Monday evening I attended the Hutchinson, Kansas annual chamber dinner. Frank McGuire was the speaker and I thought he gave a great presentation.
McGuire is known for his history with corporate America – he launched the careers of Charles Osgood and Ted Koppel at ABC Radio, worked at American Airlines, was with the company when Kentucky Fried Chicken went public, and one of the founders of Federal Express. He was also involved with communications in the JFK whitehouse.
He said when he was approached about founding FedEx, he went down to talk to the gentleman who had the concept and he said to him, so you want to bring packages to Memphis in the middle of the night, sort them and fly them out the next morning. The guy said yes. McGuire said that’s just a dumb idea. The guy asked him, “Any dumber than selling chicken in a cardboard box?”
Both, of course, were innovative business concepts. Selling chicken in a box was a radical idea when The Colonel pioneered the concept of fast food.
McGuire’s overall message was summed up with, “The best way to predict the future of Hutchinson is to invent it.”
He said business boils down to three things:
1. FEELINGS – how passionate people are about the community, project or whatever
2. ATTITUDE – how to connect the head with the heart – attitude comes from the head, but passion comes from the heart
3. RELATIONSHIPS – find the unifying things such as one problem everyone has trouble with
He spoke about attitude and communication. He said, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. What happens to you is 10 percent, and how you deal with what happens is 90 percent.”
He made some excellent points, one of which was, “I don’t know what your company does, but I’ll tell you one thing – you do business with people.” He is so accurate in that assessment, and unfortunately our people skills are what seem to be most lacking these days.
He said there are three ingredients of creating a culture:
1. Share the vision
2. Share the information
3. Share the responsibility
He told a couple of great stories about “The Colonel” at Kentucky Fried Chicken. When the company went public and a new CEO came in, one day he asked The Colonel to bring in the secret recipe for the 11 herbs and spices. The Colonel told him that didn’t matter, that it was the 12th ingredient that made the company successful. The CEO asked what that was. The Colonel’s response was, “You’re looking at it.”
The other story was that shortly after coming in, the new CEO called management together and told them they were going to start making the gravy with water. The Colonel wasn’t in the meeting but walked by the closed door. As McGuire put it, “Do you know what a closed door means to a 70 year old man?” “Nothing.” So the colonel walks in and asks McGuire what’s going on. McGuire tells him and the colonel says, “Don’t F*** with my gravy.” The CEO reminded The Colonel that he’s now running the company. The Colonel starts to walk out and the CEO asks him where he’s going. The Colonel said he was, “going on the Carson show to tell them that s–t is not fit to eat.” Needless to say, the gravy was not f’ed with.
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life,” he said. “What happens to you is 10 percent, and how you deal with what happens is 90 percent.”
Near the end of his speech he sang, “This little light of mine, I’m going to make it shine,” eventually getting the audience to sing and even hold hands. I found this a great exercise, particularly for a lot of the people in the audience who would never imagine doing such a thing.
McGuire spoke at length about how employees need to be validated and what an impact that can have. He used some old adages, like people will forget what you do and what you say, but not how you made them feel. He also said, “People don’t leave companies, they leave supervisors.”
Truer words were never spoken than those. I can’t think of anyone I’ve known over the years that left a company because of the company – they all left because they couldn’t stand a supervisor. OK, I can think of one situation – where the company was about to go belly up – because of bad management. So, I think that’s all the same difference.
He said Ted Koppel told him at his 25th anniversary that when he started at ABC he never felt like he was doing a good enough job, but that when Frank would come around every day and tell him “you’re the greatest,” that it made him believe he could do it. As McGuire was leaving the event that night, Koppel asked him to say it one more time and McGuire obliged.
As McGuire summed up, “People who feel good about themselves produce good results.”
He challenged the audience to get in touch with people who’ve made a difference in their lives and tell them. He said, “If you love me, tell me now. Don’t wait until I’m in a box.”
I encourage people to do that. Years ago I sat down at my writing desk and penned letters to two teachers who had a huge impact on my life – Mrs. Chandler in third grade and Mrs. Griffin in fifth grade at Barlow, Kentucky elementary school in the 1960s. They were both adamant about using good English and I could never have worked in broadcasting or become a writer without their guidance.
I also wrote to Dr. Birkner who had been a visiting professor at the University of Kentucky when I was there and who totally changed my perception of history. He was inspiring.
I’m so glad I wrote those letters then because Mrs. Griffin and Mrs. Chandler are both gone now. I’m happy I told them they truly made a difference in at least one life, and I daresay many lives.
Whether or not anyone in that audience the other night will heed Frank McGuire’s challenge is unknown, but I hope at least one person does. The rewards from doing so are great.
I gather some in town were not impressed with what McGuire had to say. I thought he had some insightful things to say to the people of Hutchinson, things that could make a difference in this community. I hope Hutchinson is ready to listen.