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Content Guy's Note: "The MNB Interview" is designed to engage with business thought leaders who I like and respect, and who have something to say. It will run each workday from July 1-12, while I am taking a break, and has a simple format. I posed to each of the interviewees the same 13 questions and requested that they answer at least 10 of them; I told them that their answers could be as short or long as they wished, and as serious or irreverent as they liked. What I was looking for was a window into how they think and feel.

Today's MNB Interview features Norman Mayne, CEO of Dorothy Lane Markets of Dayton, Ohio. Norman has been a longtime friend to me and to MNB, and he is one of the most iconic independent food retailers in the world, focusing relentlessly on customer service, excellent food, and empowering his people to create an engaging and evolving retail experience. And I can't think of anyone better to start out with, since he mentions Mel Brooks twice in the course of his answers!

The MNB Interview

What is the most important thing you've learned in your career?

Norman Mayne:
I need good people more than they need me.

What's the biggest - and in retrospect, the most important - mistake that you've ever made, and how did you grow from it?

Norman Mayne:
Believing in the King Midas touch and being humbled when I found out I was wrong.

What is the most significant thing you do each week, and why?

Norman Mayne:
Catching people doing something right. Why that is important is self-explanatory.

What is the most irreplaceable or essential piece of technology you own, and why?

Norman Mayne:
My pencil,because it has an eraser. And my cell phone.

What is your favorite movie (and is there a business lesson in it)?

Norman Mayne:
Young Frankenstein. The lesson is to put the candle back and do it fast when you make a mistake.

Content Guy's Note: The scene that Norman is referring to is the one in which Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) and his assistant, Inga (Teri Garr) are trying to detect and get through a secret entrance to his great grandfather's lab. You can see it online here. But if, for some reason, you've never seen the movie, go rent or buy it. Now.

Who has been the most influential person in your business life, and why?

Norman Mayne:
Mike O'Connor. I got to sit at his feet and glean wisdom and common sense.

Content Guy's Note: Michael J. O'Connor was one of the great influential statesmen of the modern supermarket industry, an architect of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and someone who most people agree had enormous vision and a passion for innovation.

Keenest insight (so far) from your life and/or career?

Norman Mayne:
To quote Mel Brooks, "Stay interested." It could be a different subject every day, but just stay interested.

The exact Mel Brooks quote is: "Be interested in everything. You don't have to adore it. I don't adore hip-hop, I don't think it's great music, but I'm interested, I listen. I like Norah Jones, Madonna, whatever – they're good! I watch a lot of new films, I see everything. I still read, I like books, whether they are old books, new books. I'm interested – you gotta stay interested!"

When it comes to food, what is your greatest pleasure and your greatest weakness?

Norman Mayne:
Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley's Darioush Winery. And a double cheeseburger with raw onion and gobs of mayonnaise.

Your most memorable meal? Where & what & why?

Norman Mayne:
It was at 11 Madison Park in NYC  (a New French restaurant located at Madison Avenue and East 24th Street, owned by Chef Daniel Humm, that is consistently ranked among the world's best), and I was with my wife, Terry, my daughters and granddaughters, and we were served egg creams in the kitchen.

Favorite place to go to eat/drink, not your home?

Norman Mayne:
Rue Domaine,Meadowlark, Pine Club, Oakwood Club - all in the Dayton, Ohio, area.

What is the thing that you haven't yet done that you would most like to do?

Norman Mayne:
There are a bunch of things, but let's start with appearing in a movie with native Daytonian Martin Sheen. I'd like to spend a day on an aircraft carrier at sea. I'd like to have lunch with Mel Brooks. (Yes, really.) I'd like to drive a race car.

Finally, if you had to define the most important aspect of leadership, what would it be and why?

Norman Mayne:
Care for your folks. Build a team. Have a vision. And make sure that we all share the same lemonade.

Tomorrow: Dave Dillon, CEO, The Kroger Co.

KC's View: