Know Thy Customer

Last week we spent two days in NYC Times Square filming CEOs at the Business Today conference – what an incredible opportunity.  We filmed Ron Meyer, CEO of Universal Studios, Peter Georgescu, Chairman Emeritus of Young & Rubicam, Paul Stebbins, CEO of World Fuel Services, among others and we were immediately impressed by one consistent thread throughout all of the interviews – right-brain thinkers will rule the world.  According to everyone we interviewed Dan Pink is right – the innovative, intuitive, symphonic thinking skills attributed to the right-brain creative types are the mental skills that best suit the greatest business leaders of today and tomorrow.  And they consistently emphasize the importance of having a balance to the standard image one has of the always-on, type A, linear-thinking blackberry cowboy.  Georgescu runs and meditates.  Stebbins is a black belt in karate, and is astonishingly well-read in not only business books, but classic literature and poetry as well.

Here’s an example of this innovative right-brain thinking in action leading to business success: Years ago, Peter Georgescu was trying to win a big PR and media account with Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Since he knew he had to do his homework and understand KFC’s business and culture inside and out to be credible, he and his business partner spent a week working at a KFC restaurant.  He learned how to mix the batter and the eleven special herbs and spices, serve the biscuits and coleslaw, clean the floor, anticipate the lunch rush, and so on.  Later, at the conclusion of his team’s six hour proposal presentation, Mr. Lambeaux, a franchise owner asked Georgescu a baited question – “Why don’t we lead the marketing campaign with a pitch that we have now added our secret recipe to the extra crispy KFC product?”  Well, KFC’s famous recipe chicken is pressure-cooked while the extra-crispy recipe is deep-fried, and the secret recipe batter won’t stick to the chicken in the deep-fryer.  It was a trick question and Peter looked thoughtful and said, “That’s an excellent idea Mr. Lambeaux…”  Pause while everyone in the room waits to see what he says next… “but unfortunately with the current technology you are using to cook the extra-crispy product this would be impossible.”  Mr. Lambeaux smiled and Peter won the biggest account of his young career.

Georgescu’s lesson is that a key characteristic of top-tier leaders is competence, rock-solid competence.  But in my reading I also see it was his innovative and daring thinking to spend a week working at a KFC to acquire that core competence.