Monday, October 20, 2014

Gazing Beyond Our Overpowering Present & Into Our Ever-Uncertain Future

It takes real discipline to learn from the past, look beyond the current condition and envision a future that is by definition different from today. It comes naturally to a handful of gifted people and they are fascinating to meet. For example, last year I was lucky to hear futurist Ariane van de Ven speak at a conference. Ms. van de Ven has an ability to synthesize current trends and offer a compelling outlook based on her observations.

Most of us, however, do not have that capacity. Our worldview is shaped by our experiences (with heavy weighting on our current situation). This means that when we are struggling with a boss who doesn’t understand us, we can’t even envision the day a new boss (or different career opportunity) appears on the scene. Likewise, if the economy is challenged, it feels like things will only get worse (and visa-versa). We see this on a global level, where various economists have been chasing a non-existent threat of inflation for years simply because that’s a threat they grew up with in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s.

It’s important to keep this blind spot in mind in every situation so we can remain realistically optimistic about the future and open to its unexpected possibilities.

What Am I Reading?


Do we really need another “zombie” story? I know they’ve been all the rage for several years and I almost passed on The Girl With All The Gifts in part because I feared that there wasn’t much new to discover in the genre. Fortunately, I trusted the glowing reviews and dug into the book, which is a fascinating look at human and not-quite-human relationships. And isn’t that what the best science fiction does? It presents us with a world different from our own yet filled with striking similarities from which we can better understand the human condition.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Business Relationships

As a naturally introverted person (an INTJ for those familiar with Myers-Briggs), I have always struggled with the multitude of surface level relationships that accompany a business career.  I love sharing deep conversations about things that are important to others but it’s taken me a lot of effort to get comfortable with the superficial discussions that can open many doors in the business world.

Adding to my frustration, I spent many years working for large companies filled with salespeople who bragged about the strong relationships they had forged with their customers.  When those supposed relationships didn’t facilitate sales, it only hastened my cynicism about their value.   In fact, I frequently found myself chiding salespeople by proclaiming “relationship” to be the most overused and abused word in business.

In my five years with GWC Warranty, however, several things have happened to change my outlook.  First, I’ve continued to mature:   When I was younger, I thought success was earned through intelligence and hard work, and that the story was always in the numbers.   Today I have a much greater appreciation for the people side of things. 

Second, I’ve come to see how, in a true sales culture, relationships matter in ways I was unable to appreciate when I worked with inferior sellers.  The best salespeople at GWC don’t get ahead by schmoozing or collecting relationships like trading cards.  Instead, they earn relationships based on respect, sincerity and really delivering for their customers.  It’s why I continue to believe that the top GWC salespeople are world class sellers and world class people.  And it’s another reason why I’m lucky to work for a company filled with people who can do things much better than I could do them myself.

What Am I Reading?


It’s mid-summer but I haven’t been to the beach once, so let’s use that as an excuse for my limited reading of late!  However, I am just starting Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things, which traverses horror, magic and love at a Coney Island showcase of living wonders circa 1911.

A more realistic excuse is that I’ve been using the air-conditioned summer to binge-watch a number of amazing television shows:  Season 2 of Orange is the New Black, Season 1 of The Americans the bleak new HBO series The Leftovers (based on the Tom Perrotta book I blogged about last year) and finally, all 3 (admittedly short) seasons of BBC’s Sherlock, starring the omnipresent Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, both of whom seem to be popping up in way too many movies and shows these days! 

sherlock-titleSherlock, however, is fascinating and I’ve been telling everyone who will listen to at least watch the first 4 episodes (there are only 9 in total, each 1-1/2 hours) and prepare to be astounded.  Great storytelling, compelling characters and riveting performances from everyone involved; makes me want to go back to England (as if I need another reason to long for that trip!)

Finally, if you want to know more about what’s keeping me interested and entertained between blogs, follow me on Twitter (@RobGlander).  You will only rarely get a business-related tweet and are more likely to hear me share interesting travel photos or rave about a band or movie I love, but it’s quick reading; I can only do so much damage in 140 characters!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Trick Shots & Making Customers Happy

I recently took my 11-year-old daughter Lily to see the Harlem Globetrotters on their annual visit to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre. I was surprised and secretly delighted that she wanted to attend, as the Globetrotters have always held a storehouse of memories for me, some of which I’ll touch on in a few minutes.

In the meantime, Lily and I had a great time at the game, laughing at all the trick shots and gamesmanship that made fools out of their hapless opponents, the inappropriately named World All-Stars. And it’s worth noting that in the course of that enjoyment we consumed dinner and snacks (on top of what I thought was a relatively hefty ticket price) and excitedly bought a red, white and blue basketball as well as a Globetrotter branded Sharpie in anticipation of what we thought we be the capper to a great evening: A promised opportunity to go down on the hardwood floor and collect photos and signatures of the team’s thrilling players immediately following the game.

Needless to say, that’s not quite what happened. Shortly before the game ended, the court was roped off and, as the final horn sounded, most of the crowd attempted to find the undefined pathway to two unmarked openings to the court. Meanwhile, two of the players were led over to backdrops behind one of the hoops where makeshift lines began to form.

Failing to make our way to the court, Lily and I defaulted to the players behind the hoop. And after about 45 minutes of waiting, Lily worked her way to the front of the line for one photo and autograph opportunity. Here she is dwarfed by Hi-Lite Bruton:


Unfortunately, before we could even line up for another player, team officials were shutting down the lines and hustling the players off the court. Lily was shocked and even remarked that they hadn’t given most of the fans any time at all to spend with the players.  And this reminded me of a similar disappointing Globetrotter story from my youth.

I spent most of my childhood growing up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a town of 33,000 people on the shore of Lake Michigan. As Manitowoc was 75 miles north of Milwaukee and 40 miles south of Green Bay, we had limited entertainment options. Yet the Harlem Globetrotters made regular visits to our school gymnasiums and amazed us with their trick shots and team play. This was during the period when star players included Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal and Goose Ausbie, all of whom were featured in the Globetrotters’ Saturday morning cartoon series, trading cards, etc. It was thus a thrill to see them live as we sat in the stands at our YMCA or high school field house.

Naturally, when it was announced that Hallie Bryant, one of the team’s stars, would be appearing to sign autographs at the Mid-Cities Mall the evening before their scheduled game with the New Jersey Generals, it was the talk for days among many of us young basketball fans. When the appointed evening arrived, there was a massive line that stretched from Montgomery Ward at one end of the mall all the way to JC Penney at the opposite end.

As I worked my way up the line toward Hallie, however, I noticed something odd: He was not actually SIGNING autographs. Instead, every fan was being handed an 8-1/2 x 11 photocopy of an old Globetrotter press photo (that strangely included comedian Red Skelton for some reason). Then, as each fan reached the front of the line, Hallie would STAMP his signature on the photo! The poor kid in front of me had brought a basketball along and Hallie even tried unsuccessfully several times to stamp that before sighing and begrudgingly pulling out a Bic pen and signing the ball.

Hallie Bryant RedIt was a huge letdown. And given our recent experience I have to believe that despite decades of experience, the Harlem Globetrotters have still not figured out the art of delivering what their paying fans crave: An authentic, personal experience that leaves them as thrilled with the meetup as they are with the game. And I’m reminded that even years of practicing successful trick shots can be diminished if you don’t execute in every aspect of customer service.

What Am I Reading?

51PizbLUjFLThe Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert is a novel that is right in my wheelhouse: Historical fiction that deals with an imaginary World’s Fair in Omaha in the late 1800’s while promising a taste of the fantastic, some sleight-of-hand and a bittersweet romance. Colleen loved this book and highly recommended it, and so far I’m about a third in. It’s everything she promised (if a bit heavy on the romantic yearnings of our protagonist) but still a compelling story.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Leadership Lessons from Sidney Crosby of the Penguins

I rarely try to conflate sports stories into business allegories but I’m still euphoric over the Pittsburgh Penguins’ victory a few nights ago (and excited about our WBS Penguins’ currently knotted playoff series with those pesky Binghamton Senators – Impeach ‘em!)  However, Sidney Crosby subtly demonstrated one of the attributes that make him a true team Captain after Monday’s game.

To recap:  Penguins goalie Mark Andre Fleury has a well-chronicled history of mental lapses leading to team collapses in the playoffs.  And the most recent series against Columbus was bringing out the doubters again.  After single-handedly costing the Penguins game 4 with a crazy decision to leave the net open with 25 seconds remaining, Fleury won game 5 and was playing brilliantly in game 6…until the end.  Holding a 4-0 lead with 10 minutes to play (powered by Evgeni Malkin’s hat trick), Fleury let 3 goals slip by in a span of 5 minutes.

After a frantic finish that saw the Pens hold on and win the series, Crosby was quick to grab the game puck and hand-deliver it to Fleury.  When the announcer, who was among many taking jabs at Fleury all series, asked Sidney why he chose Fleury for the honor, he said “There’s a lot of pressure.  It’s a hard job.  And Mark was the best player in the series.” 

And with those few words, the Captain gave an strong endorsement to a player whose confidence could be faltering and who the team desperately needs to stay strong through the rest of the playoffs.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot as I consider people who need to be reminded of their value and importance even when they may be faltering.  The team needs them and is rooting for them to succeed, even if they don’t know it.  We all have to remember to tell them as much, just like Sidney.  Let’s Go Pens!

What Am I Reading?

Unknown-Pleasures-Inside-Joy-Division-Updated-Cover-Jacket-Aug-2012Regular readers of the blog know that I am a sucker for memoirs about great artists and musicians.  And this book by Peter Hook delivers a thrilling, funny and touching eyewitness account of his seminal band Joy Division.  Hooky starts with a gang of rambunctious kids who want to make music and takes us right through the group’s abrupt demise with the shocking suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis.  Like Joy Division’s music, that description sounds bleak but the book is anything but.  Like one of the band’s early ep’s, it’s more an “Ideal for Living.”  Random question:  Why do bass players tell the best stories?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

It’s Hard To Dance With Mouse Guts On Your Shoes!

As a CEO, a key part of my job is telling the company’s story, whether it be to our private equity partners, bankers, auditors, dealers, employees or others.  And I have often referred to that story-telling as “dancing” in that it involves artfully putting on a show for the audience.

Among those who have seen me “dance” are GWC’s two ambitious interns from Kings College, Chris and Patricia, who are helping us out for a few months on competitive analysis research.  And in the process, Patricia unwittingly inspired the name of my to-be-written autobiography.

A few weeks ago, Jeannie discovered a baby mouse zipping across the carpet, leading to the requisite office freak out.  Alicia, our brave ex-Navy sailor, handily scooped up the little critter and released it outside.  And for the rest of the day, I occasionally walked through the area pretending to squish mice under my feet.  (Okay, I admit to sometimes having the sense of humor of a 12-year-old boy!) 

At one point, Georgiann asked me what I would do if I actually stepped on a mouse and got its “guts” on my shoes.  I jokingly replied that I’d have one of the interns clean it off!  And after a bit of friendly back-and-forth, our intern Patricia (who is soon heading off to a career in public accounting) let me know that in a few years she would be coming back in search of bigger and better things, telling me “Hey, I can do your job:  I can walk up and down the aisles all day, stomping my feet and scaring people too!”

I was stunned by Patricia’s quick wit and “guts” in dishing it right back to me and let her know that her courage will take her far.  But on reflection, I realized that much of my job is pretty basic, un-sexy, operational stuff like chasing down mice.  And that the more bogged down I am in the daily grind, the harder it is to do the big picture, visionary things like imagine, implement and tell the story of a fast-growing, dynamic company.  I will re-dedicate myself to trying to stay above the fray.  But in the meantime, the working title of my autobiography title is the header on today’s blog.

What Am I Reading?

the_hard_thing_about_hard_things__building_a_business_when_there_are_no_easy_answers__ben_horowitz__9780062273208__amazon-com__booksLots of hard things to discuss in this blog, not the least of which is finding the time to read the books stacking up on my credenza and iPad!  Too many great TV shows starting up right now (Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Turn, Bates Motel….)  But I’m overdue for a good leadership book so I’m just starting venture capitalist Ben Horowitz’s new one on the challenges of leading a business.  The quote that sucked me in:  “Ideally, the C.E.O. will be urgent yet not insane.”  THOSE are words I can relate to!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Micro-Blogging and Worlds Colliding

To quote Frank Underwood, “Did you think I’d forgotten about you?”  I’ve been away from this blog for several months but it’s not for lack of engagement.  Instead, I’ve been upping my social media activities, particularly on Twitter. 

That’s proven challenging, however:   I joined Twitter primarily to keep up on the thoughts of musicians, actors and other creative types.  That soon evolved to include snippets of conversations with fellow fans.  But it didn’t really include much in the way of “work thoughts.”  So when business colleagues started following my tweets, it was a bit jarring.  And I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode where George’s compartmentalized worlds collide.

Anyone know how professionals manage to live fully engaged lives in the new social media universe while maintaining their professional dignity?  Tweet me @RobGlander

What Am I Reading?


Remember B. J. Novak from Punk’d, The Office and  Inglorious Bastards?  Who knew he was such a thoughtful and hilarious writer?  I just finished his new book of short stories and micro-essays (I think I just made up a new word!)  and laughed throughout.  It’s an easy, funny read that is appealing from start to finish.