Finish What You Started

Finish What You Started

It was the Summer before my senior year in High School when I ran into my Scout Master. He was also our neighbor in the small fishing village of Longboat Key, FL, where I grew up. “Smoke, good to see you. You going to finish what you started?” he asked. Of course, I knew exactly what he was referring to. You see, a few short years before, I was one of the founding scouts of Troop 44 on Longboat Key. As a new troop, I had the opportunity to immediately become a leader. It didn’t take long for a rapid ascent through the ranks; from Scout, to Tenderfoot, to 2nd Class, to 1st Class, to Star, and on to Life Scout by age 16. I only had a few more requirements to achieve my goal of becoming an Eagle Scout, the Boy Scouts highest rank. While Scouting and camping remained something I cared about, sports, school and social activities had begun to take most of my time.

On that hot Summer day while on my way to catch some Mullet with my cast net, Mr. Carmen reminded me, “Smoke, you know that only 4% of boys who start scouting ever achieve the rank of Eagle?”. This had been grilled into us from the first days of scouting. He was reminding me, that in less than a year I would turn 18 and no longer be eligible for advancement. He also knew there was a very good chance I would not finish as he’d seen this happen to many scouts over the years. Wrestling was my priority and I was about to head to Dan Gable’s 28 Day Intensive Training Camp in Iowa. Once the season started, this meant 3 hour practices, 5 days a week and meets and matches on many weekends. Juggling this with school work and applying to colleges would be a challenge as it was, add on all the social distractions that come with senior year in high school and it would be a real challenge to put the necessary time into Scouts. It was a moment of truth. Do I make the commitment to finish what I set out to do or do I take the much easier path and let other things take priority? I remember looking myself in the mirror and asking, “What matters to me?” I decided then and there that I would not let anything get in the way of my goal of Eagle. Looking back, I had no idea of the impact the answer to that question would have on my life.

Eleven months later, I completed my Eagle project. We cleaned up part of the beaches on Longboat Key and built a small foot bridge at the LBK Youth Center. I finished right before my 18th birthday. My brother Clay followed suit, earning his Eagle rank a short time later (but also right under the wire). In the end, it was up to me to do the hard work and complete the requirements. I never would have made it without the support and encouragement of my family and the adult leaders in the Troop, when I needed it most.

Today, I reflect on this story to share one of the many lessons I have learned: finish what you start.

Building the internal fortitude to bear down is hard when there are many other distractions. This is something you cannot teach, but rather one must learn from experience. Looking back on my years since, finishing my Eagle changed my whole life.

The willingness to step up and complete what one begins is an essential element for success in business, industry and community activities. I moved to Indianapolis upon graduating from Cornell University and read about an Eagle Scout leadership dinner in town. This is where I met some of the community’s biggest business and community leaders at the time, including then Senator Richard Lugar. At 22 years old, I was networking with a Senator and CEOs of some of the biggest businesses in a town. Prior to this, I only knew a handful of people in Indianapolis. Being an Eagle Scout has opened many doors for me along my personal journey. A few years later, when I was in position to hire talent for my businesses, a candidate with Eagle Scout on their resume would always make my interview list regardless of other experience. It’s the one thing from childhood that has come up time and again throughout my adult life. This would not have happened had I not finished. No one recognizes a Life Scout.

When my two sons Skye and Cameron joined Scouting, I told them this story. We had many adventures in Scouting together including hiking on the Appalachian Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Philmont Scout Ranch and the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska. As they got older, when time was running out for their Eagle, I had to remind them of it. There was a good chance they would not finish, but fortunately there were many adults and fellow scouts who helped push them when they needed it most. (Scoutmaster Clifton, Mr. B, the Johnsons, the Stewarts, and other parents, in particular Diana Church). When one starts anything new, it is easy to say, “I’ll finish and reach my goal.” It is a lot harder to actually do it. I’m proud that both sons also went on to earn their Eagle rank.

Throughout my career in business as a serial entrepreneur, I’ve encountered many setbacks and roadblocks to achieving my goals. It is how one responds to adversity that determines success. There is a confidence one develops knowing whatever it takes and no matter how difficult the situation one can persevere.

When you have the opportunity to give an extra push or words of encouragement to someone you know who is struggling or has lost sight of their goal, do it, even if it is not what they want to hear. Your encouragement could be the thing that gets them over the top to rededicate themselves to achieve their potential. It takes caring people to bring out the best in each of us. Sometimes, one person asking, “are you going to finish what you started?” is the final catalyst needed for action.

At the end of the day it is up to the individual to do what it takes. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. When you feel most like giving up, that is the time to bear down and do what it takes to finish what you started.

If you enjoyed this read, please follow me on twitter @smokewallin or on https://www.linkedin.com/in/smokewallin and you can read more on my personal website drinktechnology.com. If you know someone how needs to hear this message, please share.

Real Leaders and Inspiration: Takeaways From Entrepreneurship @ Cornell #ESHIP15

Real Leaders and Inspiration: Takeaways From Entrepreneurship @ Cornell #ESHIP15

Cornell ESHIP cover photo

I had the opportunity to participate in Entrepreneurship @ Cornell last week. Besides it being enjoyable to get back to campus after a 15-year hiatus, I left feeling inspired by the people I met. This included my fellow speakers, attendees, the faculty and most importantly the Cornell students. Anyone worried about the state of America today and the next generation of leaders need only spend a week like mine to gain a renewed sense of optimism. More than anything, the drive to create new enterprises to solve new and old problems with innovative approaches and the sense that “no one can stop me” I got from so many individuals was gratifying. Cornell seems to be doing a better job than most university systems in coordinating across the various schools to support and encourage entrepreneurship. As Director of Entrepreneurship @ Cornell, Zach Shulman said, “I have 13 bosses. I report to all 13 Deans and they all support our activities.” The ability to cut across schools as diverse as Agricultural, Business, Hotel, Engineering, Industrial & Labor Relations, Law and support would be entrepreneurs regardless of their chosen field is powerful.

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Jay Walker ‘77, a keynote and founder of Priceline.com and Walker Digital put the entrepreneurial bug in perspective by calling it a “disease”. Do you have it? If you do, you can’t get rid of it. He also made a great point that you don’t build a company with a group of people who ALL have the disease. That would not be successful. You need a team that can build processes, and get things done. That certainly fits my experience. As I said to some of the classes, we are glorifying the entrepreneur this week and it is a great thing. However, one does not build a business with all entrepreneurs. One builds a business with a team of people with complimentary skills and ability to execute. Every visionary who can articulate the future and see what no one else sees, needs someone pulling back asking the questions: that sounds great, but how do we DO that? What needs to be in place to make it work? What about these problems?   One must have a balance and the how do you actually do what is being proposed way of thinking is critical.

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Jay went on to identify 10 ‘superforces’ – Jay Walker shares 10 ‘superforces’ of the business future. At the opening night banquet, the superstar Mayor of Ithaca, Svante Myrick addressed the group. Mayor Myrick is truly a remarkable leader. He called all entrepreneurs the “annoying” people without whom, nothing would change. When I commented to Jay Walker that I’d like to see Mayor Myrick in higher office, he said something with which I immediately agreed… “We need fresh leadership doing good things at the local level. Let him do that now.” In the excitement for how good I think he is and his potential on a larger stage, its easy to forget that we need a whole bunch of Svante Myricks doing exactly what he is doing locally in this country. The Mayor and I got into a little twitter exchange after his talk above.

Tech Entrepreneurship Roundtable Prgm image IMG_5281IMG_5320IMG_5284 Smoke at Cornell - Hosp Roundtable

Leading into the celebration, I had the privilege of participating on the CHR Technology Entrepreneurship Roundtable at the Cornell Hotel School. This roundtable was of the highest caliber and I really enjoyed learning from and debating the latest developments in hospitality and how technology is affecting everyone’s businesses.   There are several people I met through the roundtable with whom I will remain friends far into the future. I presented the case for why today is better than any other time for new brands to reach their audience, which led the group to a discussion of the asynchronistic nature of startup/new brands vs large established brands. This applies to hotels and to beverage brands. The bottom line is using today’s technology, a new brand can communicate with its core following or “Tribe” directly, something that in the past was nearly impossible or cost prohibitive to do. Larger established brands have a much harder time competing at that level and by their very definition, cannot micro market as easily.

I also really enjoyed sharing stories of our entrepreneurial journey on the CEN panel on Friday with Panelists:
Jamey Edwards ’96, MBA ’03, CEO, Emergent Medical Associates
Carl Forsythe MBA ’82, President & CEO, Globe Composite Solutions
Smoke Wallin ‘88, CEO, Taliera

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Jamey and Carl both brought great perspectives as we took turns telling stories and engaging with the audience.

The Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship hosted two panel/socials that promoted a group of entrepreneurs interacting with students. Both of these were a lot of fun as I enjoyed the panels and students!

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Finally, I’ve had a half dozen follow up calls and discussions with student entrepreneurs since last week. These folks are pushing ahead with their various new ventures and represent the future of our country. I am pleased that I can play a small role in giving them input/guidance on their respective journeys.

 

Cheers

Smoke

 

My Week of Leadership & Entrepreneurship @ Cornell and WSWA

My Week of Leadership & Entrepreneurship @ Cornell and WSWA

Celebration 15 logo

I’m really looking forward to next week’s Entrepreneurship @ Cornell University! The energy building up to this is incredible as I’ve begun to interact with my fellow speakers and attendees.

Right now I’m thinking about my topics and the most important take home value I can deliver to the students, entrepreneurs and attendees.

Before I get to Ithaca, I’m attending the 72nd Annual Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) convention in Orlando, FL.  Since I’m launching a new brand project, it will give me an opportunity to further discuss packaging, branding, sourcing and overall strategy with some of the brightest leaders in the industry.  Last year at WSWA I kicked off the pre-launch of Sugar Skull Rum.

This is a cool brand that unfortunately got stopped in its tracks by certain partners before we could get beyond kickoff in a few markets.  Time will tell where it ends up, but the early response was terrific!  There are lessons in this one I will certainly share at Cornell.

Finally, although I rooted for Wisconsin at the Final NCAA game last week, I am looking forward to hearing Mike Krzyzewski- better known as “Coach K“- head of the legendary Duke University Blue Devils basketball squad, address our group on Monday morning.  Not a Duke fan generally, but definitely hold Coach K in high regard and interested in his message on leadership and winning.

Here’s an outline of my upcoming Cornell visit:Tech Entrepreneurship Roundtable Prgm image

Tuesday/Wednesday – participate in and speak at the Pillsbury Institute’s

Technology Entrepreneurship Roundtable, Chaired by: Mona Anita Olsen, Ph.D. Assistant Academic Director of The Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship, Visiting Assistant Professor of Management & Organizational Behavior, Cornell University

Center for Hospitality Res - Cornell

Mona Anita Olsen

I’m looking forward to my session with  Cornell classmate Joe Tagliente, President, Lenrock and a fellow YPO’r.  Our panel is called “Brand Activation Through Social & Mobile Apps and Development of A Social Mobile Company” The full program is here.

It will be catching up with fraternity brother (Sigma Nu)  Zach Shulman, who I found out after committing to my visit is Director of Entrepreneurship @Cornell!  Very cool!

Thursday/Friday are jam packed with the Entrepreneurship @Cornell Celebration.

 

In this I’m joining more than 1,000 alumni, students, faculty, and staff for two days of on-campus events including:

  • Symposia on a wide range of topics including family business, social entrepreneurship, health administration and more!
  • eLab Demo Day
  • New Business & Emerging Technologies Showcase
  • BIG Idea Competition and Cornell Venture Challenge finals
  • Recognition of the Student Business of the Year
  • Networking opportunities …and more!

    Celebration 15 logo

I have the opportunity to speak with Dr. Olsen’s class called:

Technology for Bootstrapped Entrepreneurship

a topic with which I am intimately familiar!

Following class, I’m participating on a panel of distinguished entrepreneurs in what is dubbed a

Slice of Insight Social at Celebration ’15

The the rest of the day includes a keynote by Jay Walker (one of America’s best-known business inventors and entrepreneurs, has founded multiple successful startup companies that today serve more than 75 million customers in 15 different industries) and the banquet with special guest Svante Myrick ’09, Ithaca Mayor

On Friday I’m joining two other entrepreneurs in a celebration talk:

CEN talk Cornell panel

In between all this I’m visiting the Viticulture and Oenology department, with Prof. Gavin Sacks to learn about what Cornell is up to in the wine world and also to see what we can do to tie them into our 11th Annual Wine Industry Technology Symposium (WITS) in Napa in June.

Finally, I’m paying a visit to the Friedman Wrestling center and Coach Rob Koll,  4 X NCAA champion Kyle Dake and first time champion Gabe Dean…  and later meeting up with my old wrestling coach and Athletic Director, Andy Noel... this will entail its own post after we meet up!

I look forward to writing about my experiences and all the interaction with new and old friends!  Cheers!

 

 

 

My Appreciation for Joel Covington and my Vanderbilt Journey

My Appreciation for Joel Covington and my Vanderbilt Journey

The world lost a good man this week. I did not I stay in touch with Joel frequently after attending Vanderbilt Owen Business School in the early 1990s. I do, however, remember him well. Joel with a wry humorous wit, always had a comment when I’d see him in passing on my visits back to school. He seemed to be on the inside of a joke, that one was never sure if it was about you, but it didn’t matter, as he said it with a smile.   But most of all for me, Joel, who was Director of Admissions at the time, had the wisdom to look beyond a checkered undergraduate academic career, and understand a young aspiring business person who demonstrated his passion but little else. When others looked only at the black and white on paper, Joel met with me in person and consulted with Nick Whitcombe, my Cornell wrestling pal who was already at Vandy, and was able to see my potential and gave me a chance when it mattered. For this I am grateful.

“At twenty years of age the will reigns; at thirty, the wit; and at forty, the judgment.” – Benjamin Franklin.  Joel, thanks for having the judgement to recognize my will would turn into something.

Here is a nice story remembering Joel in Vanderbilt News

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YPO Food & Beverage Roundtable 2015

YPO Food & Beverage Roundtable 2015

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I spent the past week in Orlando, FL with an inspiring group of CEOs from the food and beverage industry. The roundtable is a once a year gathering of presidents involved in or interested in the industry. The network consists of over 1800 leaders doing everything from farming to production to distribution to food service/restaurants. It cuts across industries, from my world of beer, wine and spirits into the vast world of food (we merged the Global Beer, Wine and Spirits network with the Food & Beverage Network in 2013), so the network is truly from Farm to Fork and from Grape to Glass. A roundtable of thoughtful leaders from so many diverse areas is as much about learning from each other as it is the specific resources and education programming.   I come away from my 7th such meeting with a renewed vigor for pursuing my business and life goals, and an appreciation for the many friendships, old and new, I have through YPO. Here are some of the highlights:

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I’ll start with the integration of outstanding dining experiences with world-class beverages. We enjoyed a beautifully done dinner at Il Mulino at the Walt Disney World Swan (Walt Disney World Swan, 1200 Epcot Resorts Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32830). Il Mulino is world famous and their flagship restaurant in Greenwich Village remains top rated in New York’s elite dining scene. The Orlando Trattoria version is well executed. Of course, the making of a perfect meal is all about pairing the right flavors with each other and with the right beverages. Banfi Vintners, one of the largest importers of wine and a major producer of Italian wines was the perfect resource for our evening. I’d like to give a special shout out to Bill Whiting, Wine Education Director from Banfi who gave a delightful narrative to the wines and business as we progressed throughout the evening. All of the pairings were enjoyable, but my personal favorite was the 2009 Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino with Primo Piatto Tagliatelle (Lamb Ragu, Mirepoix, Pecornino). Wow.

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We went in a completely different direction at Fulton’s Crab House (A YPO company, Levy Restaurants) and a thoroughly enjoyable evening of one of Oregon’s greatest wine producers, Sokal Blosser. A special shout out to YPO member and winery leader, Alison Sokal Blosser who not only educated our group on the Oregon wine business and her wines, but entertained us with personal stories growing up in the vineyards in a wine family.   As a Pinot Noir fanatic, I was certainly in my element as Alison shared their outstanding 2012 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir and then dipped into the very limited production Goosepin block 2010 and 2011. Capping off the evening was a special treat of her 2013 Dessert Riesling. It was, on the whole, an enjoyable evening interacting with members.

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On our final evening together, we were able to visit member and Chef John Metz Jr.’s Marlow’s Tavern. As they describe it “Marlow’s Tavern features the “Best of the Best” in American tavern fare served in a modern atmosphere.” I would call it a modern gastro pub and simply a great place to enjoy high quality food in a very relaxed atmosphere. John and his partners now have 13 Marlow’s in Atlanta and 2 in Orlando. Craft cocktails accompanied the expertly executed appetizers and my friends at the Belhaven Brewery from Scotland provided us with some Belhaven Black Stout and Belhaven Twisted Thistle IPA.

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From Marlow’s we moved on to a tequila pairing dinner at the vibrant (one might say ROCKIN!) Rocco’s Tacos. Our friends at Brown-Forman were the perfect partner as we enjoyed a full range of their Casa Herradura tequilas. Thanks to both Michael Ring and Greg Stewart of Brown Forman. The tequilas matched the courses nicely but the final offering of Selección Suprema Extra Anejo, aged 49 months on oak was spectacular. This is a true sipping tequila.

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The educational aspects of the meeting were a mix of in industry (Food & Beverage) and outside industry but all focused on “president level” education. In other words how do I perform better as a president and how do I make my organization more effective. I share here a few non-confidential highlights from the many outstanding educational sessions:

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  • Celebrity Chef and Top Chef season 11 fan favorite Nina Compton, gave a personal account of her journey as a chef from growing up in St. Lucia to chopping carats in the back of kitchens to a becoming major TV celebrity. I have had the opportunity to enjoy the four-star food at Scarpetta in the Fontainebleau where Nina was chef de cuisine until June 2014. She has a great energy and I cannot wait to try her new restaurant she is opening soon. Details to come once it is announced!
  • We had an only in YPO discussion on family business with four leaders from YPO companies who are all in the same family. It was fascinating watch their interaction and how they have tackled the jugular issues any family business faces in success and succession.
  • WPO member, industry leader (and recent National Restaurant Association Chair) and Executive Chairman of Miller’s Ale House, Phil Hickey gave us compelling insights into the election results and the importance of each of us to be involved politically. There are a lot of bad for business movements that are well organized and need to be countered by the people that actually create the businesses that support jobs and the economy. If we don’t do it who will?
  • A leading expert in risk management, Richard Shanks of Aon Risk Solutions, gave a compelling if not disturbing talk on the risks to the food supply and what leaders in industry are doing to mitigate and prevent problems. This is a topic that anyone in the food and beverage business at every level (farming, production, retailing, serving) need to be knowledgeable in and prepared for.
  • Richard Van Warner of the Parquet Group, a leading restaurant consulting firm, gave a talk that brought the risks of not handling a problem, in a timely and well-considered way, to life. His war stories and examples of what not to do were entertaining and at the same time a wake up call to everyone in the room.
  • If we did not have enough to be concerned about with the food supply risks and the PR issues in handling problems, the truly scary world of cyber security came to life in Tom Noonan’s talk. Noonan is Chairman of Tessentee Capital and a WPO member, and has had a lot of experience dealing with cyber threats. His deep dive into the Target fiasco was telling. People are involved in every business. People are the biggest risk. In many cases, the very basic, simple steps that can be taken, and need to be taken to encrypt sensitive data and manage the outside access to the web, are simply ignored. Any company leader not taking this serious threat at the CEO level is risking not only their job, but their company.
  • The recent changes President Obama has made with regard to Cuba, has made it a very interesting topic indeed. We enjoyed a briefing by business intelligence experts Javier Ortiz and Marty Martin of Crane & Crane Consulting. The bottom line is Cuba is opening up, but there is a lot of uncertainty on how fast. It has unique potential as a destination for Americans with its close proximity to the US, natural beaches and friendly people. I think there will be a lot of investment flowing into Cuba from all over the world as the relations with the US continue to normalize.
  • Marshall Chiles of Humor Wins gave us a methodology for injecting humor into our presentations. It was a fun (and humorous) walk through the mind of the comedian. I don’t think any of us will give up our day jobs, but the approach he shared can certainly liven up our presentations. Thanks Marshall!
  • Our behind the scenes tour of Disney’s EPCOT Center “Land Exhibit” was interesting. EPCOT has had a sustainable farming operation for over 25 years and continues to do extensive research on best practices. With the world’s population growing at the current pace, it is clear that food supply and conservation of clean water is going to be among the biggest concerns going forward. I don’t think enough people are thinking about this or doing anything to prepare for it. I’m glad Disney is playing some part and I hope they think of more ways in which to spread the word.

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  • We had an interesting talk from a senior executive at Disney, Elizabeth Ann Williams General manager F&B for Disney’s Hollywood Studios/Walk Disney World Resort -who shared the “DISNEY WAY” = Safety, Courtesy, Efficiency and Show.   Her passion for the EPCOT Food & Wine Experience was great to see, as it is one of the coolest events in our industry and Elizabeth had a hand in its creation.
  • Michael Pavone, a friend and YPO member, gave us an updated summary of his “Trends in Food & Beverage” report his agency puts together annually. It is always an interesting check on the pulse of what is happening in F&B.
  • In her “inside the mind of the millennial woman” (my title), Cindy Judge of Sterling-Rice Group shared insights and observations of the largest generation to date, that is increasingly driving decision making globally. As the father of three millennials and one of whatever comes after that, her research rang true. Anyone leading a business, who does not take into account this generation and their ways of making decisions around brands and life, does so at their own peril.

 

3 or 4 Cornellians at YPO F&B 2015

3 of 4 Cornellians at YPO F&B 2015

As always, the biggest benefit of YPO comes from the interaction and learning among the members. As event champion for the 2016 F & B Roundtable in Napa Valley, CA, I’m looking forward to putting another world-class program together to build upon this year’s successful event.

Vegas – Insights, Casinos, Fine Dining, Nightlife, Zappos & Adventure

Vegas – Insights, Casinos, Fine Dining, Nightlife, Zappos & Adventure

Vegas collage ypo jan 2015

There is something about Vegas that brings everything good and bad in America front and center. Though I’ve been many times, my adventure in Vegas last week was extraordinary. It combined the expected – great restaurants, nightlife and gambling with the unexpected – awe inspiring nature, mind blowing business culture, and valuable take home business insights.

First, renting a house off the strip was a first for me. We used AirBnB and had a 7 bedroom mansion that was a little dated (furniture/fixtures) but was perfect for a group that wants to spend quality time together and have options away from the Casinos. The back and forth was a 10 minute ride and really no issue for anything we wanted to do. I would rent the place again in a second and if you want the link to the house, just contact me.

I’ll bet most of you who have gone to Vegas never leave the strip. That was my feeling until a few years ago I visited (and got married in) the Valley of Fire State Park and well, wow. So now it is a must to get out of town and enjoy the incredible nature surrounding Las Vegas itself. Hiking in the Red Rock Canyon Park is a must do and only about 25 minutes away. Further out is the Valley of Fire (60 min) but well worth the ride. We opted for an ATV ride through the park, which was exciting and enjoyable. We had some nice stops along the way to take in the beauty in between our daredevil ride. Kudos to Adrenaline ATV Tours! –They have a totally professional and cool staff and great equipment made it enjoyable all around. I highly recommend them.

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The week of my visit there were many conventions in the city, but the two most notable were the Shot Show with 67,000 attendees and the Adult Entertainment Expo with 25,000 attendees. The SHOT Show® is the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show and Conference for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting accessories industry. The AEE is well, if you don’t know I won’t discuss it here. Naked people shooting guns you might ask? You can be the judge of what is good or bad, but it is indisputably interesting.

Vegas has arguably the highest concentration of fine dining anywhere in the world. I visited several of note:

  • Estiatorio Milos at the Cosmopolitan– I agree with their own description: “Touted aestiatorio-miloss one of North America’s finest Greek restaurants, Estiatorio Milos by restaurateur Costas Spiliadis features fine Mediterranean cuisine at its best and has a longstanding reputation for serving the freshest, most pristine seafood imported daily in New York City and Montreal.” My group did family style and enjoyed everything served. Appitizers of particular note – The grilled Octopus and Greek Meze Plate with Tarama, Tzatziki, Htipiti, manouri cheese, olives & cherry tomatoes blew us away.images-3
  • Katsuya at the SLS Las Vegas– Their description “KATSUYA MARRIES MASTER SUSHI CHEF KATSUYA UECHI’S FRESH TAKES ON JAPANESE CLASSICS WITH DESIGN ICON PHILIPPE STARCK’S SLEEK AND SULTRY INTERIORS.” Among the top sushi restaurants in the country, I put it right up with Nobu, Sushi Ran and our regular favorite Sushi Den.
  • Rao’s at Caesar’s Palace– As they describe it “Step in to a legendary institution—or at least the Vegas offshoot—when visiting Rao’s. The original Rao’s in New York City opened in 1896 and is one of the oldest family owned restaurants in the city, and at 12 tables, is one of the hardest places to get into.” Great family style Italian. Particular favorites include the Sausage & Peppers, Meatballs, the Roasted Red Peppers and the Penne Ala Vodka. Everything is solid and traditional.
  • Buddy V’s Restorante at the Venetian- As they describe it “Buddy Valastro, of TLC’s Cake Boss, has brought his first restaurant to Las Vegas at The Venetian. Buddy V’s Ristorante, a partnership with veteran restaurateurs Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla, is inspired by Valastro’s family gatherings and features recipes passed down from his mother, grandmother and aunts.” Well worth the trip!

Our nightlife included visits to The Sayers Club for live music (awesome) and LIFE for craziness (also awesome in a different way) both at The SLS Casino Vegas as well as a great comedy show at the Flamingo by Vinnie Favorito. Don’t go if you are easily offended, he literally offends everyone, every race, religion, size, shape, origin or whatever. By the end, it would be hard to be mad as he left no stone unturned in his attacks. Its quite an enjoyable show and highly recommended.

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One of the coolest things I’ve done in Vegas to date was to visit the offices of Zappos, the online shoe company bought by Amazon in 2009 (I know the date well as I won a prize for remembering the date from the video presentation). Zappos made the reputation and built their business around uncompromising customer service. As they put it – “Customer Service Isn’t Just A Department!

We’ve been asked by a lot of people how we’ve grown so quickly, and the answer is actually really simple… We’ve aligned the entire organization around one mission: to provide the best customer service possible. Internally, we call this our WOW philosophy.”

We took the ZapposInsights Cultural Tour and added in the Q&A session. I’d like to give a special shout out to Erika Newman aka @ZCulture_Equine who guided our tour with ease and grace and to Jon Wolske aka the Evangelist @bassred who led our Q&A session warmly. The people really do believe in their motto and live their culture. Their core principles guide their every action and EVERYONE is empowered to make decisions as long as they are consistent with them.

zappos offices

Tony Hsieh the CEO is well known but here is a little background on his story: In 1999, at the age of 24, Tony Hsieh (pronounced Shay) sold LinkExchange, the company he co-founded, to Microsoft for $265 million. He then joined us as an advisor and investor, and eventually became CEO, where he helped us grow from almost no sales to over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales annually, while simultaneously making Fortune magazines annual Best Companies to Work For list. In November 2009, Zappos.com, Inc. was acquired by Amazon.com in a deal valued at $1.2 billion on the day of closing.

I really found it interesting that the #1 hire was Fred Mossler from Nordstrom. Fred brought knowledge of the shoe business. But I can remember back at Cornell doing case studies on Nordstrom (formerly Nordstrom & Wallin but that is for another day) and their famous customer service. It was one of the most used examples in the 1980s of who to do retail right. In particular their shoe department was famous for service like no other. That Zappos is all about service and started in shoes has Fred’s Nordstrom finger prints all over it. Pretty cool how old school excellence inspired a next generation disruptor.

Here are the 10 core values:

Zappos Core Values

 

While it was infectious to be around such a motivated team, I don’t think this exact culture would work for many businesses. That said, their commitment to core principles, from top to bottom is a difference maker. Any organization that can distill its core values and get its entire work force believing in them (whatever they are) would out perform any normal organization. I think that is the critical insight that Zappos gives – if you can build a core team who all believe in the core values and remain true to them, you can do extraordinary things. Asked several times does the culture make the company or do the people make the it… we got the same answer from different people – they hire people that are consistent with their values. They DO NOT try to hire people and then change them to work within the Zappos culture. It really is all about fit at the front end or they don’t hire you. Simple yet powerful.

Going from next generation internet retailer with a cult like culture to one of the top luxury hospitality operators gave me further insight into what makes for excellence, in any industry. We had the good fortune to experience a VIP corporate tour of the Venetian and The Palazzo. What an incredible operation. These properties and the Sands Expo & Convention Center are the Las Vegas properties of Las Vegas Sands Corp (NYSE:LVS). The Venetian® Resort~Hotel~Casino and The Palazzo® Resort~Hotel~Casino are in addition to being the world’s largest Five Diamond rated resort, the properties offer not only luxury and entertainment but when combined with Sands® Expo and Convention Center, The Venetian | The Palazzo also make up the largest LEED certified building on the planet, a testament to our commitment to sustainability. As they describe it, their values are:

“Our integrated resorts have become premier destinations for travel enthusiasts around the world. Why do they insist on us? Because they know they can count on unmatched service, a luxurious atmosphere, and superb hospitality every time. They also know that at the heart of our company are unshakable values. We’re committed to listening to our guests and employees, to considering the environmental impact of our decisions, and to contributing to the well-being of the communities in which we do business.”

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The tour took us behind the scenes of an operation that not only has all the visible food and beverage offerings to customers but also serves over 3,500 employees as much as 3 meals a day. It is quite an operation and Executive Chef Olivier Dubreuil took his time explaining how they feed so many team members and serve such a large-scale operation. The large scale sous-vide (French for Under Vacuum) that enables them to slow cook meats slowly for banquets of 1000s of people was mind blowing. Thank you Chef for your commitment to excellence and the care you took explaining and showing us your operation.

John Caparella President and Chief Executive Officer, The Venetian| The Palazzo which along with the convention center and shopping mall form a $1.25 billion revenue business within Sands Corp, shared some of his personal insights into being successful in a luxury gaming operation. Its pretty basic, he said “I look at business as a 3 legged stool. They consist of customers, employees and profits. It only works if all three legs are solid and working together.” In other words, the customer is everything but that only works if your employees, the team that is responsible for serving them, are happy and bought into the mission of excellence. What follows when executed properly are profits. Here is an interview of John by his friend Chuck Wolfe on leadership and emotional intelligence. It was great spending time with John and his team! Thank you.

Well that’s all I may write about from Vegas… I hope you enjoyed and do let me know what you think.

 

Cheers

 

Smoke

 

Remembering Louis J. Conti Cornell University Class of 1941, US Marine

Remembering Louis J. Conti Cornell University Class of 1941, US Marine

I just received this from the Cornell Athletics dept (and my old wrestling coach, Andy Noel, our athletic director)… and all I could think was wow, what an amazing life.  I thought I’d share it here.    Thanks Andy for sharing. Remembering Louis J. Conti Cornell University Class of 1941, US Marine  Conti HOF Lou Conti was a two-way single wing pocket guard on Cornell’s 1939 and 1940 teams that beat Ohio State in Columbus and Ithaca. The 1939 team was undefeated and voted national champions. The 1940 team played in the famous 5th down game at Dartmouth. Lou was AP All-East in 1940 and played in the 1941 East-West Shrine game. In recognition of his athletic prowess, he was inducted into the Cornell Athletics Hall of Fame in 1981. Lou died on February 14, just two weeks after his beloved wife Dottie passed. In 1942, as a Marine Corps Lieutenant, Lou flew dive bombers in World War II’s Pacific theater. He was assigned to Marine Scout Bombing Squadrons and flew many missions in the Central and South Pacific from Palmyra, Guadal Canal, Munda, Bougainville, and Green Island in the Solomon Islands. In 1945 he was assigned as Commanding Officer of the photo recon detachment on Okinawa in support of that operation and flew photo missions over Japan in preparation for the U.S. invasion (that fortunately never happened). In 1949, he joined the football coaching staff at Cornell as an assistant and was concurrently commissioned as a Captain in the Marine Corps Reserve. He was recalled to active duty in 1952 and served as Operations and Executive Officer of the Marine Photographic squadron of the 1st Marine Air Craft Wing in Korea. He flew 102 combat missions in Korea. After a second tenure as an assistant coach with the Big Red, he began his business career in 1956 with General American Transportation Corporation’s (GATX) Tank Storage Division. There, he was instrumental in making it the largest company of its kind in the world and increased sales in a 10-year period from $10 million to $250 million annually. He went on to become the Chairman and CEO of Marine Transport Lines, a public company spun off from GATX. Lou served as a director for Emerson Electric Company. At the time, Chuck Knight was the Chairman, President, and CEO; Al Suter was the COO, and Bob Staley the Vice Chairman. All were Cornell `57, Knight and Suter football players and Staley a world champion oarsman for the Big Red. Dick Loynd `50 was also on the Emerson board, and also a former football player. The five were great friends and provided the bulk of the funding for the construction of “Friends Hall” and named so in honor of their friendship.  (I got to know Chuck when I was Co-Chair of the Owen Distinguished Lecture Series at Vanderbilt and with my Cornell connection I was his host for the visit and I had the privilege of introducing him to the school). While furthering his civilian career, Lou continued to be active in the USMC Reserve before retiring as a Major General. As a civilian, he was appointed by the Secretary of Defense to Chair the Reserve Forces Policy Board. He served in that capacity for eight years and upon his retirement was named Chairman Emeritus. For his service with the Department of Defense, he was awarded the Distinguished Public Service Medal. For his military service, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, and five Air Medals. photo_2169268_1_photo1_cropped_20140220.jpgx Lou was a devoted family man, a great athlete, served his country with distinction and was a generous benefactor of Big Red Football and a friend to all Cornell athletes. He and Dotty had six children, one of whom lost his life as a Marine in combat in Viet Nam. Lou and Dottie lived in Inverness, IL.

On behalf of the entire Cornell community, we send heartfelt condolences to Lou’s family and friends. The Cornell Football Association very appropriately named its most prestigious award the “Lou Conti Lifetime Achievement Award.” It recognizes individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the program over many years. Lou will be missed, but never forgotten. A life well lived…rest in peace dear friend.

Also as posted in the Chicago Tribune here… A memorial Mass will be held, February 24, at 9:30 at Saint Theresa Catholic Church , 455 Benton Street, Palantine, Il 60067.

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