Week 186 in Detroit was not in Detroit. We decided to head to Ireland for a long overdue vacation. We wanted to take an international trip for our 10th wedding anniversary and two and ½ years later, we made it. We made it to Ireland and used the Thanksgiving holiday to take less time away from work (and school). Our daughter spent the week with her grandfather. We visited Dublin for a few days and then drove to Western Ireland for the rest of the week.
What an incredible country. Several friends and colleagues had told me that I would have a great time. Even with heightened expectations, Ireland wildly exceeded. Equal parts friendly and welcoming people to curious architecture, landscapes and buildings. In fact, our hotel outside Shannon was Dromoland Castle. Dromoland is a wonderful property with amazing staff and well appointed rooms. Golf. Falconry. Shooting. Horse and carriage rides.
Perhaps the most fun and surprising part of the trip was Limerick. We spent the day wandering the city, visiting the local landmark, King John’s Castle, on the banks of the Shannon River.
Between the people we met, the pubs and restaurants, we left wanting to move to Western Ireland. It was one of those amazing trips where you get so wrapped up into the place that you fall in love with it. I’m sure we’ve all experienced it and for us, that was this week in Western Ireland.
Even though we were on vacation, I am still always seeing (yes, looking for) connections to the themes that I work on and write about. Ireland is a Fintech leader in the EU and many of the most successful American tech companies have large Irish offices. One day the leading opinion column in the Business section of the Irish Times was titled “Sorry seems to be the hardest word for an Irish banker to say” and cataloged the 2015 mortgage crisis in Ireland. The lack of trust in both Irish banks and mortgages reminded me a lot about the consumer reaction to big bank bailouts in the US mortgage crisis and the rise of independent mortgage companies following the crash. Perhaps there’s a role for non-depository mortgage companies in Ireland?
Another aspect of Irish business that I noticed was the support for entrepreneurship. The payment company, Stripe, was founded by two brothers from Limerick. The brothers, now billionaires, are based in San Francisco but still have operations and offices in Ireland. While we were in Ireland, Galway was announced as the best place to start a business in the country. We visited Galway the next day and it was clear the combination of a major university, access to the country’s tourist attractions like the Cliffs of Moher, and the energy associated with both students and tourists meant significant economic activity throughout the city. Dublin holds the major global influence but Western Ireland has character, charm and potential. Some might say it’s the #NextBelt of Ireland…
(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
One of the bartenders at Dromoland Castle, Cian, told us about the different places he’s lived in Ireland and how they compare — Dublin, Ennis, Limerick. My colleague Rachel texted me a Wall Street Journal article this week that had interesting similarities to how Ireland is looking at building opportunities in places other than Dublin. The difference between Ireland and the US is size and scale. Where Irish business leaders and entrepreneurs can easily move between Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Cork to evaluate opportunity and improve outcomes, entrepreneurs and millennials in the US cannot as easily maximize value. One reason I write so much about Detroit and the #NextBelt is that it became clear that as cost of living and working in places like Brooklyn and San Francisco has become so expensive as to be a market inefficiency.
To capture value, entrepreneurs are looking at other places — Raleigh, Austin, Denver — to try to create new markets. Thanks to convenient, relatively affordable flights, and high-speed Internet the possibilities are becoming endless. That’s why I believe Detroit, Pittsburgh and Cleveland (and Cincinnati and Louisville) are well positioned to welcome the next generation of founders.
Housing remains a big X factor in that strategy. Lack of supply means even these #NextBelt cities are struggling to balance the housing market for all — residents, new arrivals, renters, homeowners and affordable needs. Which brings me back to the WSJ article that found Baby Boomers are set to sell 21 million homes over the next 10 years but not in any places that millennials want. Not in the #NextBelt or these startup cities.
These homes will become available in planned developments throughout Arizona, Florida and South Carolina. One wonders then what will happen next. Will these relatively affordable homes sit vacant because buyers are not moving to these communities? Will Generation X age into these communities out of choice or necessity? Or will some innovative tech company or large employer find a way to make these places “cool”?
Imagine Sun City, Arizona becomes the remote employee haven for Amazon/Google/Facebook/Apple. Suddenly, instead of being a retirement community, the company subsidizes or funds housing, activities, amenities and the bars/restaurants follow. Tech money in a low-cost but comfortable community. Working from home but surrounded by other ambitious, interesting people.
The future of housing is constrained not by supply but by our imagination, courage and investment. The right approach from home buyers (or organizations) that understand could fundamentally open up options and opportunities for employees and communities alike.
The answer is not labeling a generation of consumers or a broad swatch of places as eligible or ineligible for homeownership but strategic (and long-term) investment in making more opportunities a reality. Whether that’s in the Southwest, Southeast or the #NextBelt, the opportunity is there for someone to take it. Will it be you?
From a poster in Limerick, Ireland:
“It never pays to misrepresent the thing you are selling.”
Though the poster includes a few things I wouldn’t suggest or support such as: only spend time with men of your type, the overall message is the right one. There are no shortcuts in business.
Learn your industry. Study your business.
Honor your commitments.
Do the small things.
I’m paraphrasing, of course, but much of the time honored advice is the best advice. I’ve been routinely reminded that innovation is critical but conventional wisdom is wisdom proven over time.
Conventional wisdom might be boring but boring works.
Trust the companies that have sustained. Those that continue to “be around” are around for a reason. Often, it is two key things. Providing a product or service that people want and being willing to keep doing the thing without distraction or delay. A thousand small things, done over and over, will not only make you success but will make you last.
Speaking of companies that have been around a while, Meredith and I visited John Jameson & Sons Whiskey while in Dublin. Jameson was founded as a family company and continues to respect that traditional to this day. The Master Cooper who crafts the barrels, for example, is a 4th generation Master Cooper at the distillery. One fact that stood out to me from the company tour about the history of Jameson was that during a labor strike in Ireland, Jameson employees were paid for the entire 2 weeks. In another example from the archived wage books, when one cooper could not make it to work for a week, the other coopers stayed later to make his barrels ensuring that he would be paid.
These stories run deeper than company culture, these are stories of community and humanity.
We hear a lot about company culture these days and, in fact, I have more on that below from Andressen Horowitz founder Ben Horowitz, but there is company culture and then there is a group of people living out the things other companies merely talk about. To me, the choice to continue to pay employees even when they did not work is the type of choice that sets companies apart to the tune of decades. For Jameson, it has been hundreds of years.
For those of us leading teams and organizations, the question is — how will you respond? There are For-Profit companies built, in fact, legally required to maximize shareholder stock price. There are Non-Profit companies that return the money to the mission through the organization or its beneficiaries.
Jameson and many others throughout history are trying to do something different. These companies are organized for more than just the product or service. More than just the success story. These companies are in it for more than profit. More Than Profit is a concept introduced to me thanks to Josh McManus and Dan Gilbert. Josh was a senior leader in the company that worked along side my company to invest, activate and promote civil success, entrepreneurs and the people of Detroit. Josh taught me about More Than Profit and planted a seed that has been growing ever since.
More Than Profit can be interpreted in different ways (and probably will be) but to me it has always represented my concept of answer well. I write often, especially on LinkedIn, about my goal to answer well. To me that means that I bring my best response and my best attention to any question or challenge in front of me.
Whether the next email, a random question in the hallway or the company-defining presentation, when confronted with the question, I will answer well. A big part of that mentality is not just quality but respect. Showing respect for others. Respect for their lives, their goals and their priorities. To me, the dignity and innovation of More Than Profit is not just acknowledging but activating around meaning something to the world larger than financial success.
Being a part of the lives of your team members and clients is not easy to do.
Sine Metu — Without fear
Another lesson from the Jameson is how the family motto guided the company and continues to drive Jameson’s vision and legacy. Sine metu or “without fear” was tested from the beginning of the company through the American Prohibition and to today. For instance, John Jameson’s decision to triple distill and age the whiskey for 7 years came with significant pressure to water down his product…in this case, literally. The company maintained quality and continued to innovate through the years. In an age of entrepreneurship and executive coaches and motivational speakers who post frequently about overcoming fear and resisting external voices that will push compromise and short term success, sine metu remains a relevant and ambitious motto.
Long term sustained quality is hard. Making decisions with a long term mindset is really hard. Consider your role as a leader of your business. If you are not a CEO, you are the CEO of your area of the business. The pressure on all of us, but especially CEOs, is to make short term decisions.
“Without fear” was echoed in a podcast that I listened to on the flight home. Ben Horowitz the co-founder of venture capital firm Andressen Horowitz was a guest on Tim Ferriss’s podcast. Horowitz is the founder of companies, the board member/advisor to many more and a potential investor in thousands more. Horowitz sees companies of all shapes and sizes. He talked at length about being CEO and creating a company culture.
If as CEO, you make the decision everyone wants all the time, you are not adding any value. If your team would have made those choices anyway, then they could do that without you. “Without fear” is an ideal way for CEOs or you as CEO of your team to think. How do you make the tough decisions that move the company forward? In some cases, Horowitz points out that the CEO needs to make, what he calls, “unnatural decisions.” Meaning they go against what feels right.
On my team we talk about this as “escalating the hard choices.” Make leaders make the tough choices.
We know technology resources are scarce at every company. We know marketing cannot pick up every product or campaign all the time. It should be leaders making these really difficult decisions. This is particularly true of innovation but it is relevant for all of us.
Do you make decisions “without fear”? Do you escalate the tough choices and do your recommendations reflect short term or long term thinking?
Culture: Long term thinking is not just a belief system but a set of shared behaviors. Many companies see culture as beliefs, but it’s not. It’s what you do. What your people do. The CEO cannot get 10,000 people to all think and act the same. So leveraging culture to drive the actions of the organization is key. If you are looking at your own company, don’t worry about what’s written on the walls of the hallway; look to what your people do. Do they act or question each other? Do they make choices or bring you everything to decide?
This is the thesis of Ben Horowitz’s new book — you are what you do.
Habits of decisive leaders:
1. Focus only on what’s in your control
2. Have someone to talk to
3. Go right for the hard thing
Horowitz described the last habit as a habit that “sharpens the contradictions.” I love that.
Sharpen the contradiction means focusing on where there is inconsistency or disagreement within the team. In those contradictions is the information you need as a leader or decision-maker. Contradictions are often dismissed as “miscommunications” but when you, as CEO of your business, hear that — dig in. Those contradictions or miscommunications are where the key to the way forward lives.
Quote: “You might think my life is good from my diamond piece, but my life is good from finding peace.” — Nas
Bonus content: The Brits are using rent payments to boost credit scores and eligibility for homeownership. Great idea!
Continued success and continue to answer well,