Street–Smart Exec Shares Tip On Successful Business Career

PEOPLE usually get to play golf after they make money, this man got to make money out of golf.

Mark H. McCormack made his millions from golf by representing a then unknown Arnold Palmer now a world re-known golf champion McCormack was a Yale Law School graduate working for a prestigious law firm when he decided to build his own business. Desiring to combine his passion for golf with his passion for business, he went into business by representing celebrities in golf, tennis and other sports and going into sports-related merchandising, licensing and TV programming. After more than three decades in this field, he is now known as the “most powerful man in sports.” He made sports big business by carving a new market niche of spots management and sports marketing through his multimillion dollar global company, the International Management Group.

Thus, his book, “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business Schools,” which distills valuable lessons from his experiences in the hard world of business, still continues to sell like hotcakes even after 13 years since its publication.

What is it about this book that draws attention even after so many new management concepts have been brought forward in the past decade? Perhaps the reason may be that the Harvard Business School, or any business school for that matter, still doesn’t teach what Mark McCormack shares in his book. In McCormack’s own words, these schools can’t teach “how to read people and how to use that knowledge to get what you want.” The subtitle of the book, “Notes from A Street-Smart Executive,” explains it all-the “smarts” can only be learned from the “streets” or the actual running of the business.

McCormack’s advise on people, sales and negotiation, and running a business is simple, shockingly honest and pragmatic.

Consider this: In his chapter on people, he writes on reading people, creating impressions, taking the edge and getting ahead. On the surface, these would seem to be just human relations techniques but scratching the surface reveals some valuable insights on how to develop character. Read this: “The people who get ahead have a need, are driven to perform a task well, no matter what the task is or how mundane it may actually be. They bring to any job an attitude which actually transforms the job into something greater.

The chapter on sales and negotiation gives the basic techniques of selling and some. What differentiates McCormack’s chapter from the usual sales textbook are the true-to-life stories that show how this techniques are applied and its effectiveness. In one section of the chapter, he exhorts the reader not to be misled by titles and proceeds to narrate that he was able to sell $5 million worth of sponsorships with Toyota by meeting with the “assistant manager” in the PR department.

His final section on running a business, written more than a decade ago, contains some principles that the so-called management gurus today are espousing. For example, he writes that early on in his business, he committed to quality and his became the foundation for his understanding success. The first three clients he signed on when he was starting the business were Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus who later became known as the big Three of golf. People would call this luck but for McCormack (in his words), he also “simply trying to sign up the best golfers I could find, who also seemed have to kind of character a company would want to be associated with.” This was his “commitment to quality.

His formula for business success is stated in clear terms: “if we have had a formula for growth, it has been to start with the best, learn from the best, expand slowly and solidify our position, they horizontally diversify our expertise.” With this single statement, he synthesized what other management experts would explain in a whole chapter, a welcome relief from the highfalutin theories of some of these experts.

Even before the word “global” even became popular, McCormack was already recommending that business look to world markets. At the time when satellite television and CNN were not yet household staples, he already organized offices in various locations throughout the world foreseeing the fascination worldwide for world-class sports.

Today, flattening hierarchical organization structures and reengineering are the common initiatives of corporation to keep competitive. For McCormack, he sums it up in two words: “Think small.” At the time when companies became monolithic and bureaucratic, he already saw the advantage of being small. So, as his business grew, he kept the feeling of “smallness” within his organization by organizing “the company into a group of smaller companies, each functioning as a separate autonomous profit center but each with additional responsibilities to other companies within the group and to the group as large as well.” At present, this popularly known as SBUs or “strategic business units.

Flexibility in this present-day environmental of economic uncertainty is a must in the survival of any company. McCormack already was practicing such flexibility by sticking to four principles which he states as: “Don’t let structures run the operation,” “Think flexibility,” “Reserve the right to be arbitrary” and “Don’t let policies stifle by operation.” Looking at his operations, McCormack muses: “Because we have always been practicing flexibility rather than preaching it, I suspect we are less a victim of our own systems than many companies.

McCormack was undoubtedly way ahead of this time and the exciting response his book has generated since its publication has confirmed this. This is a book that echoes the experiences of all successful self-made, “hard-nosed” businessmen. As such, this is a book that will surely rank high on the reading and “giving” list of these businessmen. With the gift-giving season fast approaching, those who achieved the peak of their success from the “school of hard knocks” can give a copy of this book to all their MBA-pedigreed managers. In answer to the MBA gobbledygook they probably hear from their managers, these top-level executes may derive a certain pleasure too in giving their Ateneo or La Salle business school graduates, a book that’s titled “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School.

“What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School”
By Mark H. McCormack Bantam Books, USA 1984, 256 pages

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer November 3, 1997

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Founding Editor, People at Work, Business, Phiippine Daily Inquirer

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