Thursday, June 5, 2008

Winning in Business & Life

"It's a town full of losers, we're pulling out of here to win"

Bruce Springsteen

Political advisor and commentator Karl Rove is an avid student of American history . I am a semi avid student of the same subject.

We both studied the presidential election of 1896. It is pivotal since the Democratic party nominee, William Jennings Bryan, changed the way that presidential campaigns were run.

Rove spent his time studying William McKinley and how he defeated Bryan twice.

It occurred to me that Rove focused on the tactics of the winner while I focused on the tactics of the loser. That might be why Rove has supported more winning candidates than I have.

I have an affinity for the underdogs and "losers" of life. I am a believer in giving people second chances.

I know that the best way to make a person a winner is to put them in an environment where others have positive attitudes.

It is a common in areas like sports, business or overcoming addictions to see a person turn their lives around when they go from a negative environment to a positive environment.

It was a lesson in Jack Welch's book "Winning". It was published shortly after Welch reitred as Chariman of General Electric in 2005.

Welch focuses on a simple point: A positive environment spawns successful people and a negative environment pushes people down.

The leader of a group needs to develop and maintain a positive environment.

My father often said, "If you tell me who your friends are, I'll tell you who you are."

Dad was a professional gambler and saw people brought down by the people they befriended.

One of my favorite movies is Carlitos Way, which is based on two excellent novels (Carlitos Way and After Hours) by Edwin Torres. Al Pacino stars as a man trying to break away from a "town full of losers" who ultimately bring him down.

It is a struggle many face in business and life. The winner inside them can be brought down by friends, family and co workers.

Welch focused his energies at General Electric at ridding the company of people with bad attitudes.

I did a great deal of business with a an affiliate of General Electric when they were in the structured settlement business. Welch was in charge at that time.

They found ways to tell you yes, when others would find ways to say no. Most of the employees had been successful in some other endeavor, such as sports, and all had a "can-do" attitude.

If I had an innovative idea, I would go to them first.

I've been around other businesses where the employees were the enemy of the customers. I worked with one insurance company where two of the customer "service" representatives had a sign on their desks.

It said: "Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part."

It did not say "I'm here to help you" or "I am here to make life better for our customers" or "I'm here to make the company more money." It said, "I have a lousy attitude so don't bother me."

Since their jobs were supposed to be customer service, I am not exactly sure what they actually did. Their negative attitudes brought down any good workers around them.

Jack Welch would had them out of the building before the signs ever went up.

I've never decided if I like Jack Welch but I have read everything about him and he has made a huge mark in business. I favor him more as I see the struggles his successor has had. One thing I do like about Jack is that he understands how firing people is personally difficult and painful. A guy like Donald Trump acts like it is macho and fun.

Welch said firing a person is the by product of helping a larger group succeed.

Some leaders understand it all levels. It is why you see coaches throw problem athletes off teams and rehab program kick out people who fall off the wagon.

I can't think of four people with less in common than Karl Rove, Bruce Springsteen, Jack Welch and my dad but they all understand one thing:

If you want to be a winner, you have to study and act like other winners.

Don McNay is Chairman of the Board for McNay Settlement Group in Richmond Kentucky. You can write to him at or read his award winning column at