John Eckberg has been a reporter and columnist for the The Cincinnati Enquirer for 27 years. In 1997 he became a business reporter/columnist with a focus on small business issues, the workplace and careers. Eckberg also covers local retailers Federated Department Stores Inc. and The Kroger Co. In this interview, he discusses the traits he sees as common among successful entrepreneurs.
In interviewing everyone from Deepak Chopra to Donald Trump for your book, The Success Effect, what did you find separates truly pioneering, successful entrepreneurs from the rest of the eager pack?
First of all, they’re confident. People talk about balancing risk with opportunity; these people don’t even see the risk – they just know it’s a sure thing. Look at Ken Lowe, who launched HGTV and Food Network. There are probably a thousand mid-level TV executives who could have done something like that. But he did it because he knew that if there were magazine racks full of household magazines flush with advertising, then why not a cable network? Scripps invested about $48 million in that division over the course of three years before they saw any black ink. Newspaper companies are not used to investing that kind of money, so you have to wonder what that that board was thinking about two years in. Well, after it first threw black ink onto the income statement, in the next 10 years that division did $2 billion in revenues and about $700 million in profit.
These individuals all have something I call the “GO FIGURE factor”: They have Grit, they’re Observant (such as about how people shop), they’re Fun to be around, they’re Intuitive, they’re Gracious, they’re Unsatisfied (they want to do more, they want to be better), they’re incredibly Resourceful and, lastly, they’re Envisioning (they have an ability to see things the rest of us don’t).
What are your thoughts on the fact that some employment experts are worried about a lack of talent in the next 20 years? (Larry Bossidy, the former chairman and CEO of Honeywell and AlliedSignal, who you interviewed, said he thinks this notion is “a lot of baloney.”
I’m not a statistician or a demographer, so I can’t discount the studies that have come out about this. On the other hand, if you look at people between the ages of 3 and 17, that’s about 70 million Americans right now. So there’s this wave coming behind Generations X and Y that’s probably about as big as the Baby Boomers. Technology will enable those individuals to do a whole lot more with a whole lot less than you and I have been able to do.
|Although John Eckberg follows and writes about enterprises of all sizes, “the smaller businesses are the most intriguing to me, and always have been,” he says. Click here to listen to his take on the impact of a mom-and-pop gas station/restaurant just outside of Cincinnati called the Monarch Grill.
You know, [Bossidy] says that you could have asked the same question 20 years ago – generations are different, but each one comes up with its own talents and each one creates its own opportunities. You could argue, as he does, that we’re actually graduating too many people from colleges and universities, rather than too few.
It’s something that we need to work on and be concerned about, but I think that there are going to be enough people coming up through the pipeline that we’re probably going to find that this will be a non-issue 15 years from now. I kind of side with Bossidy on that one.
Which of your interview subjects in The Success Effect surprised you the most in terms of their understanding of how to translate innovation into success?
I felt that [golf coach to PGA greats] Dave Pelz really had his arms around an issue we all face, and that is the career pivot point. People’s careers are always in balance, and at some point something happens to send people off in another direction. In his case, it happened on the floor of NASA space center. He was one of 13 team leaders who helped put a guy on the moon. He said that he looked around and saw that he was never going to be as smart as the other people in this room, even though he was a very good physicist. More important than that, though, he found what he was thinking about as [the astronauts] were cavorting on the moon was, “If I hadn’t three-putted back on the fourteenth green yesterday, I would have hit a 69.” He realized then and there that he would never be satisfied as a NASA scientist, and that his true love was with golf. Here he was at arguably one of the crowning engineering achievements of our time, putting people on the moon, and he’s thinking about the round of golf he hit yesterday.
Almost immediately, he quit his job and set up a school of golf instruction, which looked at the physics of the golf swing. I’m sure his school now generates millions in revenues – Pelz has tutored PGA pros as well as 80-year-old guys who are looking to play the best game of their life when they’re 81.
But he realized that careers have pivot points, and that it’s important for people to realize when the pivot point is happening and to follow that passion. You hear that advice a lot – “follow your passion” – but it can be a hard thing to do.