Irv Tobocman

Irv Tobocman has built his business by providing products that people want at prices they’re willing to pay. It sounds simple enough, but it’s the reading, the research, the passion and the curiosity that make him so successful. Tobocman is president of Foreign Trade Marketing, a private international consumer product distribution company that generates more than $100 million in annual revenue. And as its leader, he never stops searching for new, affordable products people can use in everyday life. Tobocman spoke with Smart Business about how he communicates with business partners and employees, and what it takes to survive in an ever-changing market.

Know the score.
The bottom line is the bottom line. I could talk for two hours about this and that, but how do you define who won the basketball game the other night? You look at the score. It’s that simple.

If you want to know if you’re successful, you have to look at the bottom line and see if you accomplished what you set out to accomplish.

Speak their language.
I believe business completely rests on the communication capabilities of the people doing the business. Communication comes from unequivocally understanding who you are talking to and what their needs are.

Speaking to someone and not being sensitive to his requirements and realities is the same as speaking English to a Chinese person.

If we who are trying to communicate are not being sensitive to every single element, it just decreases the batting average of success. We see that in sports and see the scouts trying to learn everything they can about teams and players so that their team can relate in any form they want to against that team.

In our business, it’s understanding, ‘What are their needs? What is their price point? What is the objective of the company?’ If you don’t meet those needs, it’s impossible to do business. That is primarily the key to success. If you don’t know what they’re looking for, how can you give them what they want?

Do your homework.
The first thing you have to do is expose yourself to every publication, every newsletter and everything else about the business you’re in so you can then spot trends.

Expose yourself to as much as you possibly can, then when the opportunity comes along, you can recognize it and not be scared to invest in it if it’s worth doing.

But you really have to know your business and not be scared to step forward and explore. When a brand-new opportunity comes — even if in the beginning it looks like it’s all the way on top of the mountain — if it represents a breakthrough, you can do it.

Pick the right people.
More important than anything is picking the right people from the start. You can give the greatest advice and guidance in the world, but if they’re not listening or they’re incapable of listening, there’s no way reviewing or analyzing is going to mean anything with those people.

A lot of that has to do with picking the right people.

Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I’ll get back to you.’
Collect the information, sit on it, think about it and don’t be pushed to make a decision until you have all of the elements and it feels right.

You’ve got to be able to take all the right information to make certain you’re not making an error. Then you have to decide based on what investment is involved.

Sometimes you have to go by your gut feeling, but the gut feelings are usually the most expensive ones. You have to know what you’re doing.

You have to learn everything you can about what decision you’re about to make, and you cannot be hasty. The smartest thing I tell people is, ‘It’s important enough to give thought to it. I’ll get back to you.’

Don’t ever slow down.
It all depends on the objectives of the executive. If he wants to continually grow a company, he can never take his foot off the gas.

You have to look around like an owl at every opportunity and thought. You see some of the big executives for some of the big, name-brand companies traveling and going all over the world because they have to do that.

It’s a full-time job. You’re constantly thinking, looking, reading and wondering how this relates to what you’re doing.

Look at Wal-Mart and Target. They’re reinventing themselves every day because the next day, things are different than they were the day before.

You have to challenge and be aggressive.
Your success will be directly related to the passion you put into anything.

Be passionate and curious and know what business plan to focus on. Communicate both to your own personnel and whomever you’re doing business with, whether it’s government authorities or clients or people building a new building for you.

Make them understand what you want and understand what they want, so two people walk away from the table wanting the same thing.

Know how to correct mistakes.
There’s nothing wrong with excuses and reasons. But you better have an answer for the excuse, like why you came late or why they beat us to a deadline.

There better be a reason, and then you better know how that can be changed so it doesn’t happen again. Stockholders of a company or board of directors or whomever you report to, they’re interested in what the answer is to correct it, not why it happened in the first place.

HOW TO REACH: Foreign Trade Marketing,