Founder & CEO of Atlas Surgical Group, the largest privately owned ambulatory surgery centers group in the Midwest.
You did everything right. You followed all the lists, bullet point by bullet point. You learned each point. You became each one. You polished all of your traits and qualities. You read and reread all the articles about entrepreneurship. As gospel, you double-checked and made certain you did the things that all of those lists have in common:
• You had drive and ambition — you were goal-oriented and showed resolve along the way to your goals.
• You were a learner — a quick and proactive one, learning from others and from your own mistakes.
• You were self-motivated — disciplined, organized and willing to persevere.
• You were a risk-taker and thrived on it.
• You were decisive, but also accountable and responsible.
• You were willing to work long hours, even for free — the first one there and the last to leave.
• You weren’t afraid of failure — or of trying again and again.
Yet, there are other things you can do to improve your outcomes as an entrepreneur. The reality is that you can be the “list” king or queen and still end up closing down your entrepreneurial venture. There is more to the story to ensure that you profit.
The Other Things
Is great profit compatible with being a great human being? While it’s compatible with being a great entrepreneur, the have-nots have traditionally disdained the haves. You may have a profit-making business, but do you have a profit-making personality — a quality persona that makes people want to do business with you?
While it’s great to be a risk-taker, decisive, driven, self-motivated and all of the other checked-off boxes, just how long can you profit if people don’t like your “intimate brand?”
There have been occasions in which companies have chosen to be identified with a person — not a spokesperson, but a person who is the company.
“Brand personification” is when someone or something personifies the company, such as the Geico gecko. In other words, it’s a projective technique leading people to think about brands as if they were people (or friendly talking lizards). Conversely, with “intimate branding,” the person customers accept as being the company actually equates to you.
If customers alter how they think about your business by feeling like they’re dealing with you or this person who has become the company, then the intimate branding succeeded. Lee Iacocca of Chrysler, Steve Jobs of Apple, Walt Disney and Dave Thomas of Wendy’s have all stepped into the limelight to be their company.
When the intimate brand works, the customer wants to do business with the company because they like and/or respect the person put upfront as the company. They have become fans because of who that person is and, by then, it’s become their company now. They will propagate it, defend it and support it by purchasing its items.
How To Be Likeable As A Person And As An Intimate Brand
You can’t fake it. Steve Jobs was innovative, and his stage presence said just that, from the rebel-like jeans he wore in lieu of a coat and tie to the aesthetic sense of the product he held up. His fans hung on the edge of their seats for the next announcement event, which was often nothing more than a commercial.
Dave Thomas was the proverbial nice guy, naming his restaurant chain after his daughter. You can stop just there and want to choose a burger from Wendy’s next time you decide on fast food. Lee Iacocca was sincere and just like one of us, but he was also leaning over to confide in you, and you listened. Walt Disney headed a company of fun and children and magic. It didn’t hurt, either, that he had a castle to share the limelight of his brand.
Those Other Things: The List You’ll Never See
You’re expected to have ambition, be innovative and relentlessly hard-working. What’s not expected, typically, is having the leadership capabilities that make people want to like you and everything you do.
1. The lesson here is that you must be likable if you want people to also like your company. You can’t have a reputation as a tough boss or as someone who scorns inclusivity, diversity or, well, actually, anything.
2. You must find a way to swim with all the other capitalists without seeming elitist or preying on people. In other words, you must either seem anti-capitalist or quasi-capitalist, or as a leader who puts people ahead of sales. Study the people who did just that and still made tons of sales. It’s not impossible.
3. You have to be a good person. Bad press will catch up with you if you do bad things. Keep your personal life private, only allowing your great acts of humanity and compassion to leak through. But don’t try too hard to leak these because humility sours quickly into tooting the dissonant sounds of your own horn.
4. You have to be a fair boss. Your working conditions should be just, if not generous. Your corporate sponsorship should support admirable endeavors, never political positions that will divide your intimate brand into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde persona, depending on from which direction your prospective customers are looking.
5. Hang around with other intimate brands that have unblemished records. Play a part in immunization programs, contribute to a children’s hospital or give your product to those down and out due to illness or economic downturns. You don’t have to brag about that; word will get out.
You can be sharp, astute, ambitious, teachable, even a genius, but it’ll go nowhere if you’re a jerk, and jerks are replaceable. Sooner or later, people and prospective customers will learn of the person heading your business endeavor, and you want to make sure you meet all of the five qualities above. If you don’t, step aside, become an emeritus board member or consultant and get out of the way.