Shaping my entrepreneurial destiny

It was my great honor and privilege to attend the Ernst & Young 2010 Strategic Growth Forum during early November 2010 in Palm Springs, Calif. As a regional Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award winner, I was excited about the insight and knowledge I anticipated gaining from the event, but I had no idea how valuable this week would become in shaping my destiny as an entrepreneur.

In retrospect, the experience was much too vast to sum up in one column, so I’ve set out to share just a few of the key points I gleaned from each inspirational keynote speaker I heard.

The week magically began with L.A. Lakers great Earvin “Magic” Johnson. I was most impressed by Magic’s work ethic: His philosophy of being the first one in and the last one out has paid great dividends in his professional career. Magic reinforced his belief that the work ethic of a leader would be reflected in his or her work force. When you lead by example, you will be surprised by the quality effort you get in return.

Magic sets a very specific tone and persona in his organization: Losing is not an option, and no one will outwork us as a team. This infectious winning attitude is reflected in his organization from top to bottom. As a result, he has become an elite entrepreneur. His charisma lived up to the legend, and it was a great way to kick off the week.

Next was Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. As a third-generation business owner, you could feel the sincerity as he talked about the Ford family, and by “family,” he means everyone from the janitorial staff all the way up to the board of directors. Bill says he is often approached in the halls by people who love to tell him that they are fourth- or even fifth-generation Ford employees. Each employee is proud of the Ford heritage, and it reflects in his or her work ethic and brand loyalty.

Ford offered great insight on the anxiety he suffered because of the decision he faced to either take the bailout money or pass. His fear was that if Ford passed, it would hurt the brand image, driving fear in the American public that Ford would not persevere through a historic low point in company history. But instead of taking the government handout, Ford stepped up to the plate, mortgaged the farm and devised a comeback plan. This strategy paid off well in the perception of not only his employees but also the American people. Ford’s decision resulted in a great American comeback story that will cement Bill Ford as one of the greatest leaders of his generation.

The next day, we heard from A.G. Lafley, the former chairman, president and CEO of Procter & Gamble. When the annals of business history are finally written, Lafley will go down as one of the greatest facilitators of innovation in our time. His philosophy of an open platform for innovation transformed several mediocre brands into billion-dollar brands for P&G. He subscribed to the belief that if you tear down the walls and allow innovation to come from anywhere, including outside sources, that creativity will rule the day. Lafley offered this great piece of advice: “When it comes to innovation, you are going to fail more than you succeed. So if you are going to fail, fail fast and fail cheap.”