Walking with Giants

Last week I was having lunch with a friend and client who asked, “Where did you learn all of these things you have been sharing with me and my team?”

As I described my history and the great leaders and thinkers I have had the privilege of working with and knowing, he excitedly said, “Michie, you have walked with giants!”

I hadn’t thought of it that way. My work with Ewing Kauffman, Founder of Marion Laboratories, during the pace of high growth of that business, and later in the building of his Foundation, gave me the opportunity to work with and study under some of the great business and leadership minds of the last 50 years. These included many of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs and scholars of leadership and entrepreneurship.

Kauffman himself was legendary in his ability to spot talent.  Even more, he was uniquely able to align their interests with his own to achieve mutual goals. Other superstars of entrepreneurship such as Eli Callaway of Callaway Golf, Jim McCann of 1-800-Flowers, and J.R. “Bob” Beyster of SAIC gave their own flavor to my learning.  Spending personal time with great scholars and teachers such as Peter Drucker, Warren Bennis, Jeffry Timmons, and Howard Stephenson expanded my understanding to new heights. And, working directly with the leading minds of the Venture Capital industry to develop the curriculum for today’s world famous Kauffman Fellows internship program, provided amazing insights into early stage, high-growth, technology-based businesses, and the challenges these business face in finding success.

The most important lesson from all of these great minds was the value of reducing complexity to its most simple level so that it could be used effectively throughout rapidly growing organizations. This has been especially helpful in my work with high-growth entrepreneurs–time is their most scarce commodity.  I learned entrepreneurs are efficient.  They value “just in time” learning and find tools to help them with current problems and issues that stand in the way of today’s success. They also value insights into what’s coming over the horizon and can often only be seen by one who has “seen the movie” of rapid growth before.

My friend has encouraged me to write a book, but books take too long to write, and important simple messages often get lost in books. So, I have decided to try blogging as an avenue to share some of the tools and insights I find most helpful to leaders and entrepreneurs. I hope you find the blogs interesting and productive, and of course, share your feedback!

2 comments

  1. Bob Marcusse says:

    Perhaps Mr. K’s greatest gift is the gift he gave to Kansas City. His ability to create wealth through Marion Laboratories resulted in, among many other things, the formation of numerous othe companies, the long term commitment of the Kansas City Royals to our city, the establishment of the world’s premier foundation focused on entrepreneurism, and the soon to be dedicated Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The presence of each of these institutions or facilities in Kansas City has, in turn, generated more economic activity….and on and on.

    Mr. K, whether by good fortune, great leadership, perfect timing, or more likely a combination of all of these things set in motion a chain of events that continues to cascade good fortune over Kansas City. He tossed a big rock in the pond and the ripples are still reaching the shore.

  2. Harles Cone says:

    As you know, I am not too much of a fan of words like “great leader” or “giant” etc. In my experience, remarkable success of any kind is often as much a product of good fortune(lucky break) and fortuitious circumstances, i.e. right product at the right time….and to treat people in leadership roles as if they were someone markedly above the rank and file of their fellows is to do them, and those who work with them a terrible disservice. It is as common, if not more common, that a person in business, or sports, or finance et.al. with noticeable success is unable to reproduce that same success when circumstances and are surrounding personnel is substantially altered.

    Mr. K. was undoubtedly a uniquely insightful man, particularly in his attitude of performers should share in the outcomes of their labor and the choosing of skillful people to head up Marion’s key leadership roles. But in my mind, the fortuitous timing of a couple of critical products provided the remarkable revenues that attracted the attention of admirers. We will never know if there could have been a continuation of remarkable products maintained over other decades.