Gettin’ Mean

Nov 12, 2001

I was doing my usual deep thinking in the shower this morning, and I started wondering what I would do if I were on a flight that terrorists were hijacking. My first thoughts were about what I could use as a weapon. Anything! My laptop bag (with the laptop in it) could strike quite a blow. I wondered what I would do if the hijackers had knives. Unclip the seatbelt on my seat and my neighbor’s and wrap them around my wrists for protection? The dangling buckles might be able to inflict a head injury. And besides serving as a floatation device, my seat cushion could also make a darn good shield. Finally, I fantasized that if I did manage to get one of the hijackers on the floor, either knocked out or injured, I would decisively grab his head and give it a healthy twist of the neck for a permanent disability. Sounds pretty violent, huh? Then you know what I would be like if someone deliberately tried to hurt me or my loved ones. I would react fiercely and swiftly. I’m the same way when it comes to my business. Right now, companies are under attack— attack from a stinky economy, from general negativity of the public at large, and from real competitors outside of the firm. So how are you reacting? I’m not going to quietly await my doom— not if I can help it! And although it may not be the case with hijackings, fortunately in business, there is almost always something you can do! What are the practical applications of this for a firm that’s working in the A/E/P or environmental consulting business— one that wants to fight back? Here are my thoughts: Know the enemy. It’s outside your firm. Don’t forget that. This is why it’s important to have all that B.S. team-building stuff. You need to have good relationships with your peers, fellow partners, and managers or inevitably, it will hurt you. Too much energy will be lost to infighting while the enemy surrounds your fort and cuts off your supply lines. Buy… and buy smart. Look at the Earth Tech (Long Beach, CA) acquisition of Talisman Partners, Ltd. (Englewood, CO) (See TZL 433 : October 22, 2001). Talisman is a management consulting company that helps largely public clients through project budgeting, capital investment planning, estimating, and privatization consulting services. Smart is all I can say about this strategy to diversify into higher multiplier, non-technical, lead-in services. Intimidate your competitors. It helps to look more alive and healthier than anyone else who does what you do. My old friend Bob Juniper of Three C Auto Body (Columbus, OH) was famous for doing this. He sent out a postcard of himself in a black leather jacket with glowing pink eyes and his arms crossed with a tagline that read: “If you want to be number one in the auto body business in Ohio you’re going to have to go through me!” There are plenty of other things you can do. Send out press releases periodically about the success of the firm and how well you are doing. Make sure that everyone in your firm knows that, even if things aren’t going as well as you would like, you never admit that outside of the company. Protect yourself and your loved ones. I’m talking about things such as good insurance to reduce the probability of getting sued and losing it all. I’m also talking about having adequate credit facilities so that if a crunch occurred and you needed money you could get it. Finally, don’t forget to take the necessary precautions to keep your people from being recruited, such as taking your entire phone roster off your web site and giving those who man the switchboards in your offices some training on how to spot a recruiter who’s calling in to fish for names. All of these things are important! Watch out for former employees. Let’s face it— they don’t always have your best interests in mind. They may have been let go or are simply mad that they weren’t promoted, paid better, or treated differently in some way while they worked for you. I completely understand that feeling. I’ve been there myself. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea to allow former employees who are working elsewhere to go anywhere in your office when they come back for a visit or not to confront them if they are in violation of a non-compete agreement. I would probably want to confront anyone who is soliciting business from a client, even if they weren’t legally prohibited from doing so on ethical grounds that it’s just not right. Originally published 11/12/2001.

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