Do Work That Sets You Up For Future Success
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There is an action taken at a time that appears to lead to failure but isn’t because it increases the probability to set one up for future success. There is also an action that leads to terminal failure; no coming back from it and no increase in odds for future success. My focus today is on the former.
This leads to a model I try to apply whenever I have to take any action, is this current action going to increase my odds of success even though the initial result might be deemed a “failure”?
Action that increases one’s odds of future success? Enter Stephen Schwarzman
When Stephen Schwarzman - CEO of Blackstone Group - was just 30, he set out to meet Ken Barnebey, CEO of Tropicana, to propose a couple of financial ideas that could benefit Tropicana. However, nothing came of it at that time. But every skilled deals man knows that one has to position oneself in the mind of the prospect. From a practical perspective, this trip involved Schwarman taking a trip from New York to get to the Tropicana’s headquarters in Bradenton, Florida.
Being the winner that Schwarzman is, he knew he was playing a long term game. In Schwarzman’s own words:
It was a casual, get-to-know-you meeting. But naturally I had hoped that one day something would come of it.
A couple of months later, Barnebey called Schwarzman to see if Schwarzman could assist Tropicana in deciding whether to take the deal structure put in place by Beatrice to buy Tropicana. Schwarzman, who was at this point an associate with Lehman, was able to advise Barnebey, the board and its chairman Anthony Rossi on the deal structure. Rossi and the board were satisfied with Schwarzman’s advice and instructed him to finalise the deal terms with Lazard, banker to Beatrice. Schwarzman was able to get this done with Lou Perlmutter, a senior partner and M&A expert at Lazard.
The deal was worth $488 million, the second-largest M&A deal in the world in 1978, and it was a 30-year-old Schwarzman who had done it alone. The implications of what Schwarzman had accomplished are best described in his words
“As I was flying home, the snowstorm that had hit Chicago the previous night was slowing air traffic into New York. I made it home around 4:30 a.m., beyond exhausted, trying to get my head around what had just happened. $488 million! It was the second biggest M&A deal in the world that year. By the time I got home, I hadn’t slept for forty-eight hours but still I couldn’t go to bed. I put some logs in the living room fireplace and started a fire. I hardly ever drink, but I poured myself a glass of Courvoisier and put on the Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever album. I sat back in the easy chair, imagining John Travolta strutting across the disco floor. $488 million. What had I just done?”
This made Schwarzman a household name within finance and helped earn him a promotion to partner at Lehman.
The initial work might probably appear to not yield a return; As long you performed your analysis before taking the action and concluded that it can increase the odds of future success, be indifferent to the temporary “failure”.
Position yourself to people who might need your service in the future when they don’t need it in the present.
Make an impression. Schwarzman most definitely made an impression when he initially proposed financial ideas to Barneby during their first meeting.
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