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Review: Success from scratch

"The Guru Guide to Entrepreneurship: A Concise Guide to the Best Ideas From the World's Top Entrepreneurs"
By Joseph H. and Jimmie T. Boyett
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 370 pages, December

graphic

In this story:

Seventy successes

A cussin' colonel and others

Encouragement in print

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



(CNN) -- The late businessman and magazine publisher-columnist Wilson Harrell was in Iraq some years ago when he joined his hosts in a wild boar hunt. Harrell learned that the hairy hogs were a nuisance, damaging farmers' crops. And since Muslims don't eat pork, they weren't being hunted in great numbers and ran wild.

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graphic How tempted are you to try starting your own business venture?

Ready now, let me at that book.
Let's see the market turn around, then I'm there.
Not me, I'm ready to do the work but I want others to carry the risk.
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Harrell saw a new business opportunity: Cheap dog food for United States supermarkets. He made a deal that called for him to deploy 100 Jeeps mounted with machine guns to eradicate the hogs. Backed by Iraqi investors, he would have an exclusive franchise to establish a processing plant in Iraq.

"My price for 100 percent pork was about half the going rate for the slop they were calling dog food," Harrell wrote. "I was on a roll. Every day was more exciting than yesterday."

"The Guru Guide to Entrepreneurship" is chock-full of these anecdotes. They serve to give insights into the personalities of some of the world's most successful businesspeople, and what makes them so effective.

Harrell is one of the least famous of the 70 entrepreneurs from whom ideas were gleaned for this book. Among the better-known: Richard Branson, Michael Dell, Wayne Huizenga, Howard Johnson, Phil Knight, Dave Thomas, Lillian Vernon and Sam Walton.

Seventy successes

Authors Joseph H. and Jimmie T. Boyett culled from more than 250 books and 2,000 articles the ideas and exploits of these 70 entrepreneurs. Some of the group aren't entrepreneurs in the strict definition of the word -- Ray Kroc, for example, didn't start the McDonald's chain he made so successful.

The authors chose, instead, to include people who have developed or dramatically changed businesses. And in a nice touch, they include biographies of each of the 70 at the end of the book.

"Guru" is divided into six sections. "Should You Do It?" is the first, followed by "The Perfect Idea," "Money Matters," "Getting Customers," "Keeping Customers" and "Managing People."

All of these topics could yield dry, textbook surveys, but here they're eminently readable. Even if you aren't contemplating starting a business, this book is enjoyable because of the personal stories of those 70 "gurus" -- a word you'll tire of if you read the entire book.

"If the employees come first, then they're happy," Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines co-founder is quoted as saying. "A motivated employee treats the customer well. The customer is happy so they keep coming back, which pleases the shareholders. It's not one of the enduring Green mysteries of all time, it is just the way it works."

Take the first section, "Should You Do It?" The authors found that the gurus they were considering weren't motivated primarily by money.

They quote Sam Walton from his autobiography: "I still can't believe it was news that I get my hair cut at the barbershop. Where else would I get it cut? Why do I drive a pickup truck? What am I supposed to haul my dogs around in, a Rolls-Royce?"

And then there's Ted Turner -- founder of Turner Broadcasting and CNN -- who's quoted as saying that "having great wealth is one of the most disappointing things. It's overrated, I can tell you that. It's not as good as average sex."

The authors conclude: "What the gurus are saying is that money is not their primary objective. Instead, they recommend doing something you were born to do and having fun making money while you do it."

Another matter the authors recommend if you're considering starting a business is the cost to your personal life. They quote Howard Johnson: "I think that (building the business) was my only form of recreation. I never played golf. I never played tennis. I never did anything athletic after I left school. I ate, slept and thought of nothing but the business."

Wayne Huizenga says he regrets never seeing his kids' Little League games, never going to a PTA meeting -- "I missed all that stuff with all the kids," he says. "That's not good and I wouldn't advise anyone to put that much into it."

The Boyetts add: "Huizenga might not advise it, but he did it. Most successful entrepreneurs do."

A cussin' colonel and others

Among the suggestions the authors make in the second section, "The Perfect Idea," is to let customers be your guide.

•   Joshua Lionel Cowen originally marketed his Lionel train as a store window display to attract customers. When they insisted on buying the trains, he decided to market the trains.

•   Washington Atlee Burpee, founder of Burpee Seed, initially sold purebred livestock and fowl by mail order. As an additional service, he included several types of seeds for his customers' animal feed. When the seeds began outselling his animals, Burpee changed the focus of his business.

  MESSAGE BOARD
graphic Can the successes and methods of Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos and investment leader Warren Buffett translate to similar coups for others? How helpful and/or inspiring do you find it to read about the what such people have achieved? Talk to us about whether high-level entrepreneurial success can be learned -- or are its secrets instinctive?
 

In "Money Matters," the authors discuss how to estimate your startup costs, and various means of raising money to start a business. As usual, they have anecdotes. One of the best is that of Bernard Marcus' meeting with Ross Perot in the late 1970s, in his search for $2 million to open the first four Home Depot stores.

As Marcus tells it, Perot couldn't get past the fact that Marcus drove a Cadillac. Perot reportedly said he was partial to Chevrolets. Marcus walked out on the discussions, fearful that Perot would want too much control over the business.

"Marcus later calculated that Perot's 70-percent share in Home Depot would have been worth about $58 billion in the late 1990s," the Boyetts write. "It was high price for being hung up about Cadillacs and Chevrolets."

In "Getting Customers," the authors relate the story of how Debbi Fields' start in the cookie business was a bust until she went out and gave samples to people. Soon they flocked to her store and a cookie empire was born.

"Kiss the pig" and Moonpie-eating contests are cited as gimmicks that have lured customers. And, the authors say, holiday promotions are always a good idea, noting that in its first year, Ben & Jerry's gave free ice-cream cones to moms; two to pregnant women.

In "Keeping Customers," the Boyetts say one way to keep customers happy is to have contented employees.

"If the employees come first, then they're happy," Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines co-founder is quoted as saying. "A motivated employee treats the customer well. The customer is happy so they keep coming back, which pleases the shareholders. It's not one of the enduring Green mysteries of all time, it is just the way it works."

Howard Johnson: "I think that (building the business) was my only form of recreation. I never played golf. I never played tennis. I never did anything athletic after I left school. I ate, slept and thought of nothing but the business."

And in "Managing People," we learn that KFC's Colonel Harland Sanders would cuss a blue streak when he was mad, then feel terrible about it, even praying for the power of self-control. Even more extreme, Soichiro Honda hit employees and threw things at them when he was angry.

The authors write: "Setting high standards for performance is a good idea, but, as you should have learned in kindergarten, cussing, hitting and throwing things are not nice. They may get you sued or even arrested. They may even get you shot."

Encouragement in print

That pretty much sums up "Guru." It's a fine mix of practical advice and entertaining anecdotes about men and women with a knack for business.

Their stories may well inspire some readers to start their own businesses, or to hang on to one that's struggling. But "Guru" doesn't suggest that it's an easy task.

Remember Wilson Harrell and his scheme to kill Iraqi boars for cheap dog food? It flopped. The Boyetts explain:

"Before he could get his venture off the ground, Communists overthrew the Iraqi government and exiled, killed or jailed all the capitalists. Harrell lost the chance to make a fortune, Iraq remained stuck with its wild boars and pet lovers in the United States never got to feed their animals gourmet 100-percent wild board pet food."

Hmmm. Hello, President Hussein?

graphic

 

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