Posted by Noah Alper
Innovative, cutting edge, cooperative culture, commitment to excellence, aggressively seeking to increase market share…all these attributes have defined the Toyota Motor Company for the 45 years since they first entered the US marketplace in 1965. And then the headline in the NY Times yesterday, “Toyota’s Slow Awakening to a Deadly Problem.”
An accelerator defect has caused deaths and near deaths since 2002, and resulted in over 2000 complaints, and yet it was not until last Friday that the Chairman and grandson of the founder, Akio Toyoda, finally publicly stated that he was “deeply sorry” for the problem and resulting recalls. Other senior management formally apologized and expressed confidence that the solution to the problem is imminent. But as of today there is still no conclusive evidence that a solution has been found. Remember, this is eight years since the problem was first identified. How can an industry leader permit this lax attitude, especially since Toyota’s reputation was built on quality? For that matter how could General Motors allow Toyota to out-do them in their own back yard in the first place?
My answer? Act as if you have competition breathing down your back despite how well the business is doing, and make sure to stay true to core values. ”Watch your back” should be emblazoned on every company’s walls, because sooner or later in a free market economy, a competitor will be there to challenge a successful enterprise, and only a “hungry” company will be able to hold their own.
Fast forward to this afternoon. I was invited to give a talk at Google’s main campus in Mountain View, California. Campus is an apt term for the facility. Lap pools, beach volleyball, high-end food courts, and 24-hour access only begin to describe the experience. All they needed was a raucous fraternity house to really feel like a college campus!
The employees who worked there were even more exciting than the physical plant. They were universally “up,” stimulated, and excited about their work and their workplace. I was told that engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their work time on something independent, new and exciting. Working collaboratively, not being satisfied with “good” but working for “great,” constantly staying ahead of the game (think Google phones), and thus maintaining superiority.
So when does Google turn into Toyota?
When they take their eye off the ball, rest on their laurels, and not want to publicly admit when they screw up, and take full charge of the situation. Just like people, there are lifecycles to businesses. With the wide-eyed youthful energy and excitement that the 20-somethings bring to the 10 year-old Google enterprise, presumably there are many years to go before approaching the complacency of a middle age “success” story.
2.5.10 at 7:01 pm | Innovative, cutting edge, cooperative culture,. . .
12.11.09 at 3:30 pm |
11.25.09 at 12:54 pm | It all started on a warm spring afternoon in. . .
11.6.09 at 6:57 pm | While recently on tour with my book Business. . .
10.30.09 at 2:20 pm | When I told a Detroit native that I was invited. . .
10.26.09 at 2:56 pm | Q: I am out of work with no job prospects on the. . .
December 11, 2009 | 3:30 pm
Posted by Noah Alper
Recently I came across an article in the Economist entitled “The rot spreads.”
The article chronicled the rise of corporate crime in recent years, especially this year due to the recession. It also noted that economic crimes of all sorts were “markedly more common” in firms that made a lot of use of performance based pay.
What is the lesson here? Excessive reliance on performance based pay breeds a culture of self-centeredness and a heightened temptation toward dishonesty. Individual Incentives are important, but teamwork and morale are more important to business success.
That is a lesson we should have learned from the Japanese auto industry and from common sense….years ago.
As we move towards the new decade, let’s hope teamwork will slowly replace me, me, me.
November 25, 2009 | 12:54 pm
Posted by Noah Alper
It all started on a warm spring afternoon in Manhattan. Dressed in my finest new linen suit, I showed up at the “Meet the Author” event held annually by the National Jewish Book Council (NJBC). This event runs over three nights, and brings 50 authors per night together with 200 event planners from JCC’s and synagogues across the country. Each author has exactly 2 minutes to present their new book, and after all 50 presentations, there is a “Meet Market” held over a catered kosher dinner.
It is like speed dating on steroids. Authors run around saying, “I’d just love to come to your city,” and the event planners try to assess the reception these authors and their books would receive at their “home” during Jewish Book Month (November). Strategically arranged to precede Chanukah, Jewish Book Fairs draw a large and enthusiastic crowd. The smaller venues bring in many lesser known authors, while the larger ones have the means to bring in “celebrities” such as Alan Dershowitz, Amos Oz, Shmuely Boteach, and Joseph Telushkin.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to nine cities, and last week alone went to four of them. San Diego was the first port of call. Our San Diego JCC hosts couldn’t have been nicer, and that legendary So. Cal. “friendly” was in full force. The palm trees were swaying and although I followed Larry King, there was a large crowd in the library for my talk. Afterwards, the stunning atrium was filled with books of presenting authors, and a large assortment of other Jewish books as well.
The following day it was off to Denver, where we were picked up and dropped off in SUV’s, the standard fare for snow country. That evening, we were treated to dinner at the home of a philanthropic couple who were involved with Jewish Day Schools in Denver. Our marvelous hosts had connections in two competing schools and had invited folks active in both for an evening of informative information sharing focusing on my input as founding president of the Jewish Community High School in San Francisco. I was blown away by the willingness of everyone to brainstorm, cooperate, and share, all in the name of mutual cooperation and individual improvement. Questions of governance in an era of scarcity, and staying true to core principles while accommodating fiscal responsibility were openly and honestly explored
After my breakfast talk—complete with bagels—at the Denver JCC, and a short workout, it was off to Cherry Hill, NJ for another 7:30 am breakfast talk the following day. NJ was colder, crisper, and faster. East coasters need to think, act, and do, for the weather can change at any moment, and you’ve got to stay ahead of it. Philly twangs were ever present in this suburb of the city of brotherly love.
My talk at the Cherry Hill JCC was billed not only as part of their Jewish Book Week, but also as part of their monthly business roundtable. Questions were asked about entrepreneurship in a time of recession, and how to make “lemonade from lemons.” Before leaving for Boston, we were graciously shown around some important sites of historic Philadelphia by our charming JCC volunteer hosts. A memorable spot was Betsy Ross’ house, which explained how she was not only the maker of the first flag, but also a single mother and successful entrepreneur. Not bad for a woman in 1775!
Last stop (for now), New England, my birthplace. It’s comforting to be where everyone sounds like you! I was greeted warmly in the seaside suburb of Marblehead, home to the JCC of the North Shore. There were folks in the audience who knew my father’s family business, which had ceased to exist 15 years ago. There was a brisk business at the signing table which resulted in my selling out of books, a first for me.
Despite the recession, it seems people are thirsty for inspiration. Jewish Book Month was heavily populated in all four cities I visited. People were pouring over the books, buzzing about the latest speaker, and excited to be able to purchase a signed copy of a featured speaker’s latest work.
The NJBC does amazing work, although invisible to many outside of their orbit. The communities that are part of it are truly indebted to them. Keeping Jewish book culture alive is a daunting task in the age of the internet, Tivo and Kindle. The communities I visited, and the volunteers I connected with could not have been more gracious. I was given celebrity status, and it was clear to me that the people of the Jewish Book Fair intended to perpetuate our preeminence in the book business for at least another 5770 years to come, despite what the electrical engineers throw at us!
November 6, 2009 | 6:57 pm
Posted by Noah Alper
While recently on tour with my book Business Mensch, I was invited to speak as part of UJA-Federation of New York’s CONNECT TO CARE Economic Response Initiative in Westchester County. Geographically situated between New York City and New England, Westchester has touches of both. It has the high energy and pace of New York City along with the leafy traditionalism of New England. While there are certainly pockets of poverty, it is rated as the #7 wealthiest county in the nation with an average per capita income of $74,878.
The event I went to was not a major donor event. There were no limousines parked outside. It was a “meet and greet” event for people out of work, about to be out of work, in transition, or underemployed. I was there to provide inspiration and some useful business tips. I hope I was able to provide both, but I believe I was given a lot more than they were. I was given a glimpse into how communities, in this case the New York Jewish Community, is handling the current economic crisis, by connecting with people, and trying to help each other out.
During the opening remarks the speakers talked about the Connect to Care Program. The audience heard how the Federation was making employment counselors, insurance consultants, financial planners, and psychological services available at no charge. They were told how 33 people had already been put back to work by this new program, and how this was the first in a series of get-togethers to help folks network with each other.
The energy in the room was high, fueled by a fabulous little buffet, complete with a wine tasting- -all donated by concerned and civic minded vendors.
As I looked out at the scene I was taken back 100 years to the gritty world of the Lower East Side, a mere 30 minute drive from where we were that night. At the turn of the 20th century, with hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants pouring into New York, what did the community do? Help the newcomers find jobs by what else: “Networking.” When Moshe got off the boat from Minsk, who was going to find him a job, he was a tailor in the old country? The Jewish Community. When Baruch just came from Vilna not speaking much English, but he had a head for numbers, who helped him out? The Jewish Community. And it was the same with the Italians, the Irish, etc., as their communities helped them find employment.
What the immigrants did for their own in 1909, they were doing again in 2009. Helping each other, and helping themselves at the same time. Is this the beginning of the new old days, or the end to the new breed of greed? Let’s hope it’s both!
October 30, 2009 | 2:20 pm
Posted by Noah Alper
When I told a Detroit native that I was invited to speak at two very different venues there he woefully commented, “America is in a recession…but Detroit is in a depression.” With this thought in mind, I landed at Detroit Metropolitan Airport last Thursday, I was surprised to see the signs were in English and Japanese, no doubt a result of the influence of that country on the American car industry. It was not too many years ago that even driving a foreign car in Detroit could get you a cracked windshield.
My first engagement was at a Sisterhood Dinner in Southfield, Mi at the Shaare Zedeck Synagogue. It was the largest synagogue I have ever visited. It was built in another era—during High Holidays the sanctuary opens up and seats 3000. I was treated to a delicious dinner in the grand ballroom and was ensconced in a mood of warmth and cooperation. One hundred women attended this gala event, which kicked off their fall social season.
After dinner and my speech, I was delivered back to my hotel, The Motor City Casino. A huge old bakery had been converted into a Las Vegas style hotel and casino. Glitzy, and showy with loud Motown music bravely reminiscing a brighter day.
The following morning I attended the E2 Entrepreneur Conference sponsored by the “Tech Town” initiative at Wayne State University, located close to the Casino. On the way there, I witnessed vast tracts of land that were empty, and rows of beautiful Victorians, most of which were boarded up. The conference itself was anything but “boarded up”—300 plus aspiring entrepreneurs and small business people came to learn about “Developing the Right Entrepreneurial Team.” and to network with each other.
Thomas J. Murphy, former mayor of Pittsburgh, gave the inspiring keynote presentation. Under his leadership, Pittsburgh rose out of the ashes of the defunct American steel industry to be re-invigorated, with a diversified high tech economy including many, many new redevelopment and educational initiatives, which were realized.
High points from Mayor Murphy’s speech included
Education is key. Pittsburgh went from # 80 to # 2 in high school diplomas per capita for major American cities
Eliminate symbols of decay
Eisenhower funded the Interstate highway system by means of a very controversial gas tax. Where would America be had we not built that system?
In 2009, why do Europe and China have far-reaching high speed rail systems and we don’t?
There needs to be a community will to change, and a decision made whether to manage decline, or envision the future. Many are in love with process at the expense of results. Detroit was built on innovation. There is a legacy of quality here. We must eliminate the disease of “it’ll do”.
After lunch I toured an Entrepreneurial “Boot Camp” called Bizdom U. (www.bizdom.com) Started and initially funded by Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans, 20 fledgling “wannapreneurials” receive four month, real life in-depth training, a living stipend and a chance to present their idea to a panel. If accepted, they are granted up to 50K in start-up seed money. In turn, if the business succeeds, Bizdom receives a cut of the profits (as well as the capital invested to fund ongoing operational expenses for the school.) One caveat—the businesses must be established in the City of Detroit.
Towards the end of the day, I gave my talk on “How Doing ‘Good’ is Good for Business,” and gave examples from my experience running Noah’s Bagels. For example, our employee turnover rate was roughly half of the industry standard because of our “family” atmosphere, and support of individualism.
The last speaker was Rick Inatone, Managing Director of Sterling Partners, a Venture Capital Group with $4 billion under management, and named by Inc. magazine as one of America’s leading businesspeople. Rick’s basic thesis was that the corporate culture of a company was the key determinant to its success. He emphasized the team approach, and that an “honesty mirror” was important. . He stressed that a culture of personal humility and professional will were essential, and that empowering employees to help fix defects, would lead to a continuous improvement loop. Rick, of Japanese descent, described growing up in Detroit in the fifties. His mother and father were interned during WW II, and were “sponsored” and relocated from Bakersfield to Detroit. His mother worked as a domestic, and a minister took in his father. His parents met at Wayne State and Rick grew up on the hardscrabble streets a stone’s throw from my hotel.
So this is Detroit, this is America, where a Japanese American can rise to the top of the heap, and where Toyotas are on their way to replacing Fords and Chevys. This is Detroit, where an articulate middle-aged Jewish engineer described how he was laid off and trying to re-invent himself as a consultant. That he and his family had always supported the local food bank, but that now he was, unfortunately, a client. This is Detroit, where a woman recently went back to work so that her salary could pay for the groceries for the family (good news), but that her husband (who worked in real estate) had found his business dry up to the point of non-existence, and collectively they were not sure where they were going to wind up. (bad news)
What is the answer to our current economic woes? To build on the past, but look to the future, to establish a culture of cooperation, for decaying cities to be brave enough to create a vision. For those with resources to invest in others, to take a chance, so that everyone, including themselves will benefit. I learned in Detroit that the only way out of our national economic morass is to look at the problem as a team effort, to believe in that “bright shiny day,” and to take risks to get there.
October 26, 2009 | 2:56 pm
Posted by Noah Alper
Q: I am out of work with no job prospects on the horizon. Is this a good time for me to start my own business??
A): You should not consider starting your own business if you don’t have a great idea, and the willingness to work much harder to make it happen than you would at a 9-5 job . If you do have a great idea, and the “intestinal fortitude” to see the idea through to fruition; access all of your resources, go in front of your personal “honesty mirror” and ask yourself whether the risk involved is worth the potential reward. In today’s economy, many jobs aren’t secure and therefore entrepreneurial activity is a less risky option than it used to be.