. Conversely, know when to walk away. If the arena in which the bad thing occurred is not important….then why let it bother you? Focus on the meaningful actions, you don’t need to be 100% in all arenas.

Final thought: if the negative incidents are becoming a pattern….maybe there is a decision you need to make. You only get one life.





Let me ask you this……

23 02 2013

When I was at secondary school, there was a girl in my year called Alison. There were a lot of very clever girls in my year (it was a girls’ school so no clever boys), but Alison was acknowledged as the brightest of us all. Not only was she academically clever, she was also musical, sporty, unassuming (her parents made her ride her bike to school every day), obedient (she wore a helmet years before it became the law) and most importantly of all, nice. And as well as being very very bright, she also worked very hard. We might have liked her less if she had aced all the tests without working at it…except that she was also very nice.

Years before NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) became a “thing”, I knew about modelling – paying attention to the way others behave in order to take on qualities that you admire. And what I noticed about Alison was that she asked a lot of questions in class.

Alison’s question-asking meant a few things. Firstly, she was paying attention and understanding what was being said enough to formulate coherent questions. Secondly, she was adapting the information to make sure it “fit” into the way she thought about things. So if she was told information in one style and that style wasn’t her dominant style, she would ask questions in order to understand it from her dominant view. And thirdly, that she had a high level of curiosity, which exceeded the information she was being told.

And so I learned that asking questions was a good way of learning.

Fast forward two decades, to another question-asker. This time my boss. Now this woman taught me a lot about strategic thinking and organisational thinking. Again, the key was questions, this time questions to lead and direct people, questions that reframed the problem, and hence the way people were thinking about the problem, jump-started them in a new “track”, questions that gave people short-cut ways of memorising and understanding what they were doing at each level of strategic planning.

The key was….

1. Mission statements: WHY? (and sometimes WHAT?) (Why do we exist, what do we want to achieve / what do we do?)

2. Strategic / executive level : WHAT? (what are we doing?)

3. Operational level : How? (give that exec have told operations WHAT to do or WHAT goal to achieve, operations needs to sort out HOW they will do it / HOW they will achieve the goal.

The power of asking the right question goes further. A well-chosen and well-timed question can pull people out of analysis paralysis (what should we do, why do you want us to do that, what are the alternatives, what if we make a mistake, what are the pros and cons of each possibility, etc) and into HOW are you going to do this? This question skims over the quandary and directs thoughts to action. It can also empower people who aren’t sure if they should do something by essentially directing them to do it. Devil’s advocate questions can open up new expanses, and break down the barriers that contain thought, give permission to consider the (previously) unthinkable.

Does questioning work for you?





Hellooooooo…..is there anybody out there?

23 02 2013

A few years ago I lectured in public relations / communications. I was seeking some guest speakers from communications in various industries and decided, as an exercise, to make contact wit them via their websites.

Each of the organisations I made contact with was a fairly well known one in the local market, and included not-for-profits, educational, scientific and government organisations, each of whom had a specific communications section and a need to promote themselves.

Their websites we pretty good. They outlined who they were, their mission, what they did, and provided a range of resources and information that was well targeted to their stakeholders and audiences.

I emailed them using their general contact information on the website. And the response rate was around 10%.

So to recap – they were legitimate organisations, they had a need to communicate, they had communication staff and I was offering them an opportunity to come and speak to a group of students who might be potential users / customers / donors or volunteers.

Sometimes communications is about the basics. There is no point in a fancy campaign, social media, mega-dollars for a clever campaign if you don’t ANSWER YOUR EMAILS!





What not to do at the Office Christmas Party…

9 12 2012

purple_christmas_decorations

A timely warning and reminder.

We’ve all heard the disaster stories – some of us may have personally witnessed them, or worse, been them.

The receptionist who spent the evening picking up the (married) partners of the firm.

The ambitious young up-and-comer who got drunk and proceeded to vomit everywhere (including down himself – a memorable sight for all, including the boss).

The accountant who told her boss where to shove his job, graphically explaining her comments with finger gestures (this was a friend of mine – luckily she left to go to university and started a new career so the bridge-burning was not terminal).

The boss who decided this was the time to try out his “humorous” cross-dressing (and yes, this was a real-life example as well). Or the female coworker who decided to wear leather chaps with the buttocks cut out…..memorable to say the least!

The tales of groping, people having to be placed in taxis, nudity (worse – photocopied nudity). These are all tales of caution.

Yes, the Office Christmas Party – for some, a time to get together and relax, celebrate and commiserate over the year that was. For others, a career-limiting opportunity.

Herewith a few rules to get you through the silly season with dignity and career intact.

1. It may be a party, but it is still WORK. If you wouldn’t get drunk and make inappropriate moves on your coworkers in your work-time, don’t do it here. (If your workplace is the kind of place where you can do this anyway, then stop reading now – this is all superfluous for you.)

2. Don’t get drunk. If you must, do the work dinner then leave and go clubbing elsewhere. Meanwhile, be a demonstration of restrained appropriate alcohol consumption (or none if you don’t trust yourself).

3. Your coworkers are still your coworkers. Don’t get charged with sexual harassment. Again, if you feel the need, go somewhere else afterwards – and find someone consenting.

4. Dress appropriately. Yes, it is a relaxed social occasion….but it is still work. Flashing the flesh may not be appropriate – although the above-mentioned chaps were certainly a talking-point for a long time… (and this brings me to the next point)…

5. Look out for the cameras. Try not to have a glass in hand in every shot and ensure you look professional. Photos last longer than the joie de vivre and what might seem humorous at the time may not in January – or if it makes its way online.

6. Stay off social media. Tweeting about how bored you are, how the boss looks like an idiot in his/her santa outfit with tinsel accessories, what morons you work with, or tweeting photos of other coworkers in compromising positions – all likely to be remembered long after the day is fading in memory, and not in a good way.

But most importantly….

7. IT’s WORK! and this is your boss and work colleagues.

Don’t be a Christmas statistic.





Doing the impossible

9 06 2012


Richard Branson arrives at the British Grand Prix
photo credit: Richard Smith, licensed under Creative Commons.

“Life is a helluva lot more fun if you say yes rather than no”

My step-son and his friend have produced a musical. They wrote it, set it to music, choreographed it, sold tickets and put it on for a season in a theatre. They are 22 years old. The son of a friend of mine made a movie – full length. He is 18. Clearly no-one told these boys that this was impossible.

You might say this is the up-side of Gen Y. They see the world as full of possibilities, they understand technology and how it can be used to overcome the barriers that stop others. And luckily, they haven’t been taught what is not possible and told not to strive for the impossible.

But there have always been people who saw the opportunity instead of the barriers, took the risks, aimed for the giant goals instead of the small ones, did things that seem to be impossible, but somehow achieved them anyway.

Which brings me to Richard Branson.

Now admittedly, it was the swinging sixties in England, when youth culture suddenly took off and opportunities that didn’t really exist in the staid, respectable and conservative 1950s suddenly opened up. Youth became a market – a very lucrative market, and a market that wasn’t already dominated by established labels.

But still… what made a dyslexic student with poor grades think he could start a magazine at age 16? Or a mail-order record company at 20? Or a record company at 22?

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”

“Although my spelling is still sometimes poor, I have managed to overcome the worst of my difficulties through training myself to concentrate.”

“My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long university education that I never had – every day I’m learning something new.”

And who in their right minds thinks they’ll start an international airline to compete with the likes of British Airways and Qantas?

picture credit Richard Humphrey, licensed under Creative Commons

“What does the name Virgin mean? We are a company that likes to take on the giants. In too many businesses, these giants have had things their own way. We are going to have fun competing with them.”

“I’ve had great fun turning quite a lot of different industries on their head and making sure those industries will never be the same again, because Virgin went in and took them on.”

Yes, the answer is Richard Branson, now the 4th richest man in the UK and worth an estimated $4.2billion US. The man who brought us The Sex Pistols (arguably better known for their on-stage antics and off-stage murders than their music, although God Save the Queen has had a bit of a revival in this Jubilee year by those who want to be seen as alternative and retro at the same time) and Culture Club with the androgynous Boy George.

And along the way he has attempted world-record balloon flights around the world, bought an island, socialised with Princess Di, worked with nelson Mandela on peace projects, and been photographed in all sorts of PR stunts.

And generally, it would seem, had a lot of fun.

“Above all, you want to create something you are proud of. That’s always been my philosophy of business. I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, then I believe you are better off doing nothing.”

Have all his ventures been successes? Probably not, although if you believe the hype, you wouldn’t know it.

“I am prepared to try anything once.”

“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them.”

“You never know with these things when you’re trying something new what can happen. This is all experimental.”

“We’d love to be involved with the creation of something very special, something quite large and something quite exciting.”

Reading Branson’s autobiography, various quotes and articles that have been written about him, there are a couple of strong themes that come through.

1. fun – he does all this because he enjoys it
2. risk-taking, almost fearlessness in the business sense
3. barriers, challenges and competitors are seen as exciting, not intimidating

“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them…from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it.”

Your life is the result of the decisions you make. If you aren’t happy with the life you have, then make some other decisions. You are limited only by yourself.

That’s what Gen Y knows.

Interested in more business tales?





Career-limiting moves in social media

3 06 2012

We all know (or hopefully we know by now) about the dangers of posting inappropriate material on social media. Drunken pictures of yourself partying when you are off work sick. Abusive rants about coworkers, clients and bosses. Confidential work information. Plans to apply for other jobs or debriefs on interviews attended. Not good career moves.

Some high achievers take it to the next level however. Herewith, a celebration of the high points of career-limiting moves in social media.

Former American Airlines Employee Gailen David posted a series of videos on his blog mocking his (at the time, current) employer and in particular executives. After a disciplinary process, American Airlines terminated his employment. His blog seems to indicate that he saw himself in some sort of whistle-blowing role, saving the airline from its executives. Unsurprisingly, they saw it differently and commenced court proceedings against him for a number of issues including breach of their trademark. The latest can be found at his blog The Sky Steward. One wonders if, had he done it anonymously and without naming specific airlines, he could have been an internet comedic sensation and indeed found a new career for himself.

Rhode Island Prison Guard Matthew Lacroix created a Facebook page in his boss’ name. And you know that can’t be a good thing. As anyone who has watched CSI or any other crime show can predict, the IP address used to create the profile was quickly tracked back and once the nice people whose internet had been used to create the profile mentioned that coincidentally there was in fact a prison guard living next door….well it didn’t take long for the dots to be connected. Can’t imagine relations between Lacroix and his boss were any improved by the incident, and in fact, he was arrested. (No news on his fate as yet)

Earlier this year, a political staffer in Alberta Canada resigned after a tweeting a personal comment about an electoral opponent of her employer. The tweet in question read:

“If @ElectDanielle likes young and growing families so much, why doesn’t she have children of her own? #wrp family pack = insincere”

Now you probably know where this is going. “ElectDanielle” is in fact Danielle Smith, leader of the Alberta Wildrose party, and she revealed that she and her husband had struggled with infertility and had accepted that they were not going to be able to have children. The political staffer had gone too far and brought personal information into the public and political domain. And from a political standpoint, may have attracted a sympathy vote for her opponent. The staffer’s employer rapidly released a statement apologising and announcing that the staffer in question had resigned and was sorry for her actions. Which her tweet followers could tell from the follow-up tweet:

“Fine. I apologize”

And this one is quite stunning. A first year graduate is suing his former employer “big-law” firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman – for $77m dollars severance claiming he was fired because he exhibited intelligence and creativity. Now, I don’t know the merit of the case – but he must be very hopeful of the large settlement because now that there is so much all over the internet about him, he may find it difficult to get another job in the industry.

And finally – show and tell time! Even quitting via social media can be a career-limiting move. I think of this one as Jenny vs Spencer: no-one wins.


Want more? Have a look at page 2.1.7 onwards in this document, Death by Facebook, for some more salient lessons on how to avoid career-limiting social media moves, or What’s your Social Media Policy? for more ideas on what to avoid.