Small Business Summit 2009 - Effort, Inspiration and Innovation

May 11, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell has a great article in the latest issue of the New Yorker titled "How David Beats Goliath." Through the prism of basketball and warfare he breaks down how with keen situational awareness and sustained, forceful, effort the underdog often overcomes the -- sometimes long -- odds against them. In a way this is also the topic of America's Small Business Summit's first session: putting forth just that little extra effort to cross the razor's edge between victory and defeat.

Giovanni Coratolo, our Vice President for Small Business Policy opened the Summit welcoming everyone to D.C. and then introduced Jim Wordsworth, small business owner and Chairman of the Chamber’s Small Business Council. Jim thanked everyone for attending and spoke of small business as not only the foundation for the Chamber, but also for the economy as a whole. Jim then gave a great introduction for Rick Corcoran, a big business veteran currently managing his own small consulting business.
Rick talked about a nation in transition and the need for businesses to be bold and brave to survive. And not just brave in the face of economic difficulties, but in the face of a barrage of negative press coverage, and the attitude that if you are in business you must be corrupt. When people hear the word "business", they think extravagance and malfeasance, not jobs and community. Financial literacy in our country is so low that when the news reports that a business has sales of $9 million, they think that the owner makes $9 million and should be made to give it up; the concept of costs is lost.

The presentation then moved on to Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop. Rick worked for The Body Shop for many years just when they were transitioning from, in Anita's words "rank amateurs" to being a professionally run company. Starting in 1976, with little money but a lot of confidence and vision, Roddick built the Body Shop from products made in her own kitchen and sold out of a single shop -- between two funeral parlors at that -- into the 2nd most trusted brand in the United Kingdom, and 28th top brand in the world in 2004.  And hey, if you have a friend in need of some money to expand their business take note. Local garage owner Ian McGlinn loaned Roddick £4,000 in 1977 so she could open a second store, in 1984 his share was worth £4million; by 1990 in excess of £140million.

Rick then gave more examples using Tom Donohue and Rocky Blier. They will both be speaking at the Summit so we'll report on them later. I want to skip to the telling of the Jason Lezak story. Now everybody knows and continues to talk about Michael Phelps and his magnificent performance in the 2008 Olympics. And every business owner may look around their organization and look for a Michael Phelps of shipping or production. But what is often forgotten is the teamwork which allowed Phelps to get to that eight medal mark. And with that Rick played the full replay of the 4x100m relay.

It was awesome, the room grew quiet and though everyone knew the outcome, there was a noticeable anticipation. As Lezak dove into the pool for the anchor leg the only sound in the room was the commentary, "Don't think he can make up the ground...can't do it...too much space...should hold on to get silver" and then bam, first to the wall. The standing room only crowd burst into applause, for a replay!  Good stuff.

But Rick wasn't finished, he put up five things Lezak had that we all need to have: preparation, self-confidence, bravery, boldness, and that something extra to get from 211 to 212 degrees. At 211 degrees water is very hot and can burn you; at 212 degrees water boils and can power a train.  Rick asked everyone to look for that one degree to propel their business -- and themselves -- forward.

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