Business Wisdom You Can’t Buy

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending a small breakfast education event that had a big impact. Our group of business leaders got to hear from three Connecticut retail industry leaders: Jack Mitchell of Mitchells/Richards/Marshs, Suzanne Zarilli of Wish List, and Roxanne Coady of RJ Julia Independent Booksellers. All three lead businesses that were among the first businesses to feel the economic downturn. In the case of Mitchells/Richards/Marshs and Wish List, they sell high-end fashions (one really high-end and one casual high-end) and are based in the southwestern part of Connecticut. They were both affected by the financial industry collapse because their clients were right at the epicenter. Fairfield County is a bedroom community for many Wall Street employees. As for RJ Julia, they were already in a tough market before the collapse. As one of the last remaining successful independent book stores, they are faced with fierce competition from both larger chain store rivals and the Internet. They have managed to succeed despite difficult circumstances. The key is that they focus on their niche and execute.

I though Manufacturing was a tough market to be in, but when you hear war stories from retailers, you realize that all business is tough. Their challenges are different from ours, but no less significant. All three CEO’s spoke eloquently about their businesses. You can’t help but be motivated when you hear success stories from small business leaders. I always come away from these events with fresh ideas and a new perspective. Jack Mitchell was funny and interesting. His “heart and head” approach to management isn’t rocket science, but it is a simple mantra that you can repeat. In addition to being one of the second generation leaders of his family’s business, he is a best-selling author. Jack wrote Hug Your Customers and Hug Your People. Both books share his theme of leading with kindness.

I often seek out the counsel of business leaders like these three. At Horst Engineering, we do this within our industry on many fronts. We exchange ideas about technology, lean enterprise, and business development. Earlier this month, two peer companies allowed us to tour their plants and see some awesome manufacturing equipment. Sharing best practices is a sure way to advance your own objectives. When you gather the ideas that others have to offer, you form your own approach. In business, as in sport, you have to learn from the best if you aspire to be the best.

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