on May.16, 2011, under stick to the pitch
This blog is motivated by an email I received from an old staff who worked for me in Shanghai back in 1999 … I havent heard from this person since 2000, but his email and his mention of a couple stories in his mail motivated me to post this blog…..because it blends into the theme I have been recently discussing: “the importance of core values.”
When I first opened an office in Shanghai back in 1999 for the previous company I worked…..
I was in the right place at the right time and recruited a couple great sales leaders to help me build an army of successful operations, production and sales people.
The office took off quickly, and within a few months we had 70 mainland Chinese employees making their success happen – even though we had American, Australian, New Zealand, Chinese and British employees, the office had been built by people who all had similar, or the same “core values.”
Within just a few months, the Shanghai office became one of the most consistent, and best performing offices in the company — so the CEO of Asia (based in Sydney) asked me to watch over the Hong Kong office while the General Manager of that office was on a 3 week vacation.
The Hong Kong office averaged less than US$20,000 a week …. I wanted to be the managing director of Greater China, so controlling the HK office was my goal.
As I type, I remember back to that phone call where Simon (the CEO) called me about watching over the office for 3 weeks….
I explained to the CEO of Asia that if my name was going to be associated with the Hong Kong office for 3 weeks, then I had to be able to run the office my style.
He laughingly called me an “arrogant prick” but agreed.
It’s an easy 3 hour flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong…
on the flight, I reviewed the previous 12 months of sales figures for the HK office which also included staffing, recruitment information (where I noticed massive turnover of staff) There was only one person in the office who seemed to have any consistency, a Hong Kongnese sales woman who was also on vacation for the period I would be in the office.
For the 3 weeks I was in Hong Kong, the company put me up in the Mandarin Oriental hotel – a gorgeous 5 star hotel which I completely took for granted. (issues discussed in “ode to Marcus Evans…”)
The memo I received the day before my trip stated there were 20 staff working in the Hong Kong office, 18 of them were in sales.
My first day in the office wasn’t a big surprise — the office was in a gorgeous part of HK, had a view of the harbor, but was messy.
The CEO of Asia knew how competitive I was so he sent a company memo to all the GMs stating that “Scott Ragsdale was running the Hong Kong office for the next 3 weeks.”
As I was walking into the office, a young, good looking British guy was walking out …
I stopped him, and asked where he was going… he told me he had worked for the company for the month, saw no future so had quit the previous week and was just picking up his pay check.
I remember the way the guy spoke to me – looking me directly in the eyes as he spoke.. you could see he had something – a spirit, or a passion, something that not everyone has…
He was dressed very well (I dont mean he was wearing an expensive suit, just very sharp)
I introduced myself, and told him to go back in the office, listen to my morning speech and see if what I had to say was something which might change his mind.
Within a few minutes of the work day beginning, I had a morning meeting with the office to introduce myself.
I also used the meeting to discuss the next 3 weeks…
I explained we would spend the first few hours cleaning the office up, retraining and getting ready for the next 3 weeks…
I set several ridiculously generous incentives for the 3 weeks (I often gave lavish incentives out of my own pocket to make the job more fun – it was my way of investing)
I told the team one of the 3 weeks we would break US$100,000 in business for the week (Simon had challenged me to do this because it was something which had never been achieved before in this small office).
As I was speaking, I saw one of the young men roll his eyes to two girls in the office …. and the girls giggled. (all three were Hong Kongnese)
I terminated all three of them on the spot, in the middle of my meeting …. once they were gone, probably 3 minutes later, I continued the meeting…
I knew the sales figures, thus I knew these nobodies didn’t really exist anyways….two of them had worked for the company for more than 2 years and in those 2 years didn’t do much, definitely, did not add value to the office so I was certain that I had done what was best for both the office and the company.
As I stood there waiting for the 3 to leave the office, the sharp young British man (Adam Fletcher) came up and told me (I can still hear him say) “I’m in.”After my meeting he immediately, started to clean up the mess, and his actions got the rest of the team to start cleaning up the office (you could see (clearly) this guy was a leader)
We spent the first morning cleaning, making the office sharp – and then I retrained the sales team – all at the same time, judging who I believed wanted what I wanted …
After lunch, I terminated 4 more because they showed up 15 minutes late … surely, just to say “fuck you” to me.
… so by 14:00 on the first Monday, I had terminated 7 out of the 20 staff …. In an office that I was just overseeing for 3 weeks.
My CEO (Simon) called me later that day from Sydney telling me how the General Manager of the office (a man in his early 30s from Mumbai) had called him on his mobile from his vacation to say ‘Scott Ragsdale is destroying my office!!!’
The CEO knew me well … and gave me the trust and support I needed and told me “he looked forward to seeing my results.”
The following day, my 2nd day in the office …. I got rid of a few more.
Now the office was down to 8 staff …. 7 of them sales staff. I was convinced that all 7 had the same “core values.”
The office did US$74,000 that first week; US$48,000 the second week and $108,000 the third week.
(I still have the memo from the Chairman and CEO highlighting the success achieved over those 3 weeks)
Upon reflection – my biggest achievement during those 3 weeks was not the 3 weeks of great sales, but more importantly — I saved the company from losing two exceptional talents – one of them being the young British guy and the other a young American woman who both went on to senior management positions in the company. (both were quiting or had quit the company the day I arrived)
The British guy, Adam Fletcher worked with me for several years, and was directly involved with closing and developing several million euro of business during his time with the company.
How could I get that shitty little office to do 3 weeks of big business so quickly??
Because … during the 3 weeks I was in that office – I ensured everyone who was with me had the same core values, or if they didn’t have the same values … at least, I was convinced they wanted to have the same values as me.
It’s something I learned when I was just a sales executive in Tokyo …
At the time, I had no power because I was just a newly hired sales staff, but I saw firsthand how one negative staff – destroyed, or nearly destroyed the bunch.
It was a brilliant management training course – because I saw firsthand how just one negative employee, destroyed the potential success of many – like cancer.
Three years after my Hong Kong adventure, I was based in Europe and was transferred to run the Barcelona office ….Barcelona was a massive office for the company in the number of staff who were in it, but shit figures when it came to business.
My first day in that office I fired at least 15 people, maybe a few more than that – people who came late, left early, or obviously didn’t want what I wanted.
That week, the office had the biggest week it ever had in the 2 years it was open …
(I am sure there are people who still talk about that first week because it was exceptional, like God came down and touched us)
Every manager falls in the trap of wanting to have as many staff as possible to “manage” … but the secret is not the number of staff a manager oversees, but to ensure everyone on the team has the same “core values.”
Much more can be achieved with a small group of people with the same values than can be achieved by a large group of people who have mixed values.
Maybe the best team I ever worked with was TEAM MONACO…
The team was made up of French, Italian, British, and American, but everyone worked together as a team – with the same goal, to be the best ….
From my experience, I dont believe that one can simply blanket the same management style over employees from France, India or China, etc, however, by ensuring the team/office have the same “core values” … the chance for consistency and success is far greater than simply just employing anyone for the job.
I intentionally, do not use examples from naseba to discuss my point in this blog … this is not to say that we are perfect, or that everyone at naseba has the same “core values”
Unfortunately, as we have expanded, senior management (me included) have slipped in regards to sticking/ensuring everyone has the same “core values.”
I am certain this has slowed us down; prevented us from climbing faster and more efficiently – something which is being reviewed and addressed.
on May.12, 2011, under naseba Rolex Explorer challenge
Begining May 15th (for the next 6 months) everyone at naseba is being challenged to do something exceptional in their life.
Instead of sitting around talking about a goal or dream – make the next six months happen – do everything possible to achieve your goal and win a Rolex Explorer.
on Apr.22, 2011, under make it happen
Adam made a great point today – he commented how “make it happen..” has become a cliché, something people say just to say, with no conviction whatsoever.
Kind of like “drive safely..” or “I’m praying for you…” things people say just to say, without really thinking about it.
The “make it happen” I refer to has nothing to do with material wealth.
For me – “making it happen” means experiencing life to its fullest.
A few examples which I have highlighted in this blog:
- Since 1997, Jason Gorud and I have a dinner club.
Although he lives in Singapore and I live in Dubai/France, we travel the world to meet up at least once every 3 months to have a “Friday Night Dinner.” I am meeting him in New Delhi for an FND in a few weeks.
We have experienced a Friday night dinner in many countries, at several of the world’s most famous restaurants.
- Romain (naseba’s IT director) and I go on a trip once year focused on Adventure.
Since we started this club, we have visited Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya and soon we will go to Pakistan.
(these trips are not expensive)
- Sophie and I take one week a year to experience somewhere new – last year we went to Cuba.
(I mention the above examples is to highlight inexpensive ways I enjoy experiencing my life)
Recently, I was interviewed by a reporter from the Gulf News who asked what is my ultimate goal in life.
As I answered, I thought back to a few years ago when I would have said “to make hundreds of millions of dollars.”
This is still a goal, however, my main focus and ultimate goal in life is to experience it to the fullest. Ideally, at the same time having a positive influence on the people around me.
I try to encourage my family and friends, including everyone at NASEBA to set goals and dream — and do everything possible to achieve them.
To help motivate people at naseba to do something exceptional in their lives, we are doing a challenge which is not related to business, but will have a positive impact on the employees and the company.
NASEBA ROLEX Explorer Challenge
Over the following 6 months:
effective from May 15th until December 5th
The NASEBA employee who accomplishes the most exceptional achievement outside of work from the period between May 15th – Dec 5th will win a Rolex Explorer watch.
All naseba employees have the same opportunity to win this challenge – on Dec. 10th until December 12th people will vote on naseba facebook who was the most exceptional.
The challenge is for any employee who works with naseba from at least May 15th…
(thus people recruited over the next 30 days will count towards being eligible)
A few great examples of people at NASEBA making their life happen in 2010 (the ones I know of):
- (pictured at the top of todays blog) Durga, Neelesh, Suresh, and Burka took a week and rode motorcycles from Manali, India through Kashmir to Ladakh, “Riding the Himalayas” — across the highest road in the world. (please visit naseba facebook to read more about their adventure – its incredible)
- Andrei lost 60 KG in 6 months – although he lost his weight just prior to joining naseba, it’s a great achievement which has ultimately changed his life for the better.
- Adam Fletcher summited the highest treking mountain in the Himalayas.
- I swam the English Channel.
Even if you don’t work at naseba, think about how you and your friends can support each other to go after your dreams – and do something exceptional.
Don’t just go through your life existing.
Make your existence happen.
on Jan.25, 2011, under my travels
For my 40th birthday present, Sophie surprised me with a 9 day trip to Cuba.
Cuba is the 90th country I have visited, and easily my favorite trip.
Cuban’s are friendly, and I appreciate that socialism has dulled their enthusiasm for commerce, thus most people on the streets did not try to hustle or sell me anything.
Although I am American, Sophie (easily) got my visa from the Cuban embassy in Qatar. (many people assume American’s can’t travel to Cuba, but we can – just not from America)
On Christmas afternoon, we flew Emirates from Dubai to Paris, spent a great night enjoying Paris, and then we flew an easy 11 hours on Air France from Paris to Havana.
We arrived to Havana at 9pm on December 26th.
Our journey through baggage claim and immigrations was remarkably, smooth and easy.
However, as most restaurants, cafes, stores and merchants do not accept credit cards in Cuba, we had to wait in a long line to change our euro into Cuban pesos.
Around midnight ….we were out of the airport.
Sophie wanted me to experience Cuba to the fullest, so she organized the first night for us to stay in a local Cuban family’s home in Vinales, the area of Cuba where the best coffee and tobacco is grown.
2 hour drive later, we arrived to “Rolando’s house.”
Although the family spoke no English, we enjoyed a late meal of fresh wild pig (which they said was caught and killed in the morning), black beans & rice as well as other Cuban dishes.
Dinner was adventurous, and the food was excellent.
Sophie and I slept in Rolando’s guest room, a tiny room with just a queen sized bed – very comfortable, and we both fell asleep instantly (around 2:30am).
I slept great… until we were awoken by a rooster at 5:30am and then another rooster … suddenly – it seemed like 20+ rooster’s were making noise.
The house shared a common large yard with four other houses – there were several cages of cock’s which were being raised to fight.
There was also two cages with hens, which provide Rolando and the other 4 families fresh eggs.
As I was enjoying my walk through the cages of hens and cocks, a man with a large machete walked in front of me … up to a cage with a large pig in it ….
The man made a motion with his thumb across his throat and smiled as he walked up to the large pig.
I went for a long walk around the streets of Vinales – of course, I was the only big white guy strolling around ….
I told everyone who asked that I was from America – everyone was warm and friendly.
It is impressive how clean, nearly spotless are the streets of Cuba … and I noticed throughout the trip several men and women sweeping the gutters and streets.
Sophie and I ate breakfast on Rolando’s patio.
After breakfast, I sat in a rocking chair on the back porch and smoked my first cigar of the trip.
The highlight of the morning was the strong Cuban coffee.
At 9:00, Rolando’s 23 year old son (who spoke French, but no English) took us on a 10 mile hike from his house into the farm land – we walked 10 miles through tobacco fields, coffee fields; we saw several wild pigs and many farmers in the various fields.
We met one farmer who they told us was 80 years old and smokes 20+ cigars a day — the man looked in his late 60′s.
I didn’t see another tourist the entire walk.
We walked through coffee fields.
After an hour of walking, we reached a tobacco farm.
As we walked into the small farm house, a woman was in the process of roasting coffee.
We got to enjoy her very strong coffee.
She also made me a cigar.
My cigar was enjoyable. I bought 12 cigars at this farm – these cigars are called “peasant cigars” because they are rolled by the farmers themselves – I paid 10 US$ for 12 cigars (I regret I did not buy more)
The coffee was great!
She also showed us the process of drying tobacco.
After too much coffee, we walked through several other tobacco farms to the most prestigious farm … again, the owner of the farm rolled a cigar for me.
I bought 24 cigars from him. (the woman’s cigar was better)
Incredible day; incredible experience.
In the late afternoon, our driver who is named “Chocolate” picked us up and drove us to a dock, where we took a boat to a tiny island …
Chocolate spoke fluent French, but no English. He explained he is called “chocolate” because “he is seriously, black.”
We took a small boat to an island of only 30 people. It was gorgeous, but windy and cold.
At night, Sophie and I watched Spanish ESPN and had our first mojito.
I don’t drink alcohol (except for wine) so that mojito was the first one I tried in my life.
I should mention that there was no hot water at either Rolando’s house nor at the beach house we stayed … but it didn’t matter.
I like cold showers.
We enjoyed a couple days walking around the island, smoking cigars and relaxing … but I was looking fwd to getting to Havana.
Cuba, esp. Havana is unlike any of the 90 countries I have visited…
Old cars from the 1950s are every where.
We stayed at a modern hotel, the Parque Central which is right in the center of Havana, and very convenient because we could walk every where.
The buildings in Havana are old and dilapitated, but very charming.
There is a Casa del Habana in the hotel lobby … I bought a box of Romeo and Juliet “wide Churchills and a box of Cohiba “siglo V” to enjoy throughout the trip.
The Partagas Factory is less than 5 minute walk from the hotel.
To ensure the cigars are not fake, tourists are advised to buy cigars ONLY in Casa del Habana shops.
One of the biggest myths in the world has to be that cigars in Cuba are cheap …
From my experience, Cuban cigars at the Beirut Airport duty free are the cheapest in the world.
The cigar’s in Cuba are about the same price as the duty free at the Dubai airport — depending on the exchange rate – maybe even more expensive.
But it didn’t matter. I was in Cuba.
Nic and Jenny flew in from Toronto and joined us in Havana.
Even sweet, gorgeous women from Canada enjoy cigars in Cuba!
The 4 of us spent several days and nights walking around Havana, smoking cigars and drinking mojito’s/daiquiris at several of the bars – the most famous being “La Floridita,” made famous by Ernest Hemingway.
You know you have made it in this lifetime when your favorite bar puts a life size bronze statue of you standing where you stood in the bar – like there is of Hemingway at the La Floridita.
Throughout the trip, we walked all around Havana, even late at night.
We never once felt in danger. The people are poor, but very friendly.
One morning, I rented a car … and the four of us drove around Havana in a 1963 convertible Impala … 3 hours was more than enough.
I smoked a cigar as often as I wanted.
Cuba is probably the only country in the world where you see people smoking cigars in a crowded elevator as if its normal.
We went to “Tropicana” for New Year’s eve and enjoyed the show and brilliant ambiance.
Tropicana is consider the most famous club in Cuba – before the embargo, it was one of the most famous clubs in the world.
Nic and Jenny left the day after new year’s, but Sophie and I spent another 4 days in Havana relaxing, smoking cigars and drinking daiquiris and mojito’s .
We went to every famous bar listed in the guide book to taste and judge who made the best mojito or daiquiris – we both agreed, La Floridita was the best – with the best ambiance.
Over the trip, I enjoyed easily, 5-8 cigars a day.
Cuba and its cigar, mojito/daiquiri culture is beyond words …
I understand why Hemingway lived in Cuba for 20 years…. before he lost his house when America set up the embargo, and he was forced to leave.
In Havana, there is a palpable passion for life.
Cuban’s don’t seem to be concerned with what kind of car they drive, or the size of their TV.
In my opinion, it is ridiculous that the United States government continues an embargo on this country.
And don’t believe the hype ….
American’s CAN legally travel to Cuba – I suggest anyone in America who wishes to visit Cuba, fly from Toronto.
I enjoyed Cuba so much that I have organized a performance incentive in the company, so to be able to go back again this year — ideally, with many people from naseba.
on Dec.02, 2010, under make it happen
This is a blog I did a few months ago, but I wish to repost it because I like the theme … and it ties into tomorrows blog, “ode to the old school II.”
I have a poster on the wall in my office of a man standing on the summit of Mt. Everest and the quote, “the man at the top of the mountain didn’t fall there.”
Most readers of this blog know the story of naseba …
End of 2002, Sophie and I started the company with less than 60,000 euro ..
In 2007, we sold 40% of the company when we took naseba public with a value of $33 million and became publicly listed on a small exchange of the paris stock market.
The next step in our climb was exciting …
we developed, expanded, and in a word – we learned.
The honeymoon period ended quite quickly, when we had to kick off two useless board members who had their own hidden agenda …
I got robbed of 1 million dollars in cash, plus a multi million euro business by my “loyal“ Chinese “best friend” and ”brother“ in China …
A Geneva based shareholder who owned a 10% stake – suddenly, died and the bank liquidated/dumped his shares …
Then the global financial crisis knocked us down.
However, each time we fell, we got back up and kept climbing.
naseba will touch 12 million dollars in revenue and will be net profitable in 2010…
But due to a lack of liquidity in the small exchange naseba was listed, the market did not reflect how well the company is doing.
Our share price kept getting hammered and hammered…
consequently, the market cap of the company crumbled.
Instead of focusing on how ”unfair” was the situation, we seized the opportunity.
Effective September 15th, Sophie and I plus a few historic investors bought out the existing share holders and delisted naseba from the stock exchange.
We have taken the company private once again.
Many times over the past two years, I dreamed of buying back naseba.
Thankfully, it all worked out.
From my experience, being a private company allows us much more freedom to expand and develop quicker and more strategically, without the same (burden) expense associated to being listed.
Ironically, on August 31st the day all the paperwork was completed for the delisting…
I was interviewed by a newspaper about my English channel swim.
The interviewer asked me, “have you ever failed at climbing to the summit of one of your mountains?”
I smiled and reflected over the past 3 years ….
I replied, “I have fallen many times in my life, but each time I fell, I tried to learn as much as I could from why I fell .. and then I got back up and kept climbing.”