retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Steve Jobs was once asked which of his creations made him proudest. For all of us armed with iPhones, iPads, iPods, assorted Macs or similar products from other companies, it is a question we could ponder and possibly not answer.

Yet Jobs had an answer, according to his biographer, Walter Isaacson, and it was a surprise. Jobs didn’t select any of the products his company had created. Instead, he said it was Apple - the company itself - and the team of people whose creative genius has continued even after the founder’s death.

The difference is people, not products, even at a company like Apple and that makes sense because it’s a lesson for any business. The best retailers always seem focused on this very issue understanding that the essential difference in the shopping experience always comes down to people. And even the best manufacturers, who traditionally were not customer facing companies, agree.

I remember Stew Leonard Sr. tell me years ago that there was nothing in his company that competitors could not copy except for how his people did their work. Likewise, there was a famous story at Proctor & Gamble about executives asking first about people, then about products.

But my favorite bit of wisdom came from Norman Mayne of Dorothy Lane Markets. Mayne told me more than once that associates were his top priority, even above customers. Norman would say: how he treated his associates would be directly reflected in how his associates treated the customers.

No doubt that holds true whether you treat associates well or poorly. The experience is reflected through the customer.

Since the publication of my new book, “Business Rules: 52 Ways to Achieve Business Success,” (more information about it is always down below) I keep getting asked the same question. What do I consider the most important rule?

Incredibly, I keep flubbing the question as I try to hunt for the specific rule that I think will best appeal to whoever is asking. Rather I need to do exactly what great business people do and stick with my bedrock principle. After all, I made it the introduction to the book itself.

In that intro I cite a legendary story about the Hebrew prophet Hillel, who was once challenged to explain all the lessons of the Bible while standing on one foot. According to the story, Hillel (on one sandal-clad foot no doubt) essentially uttered the Golden Rule: that we should treat others the way we wish to be treated ourselves. Everything else, he said, was simply commentary.

It’s hard to disagree with that. After all, we have countless rules in business to guide virtually everything we do and how we do it. Yet the essential truth is that if we keep in mind the treatment we want in return it guides us through even the most complex issues of health, working conditions or you name it.

So it’s interesting that Steve Jobs, who admits in his authorized biography that he was a difficult person to work with and for, cites his team as his most important accomplishment. But it could be argued that the continued success of that team (despite ups and downs of specific products and stock prices) speaks to his point. The brand has continued even without the man who personified that brand.

Despite his personality flaws, Jobs created an environment that just works.

The sports cliché may suggest that nice guys finish first, but for business people there may be more to learn in what Jobs suggested and guys like Leonard and Mayne see to get so well.

How you treat others is more than a Biblical suggestion. It’s an inviolate rule for business success.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
KC's View: