Club Reviews: A Slice of the Pie

Monday, November 26, 2012

Nick Sarillo

A SLICE OF THE PIE: How to Build a Big Little Business by Nick Sarillo.

In the book, A Slice of the Pie, the author Nick Sarillo provides a clearly explicit picture of how he created a culture in his pizza restaurant by using positive behaviors, attitudes, teamwork and honest open communication to create a culture of trust with his employees by treating others with respect and dignity.
It reminds me of the song with the lyrics "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative"
Employees are motivated to ensure good behavior by being acknowledged when it is happening. Mistakes and deficits are reframed in a positive way as a learning opportunity. Employees are asked how they can enhance their behavior rather than how they can do better when something is wrong, The "Nick Experience", as it is referred to, creates a positive environment for both employees and customers who are called guests.
Employees are encouraged to learn all aspects of the workplace in the restaurant creating a true learning community and the opportunity to move up in the company. The focus is to encourage self-development serving a higher purpose making it look more like a school masquerading as a restaurant.
Nick is always reaching out to the community and giving back to it and he encourages his employees to do the same. The business has fundraisers and other activities that involve the community.
There is no need for advertising.
Nick is so transparent and the environment in his restaurant is so positive and enjoyable to be in, it is no surprise that the community freely reached out to him in order to help him work out and overcome his financial problems.
What a joy it would be to have the opportunity to work in such a positive atmosphere and learn at the same time!
Being a guest experiencing "The Nick Experience" must be delightful!
The purpose of the book is to share his ideas and experience with other business people and encourage them to use his methods. How magnificent it would be if more businesses followed his positive environment model! Mr Sarillo"s book  is well written and  easy to comprehend for any one who is interested in enhancing their business. Margot Byrnes, Miami

As a general comment, I found this book easy to read with lots of good information that is helpful.  I think after 50 years in my business, Nick is right saying if you practice the right management/leadership skills you can "Build a Big Little Business."
Specific comments:
Without a doubt the days of "command and control" cultures are gone.  As Nick says, today it is "Trust and Track" to be successful.
Today it is also true that being honest about the "health" of your business (any organization) with staff, investors, customers, is essential to the needed transparency in order to be successful.
I loved the discussion of being nice and being kind.  All too often we see them as the same.  They are not!  Good leaders can be kind without being nice.
As Nick points out the key to organizational success today is CULTURE!  We must nurture, our staff and our customers so they will have great experiences.  That is true success!
Great leaders take no credit for success, it is the culture and the people that make great things happen.
Of course, the "Track" part means we must have the right metrics.
We reap the benefits of a world-class culture by making culture part of every decision you make and action you take.
To achieve really high performance, the culture must be shaped.  The culture must be our focus and our guide in every business decision made.
A key point that Nick repeats is that we have to manage from the inside out.  Top down management died sometime ago!
A strong culture is built around a purpose.  Why are we here is the key question?
Managing by fear is no longer successful.  Success come from "Trusting and tracking."
People have to have a purpose they can subscribe to in order to do their best.  Purpose is what we are all about.
To create a successful organization we start by identifying what we are doing right and then we focus on deficiencies and solutions.
Purpose is the why and values are the how.
To build a high-performance culture, you mjust have single-mindedness and your teammates must adopt your purpose as their own.
As we communicate our purpose to our team members, we must remember that actions speak louder than words.  Our teammates will be watching to see if our actions are in sync with our purpose.
Nick provides us 8 useful tools we can use in everyday life.
Trusting our people is really key if we want our purpose to be lived out from the heart.
Good leaders find they have to let go of some control and employ the trust part of "Trust and Track."
KEY point-it is team members, not managers, who drive the business.  Top down does not work anymore!
In a purpose driven culture, people advance by skills mastery and training.  This puts people in charge of their own advancement and allows them to determine how much they make.
In our purpose driven culture, we need coaches, not managers.
We have to work hard to teach managers that their greatest contribution does not come from some whiz bang idea but rather in helping their team members perform at their very best.
Nick uses his Dad many times as an illustration of how Top Down and Command and Control do not work.  It is very insightful to see how when Nick started his business, he was determined to do everything completely different than he had seen his Dad do it.  Command and control, top down do not build high-performance cultures.
There is lots of discussion about mindfulness.  But this simply means being fully aware of all that is going on around you.
Bottom line is that we find that in a purpose-driven, high-performance culture, the smallest behaviors send messages about the organizations purpose and values and whether they support the culture.
I highly recommend this book for all leaders and managers.  It speaks to both the new and old organizations and and had some very important ideas to offer. Doug Newberry, Cane Ridge, TN

The story of A Slice of the Pie is an excellent example of how relationship building, through a solid team of employees and customer loyalty is beneficial to the whole community surrounding the business.  Sarillo's emphasis on communication, accountability, and trust — both management’s and employees’ — is key to delivering the unique and meaningful experience for the employees, customers and the community at large.  His goal of integrating the company's culture of dedicated service to families and community into every decision made, and every action taken, is clearly demonstrated throughout the book.  
When pursuing the purpose, the employees subject anything they do or say to the Grandma Test (would your grandmother approve of it?)  when mastering the disciplines necessary to share the Nick's experience with the guests. The realization that " the company is really a school disguised as a business" becomes apparent as the team members are trained by their peers. The book gives examples throughout that would help any leader see how they can build purpose into their own companies.  
The restaurant helps the community in numerous ways that aligns with their purpose.  Some examples of this are a Library Incentive Program that rewards kids for reading, sponsorship program for local youth sports teams, and programs that allow nonprofits to hold fundraising events in the restaurants and receive 15% of the net profits during the event. These events and programs allow Nick's to communicate their purpose to the community in a very authentic way. Throughout the book there are many examples and stories to support the process utilized for bringing the purpose of this restaurant to life.  
I would recommend this book to any entrepreneur or leader who would like to see an example of how a foundation of trust along with excellent communication of purpose and values can create a great business where the entire community benefits.  I personally found this story very motivating and hope to visit the restaurant and meet the CEO, Nick very soon. Bari Schanerman, Miami

Just finished reading it. Nick is a Master at creating and building his restaurants. I knew Tom Monaghan and observed how he grew Domino's Pizza before finally selling out. Another friend is Tom Feltenstein, who is top consultant to restaurants too. Neither of them have gone to the extent that Nick has in empowering his employees to think for themselves, express their individual behavior, while adhering to the philosophies he has established, which resulted in the high grosses and volumes at his locations. This is a must read for not only any restaurant operator, but can be applied to a number of other industries too. Barry Epstein, Boca Raton

Nick Sarillo has found a very practical approach to convert his command and control operation to a “Carefully Select, Trust, Track, Respect and Share” philosophy.  Apparently this works in a relatively small operation with limited numbers of employees and one in which the owner has the time and money to screen, train and supervise them. The restaurant business has a huge turn over rate and if Nick can cultivate and inculcate followers that maintain high moral and cultural  standards, retain them as team players, and give community charity and make a profit. Welcome a new religion in Illinois. God Bless him. Marvin Stein, Coral Springs

I enjoyed this read. I agree wholeheartedly with Nick about establishing a statement that sums up the organization's mission (or current purpose, as he insists is more meaningful) by which decisions can be best made. I also commend his philosophy of empowering employees through "Track and Trust" rather than "command and control."   
As a frequent restaurant diner, I too appreciate interactions with staff who "get it."  Too often, those charged with customer service just don't. It can break a business. I would recommend this book to owners and managers of businesses who depend on their staff creating an experience that keeps customers happy and returning for more. Kelly Reid

Hungry to develop a unique corporate culture within your own small business? Craving a higher purpose that can become the engine that drives your company onward and upward? Consume “A Slice of the Pie,” and you may find nourishment. But, you’ll also get some extra cheese.
Nick Sarillo rolls out a compelling case for defining a clear company culture that governs policy and behavior. His book begins as a “How To” guide to articulating company culture and uniting employees around a common purpose. I found this valuable, and expect to apply some of his advice to my own business, organizing it better around passion and conviction. But, once the author has laid out his thesis, “A Slice of the Pie” rapidly becomes far too specific to his own small pizza chain. His advice on hiring and management may not apply unless you employ an army of low wage hourly workers. While the lessons of respect, openness, and community resonated, they were delivered with an air of corny self-promotion verging on smugness. Sarillo is all too willing to illustrate his own superior system by throwing his competitors, his ex-wife, and his poor, foolish father under the delivery truck. I came away from the book not entirely convinced that I, or anyone else, could ever be as excited about Nick Sarillo’s business philosophy as he is.  But it did make me hungry. Robert Kirkpatrick, Miami Beach

I found the book to be very good.  This was not a typical "how to" business book, this book was more like a novel of Nick Sarillo's journey to save his business.  He went with the unconventional principles of treating his employees with respect and making them feel like they were part of a long term team.  This is unconventional in this type of industry.  The restaurant business is typically a revolving door for employees that are told what to do and used until they quit.  One of the most important messages I took away from the book is the concept that Nick first tells the "why", rather than just tell employees what to do.  The why is the part that really makes it personal to the employee and makes them feel valuable and important to the overall experience for the customer.  Nick also provides advise on how to motivate employees, which is especially hard to do in a typical pizza place.
Nick give many examples of how to deal with conflict and solve problems.  He mostly uses open communication, listening, and transparency into what he is doing.  These simple and basic concepts make others want to work through things with Nick.  He does this both with his employees and his customers.  This message really stands out when he asked his customers to help, and they all came to the restaurant to dine and brought as many people with them as they could find.
Even though this book is written with the small business entrepreneur in mind, I would say the concepts work equally well even with the largest company.  Looking at the cover of the book, one might think it only applies to small businesses.  But I would encourage anyone from any sized business to read this book. Frank Donn, Miami

I would not recommend this book. A person would get the same information watching a Tony Robbins video or by attending an Amway meeting. Ron Groce, Miami

I find the book a joy to read.  It has a more “connectedness” approach to the reader. As compared to the more established TQM gurus such as Deming or Juran, or established TQM business models such as Disney or Six Sigma, this book brings a special “freshness” to the subject due to the focus on human connection rather on the process which most often TQM books give a clinical presentation.The human approach to management is highlighted by “culture warriors” instead of “black belts”. The purpose to give a “mi casa, su casa” family atmosphere in a pizza place, is perfect for a staple that ranks high on children’s list. Management also features embedded intrinsic values of respect, recognition, and transparency as presented by narratives and actual illustrations of implements. These values are not new and actually basic, but most often implementation is forgotten by leaders due to their focus on ROI and drive to reach the top too soon without a solid culture base to support it.  Human resource is the most expensive part of business cost but, when handled right, it is the driving force of success. Mr. Sarillo got it right. Lily P. Orticio

Nick Sarillo says that he never got a college degree, but his book shows that he has read a lot on entrepreneurship, adult motivation (including Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, including intrinsic motivation), and readings of popular books by Malcolm Gladwell (Blink), Daniel Pink (Drive), and Stephen Covey (Speed of Trust).  He also has shown himself to be motivated to attend workshops on any subjects that might affect the operations of his business, including Tough Love, Zen classes, and common sense techniques such as the Grandma Test (would Grandma approve?) It seems to be working.  Nick is able to hire young people and groom them for better jobs within the company (and in other companies).  I do wonder how many older people he has in the organization, or how this will play out as the present employees grow older… I peered through my bifocals to see if I could find anyone over 45 on the group photo on the back flap of the book – guess I’ll have to get the old magnifying glass out to check again! Betty G Hubschman, Burlington, NC  

This book was a pleasant surprise.  My first impression of just another entrepreneur saga, was soon revised when I found a much more personable approach.  It was not just about marketing, advertising techniques, or mobilizing modern tech methods to reach people. No, this book was worth reading for the personal elements found at its core.  Yes, they wanted a successful business plan but with character, that set it apart from others.  The best part though, was about how to base your organization on the concept of a "meaningful purpose" statement, which for this restaurant company could be favorably described as "a foundation of community values" with respect for the individual employee.This was a welcome change from the corporate messaging that gets carried away with pricing, image and strict budget values, in standard business books. Before I knew it, I'm reading a "feel good" book about co-operation, grown-ups learning through affirmative training, to manage with love, leadership, and "good behavior".  The empowerment of employees, and supporting teamwork, for the common good and self-development,  made me think I'd like to develop this cultural vision  of mutual support. Unfortunately, it came off a little lacking from the reality check standpoint when he finished the book calling for employees to be "coached"  The company purpose if altruistic, would speak for itself, I think. A few better examples of community building for the common good might have supported the case for unity of purpose;  rather than the disappointing last chapter on  becoming a "cultural warrior". Jim Swaner, Miami Shores

Good story reading. Some useful tips, but the subtitle "How To Build a Big Little Business" should be changed to "The Nick Sarillo Restaurant Success Story". There are some useful tips, but they are certainly not enough to make it into a how to book for building "any" big little business. It still was enjoyable to read. EJ "Henry" Ventura Jr., Coral Gables

This book was interesting and informative howto-book for making it in todays business environment. Mr. Sarillo shares with you his formula of creating a successful business even in tough times. Though slow at first, it picks up with interesting personal stories. I will read over sections of book as it also reads like a text book. Being a small business owner also I can appreciate and learn from having read this book. Greg Silvera, Miami  

Before speaking about the book, I must say that the level of training and the extent of developing corporate culture for a company which primarily operates in two restaurants is truly remarkable.  The focus on purpose, coaching, leadership, transparency, and training/development is amazing for a company that size and should be considered for not only small businesses but large ones as well. In regards to the book, “A Slice of the Pie”, I felt it was written by more than one author, or had a style which went from real world to leadership theory. Nick has had success by developing this amazing corporate culture and the real life stories are truly his to write about and share. However,  I felt there were many training models illustrated--such as: the materials on purpose statement, four stages of competence, synergy model,  certification feedback, Karpman Drama Triangle—some of which were well explained and some not, that appeared to be written in a more academic fashion than the CEO explaining about the practical issues of running a restaurant. More practical situations and how they were dealt with, rather than spending more time on training and development methodology, would have been more valuable than focusing on the training methods. I wondered also if there was a training consultant who co-authored the book as a ghost-writer as it doesn’t seem like one person writing and organizing this book based on Nick’s description of his background. Aside from the inconsistency in writing style, I do agree that “A Slice of the Pie” is an excellent book to read and see how small businesses can promote leadership and effective relationships with their staff.  I do recommend it for the many ideas and the effective principles on which the book is based. Randy Lichtman, Miami

I own a small business and was hoping to find that "Magic" formula to take it to the next level.  In "A Slice of the Pie" there were many ideas and worthwhile tidbits but I feel that we are already practicing what Nick is preaching.  We are a team and just want to get even better.  We are active...we are definitive...and we do have fun.  However, I appreciated reading about Nick's struggles and his successes and I was inspired.  There are so many businesses, especially restaurants and similar direct contact service type groups, that really need to read this book and see what they are missing.  The last five years have not been easy for owners/operators of small businesses and some are now closed when they might have had a somewhat easier time if they had read "A Slice of the Pie".  Thanks for the opportunity of reviewing this book. Jeannett Slesnick, Coral Gables

Nick Sarillo created a place where people go to feel good, similar to the show Cheers. Nick thought outside the box and did not listen to those who told him he would fail, he went on to pursue his dreams, similar to the story of Walt Disney. Nick finds the right team members, he trains them his way using core values and not only teaches them, but inspires them and gives them opportunities and future hope, then puts them in place in his restaurants where they become one with "Nick's experience". A good pizza is not that hard to find, but a great dining experience is priceless, and that is what Nick's strategies are about. Trisha Molina, Miami

A Slice of Pie introduces readers to the inner workings of a pizza shop yet the basic priciples taught in this book is applicable to every level of business and management. There are many books that inform us of the need for clear visions and missions yet very few actually provides the instructions and strategies of how to make that possible. This is what distinguishes this book from many others in its class. It gives anyone the tools to get their own slice of the pie and that is why I give this book an A. Deidre Campbell, Miami
It seems that Nick
Sarillo didn't spare money or time to make sure that his clients experienced a family dinning experience bar none. And he created a culture that nurtures individuality and leadership, that is also unparalleled in corporate America. His book goes into such detail that it could be used as a manual for company owners and HR directors that prefer a cookie cutter approach to employee management rather than going through the time and expense of reinventing the wheel themselves. Liliana Delara, Miami


NEXT BOOK: A Slice of the Pie

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Nick Sarillo
Next book:
A SLICE OF THE PIE: How to Build a Big Little Business by Nick Sarillo.

From The Publisher
While countless books have been written about culture, with Apple, Southwest, and Zappos as the oft-referenced poster children, there remains a gap in the literature – particularly for small and everyday businesses, where replicating Zappos’ playbook feels anything but realistic. In A SLICE OF THE PIE, Sarillo fills that gap, offering insight into how to create a culture that will support any business through good times and bad – even in an industry where turnover is high, expectations are low, and a college degree is not required.

Sarillo's website: A TV news story about his restaurants: here.

And a video here:

 If you're interested in reading and reviewing this book, please send your U.S. terrestrial mailing address here.


Review: How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Review by Richard Pachter
Though a number of historical (and recent) court rulings posit the notion that corporations are people, or possess rights that are superior to human citizens, companies generally behave as a collection of disparate organisms, and then rarely symbiotically. They may occasionally conspire to behave in a consistent and cohesive manner, per management edict and other directives, but there are just too many moving parts and, frequently, opposing agendas.
Internal politics, diverse missions, unclear goals and inept leadership often result in a company at odds with itself. It’s not solely due to malevolence or incompetence (although that happens, too). People are people. Complexity, indifference, lack of urgency and other divergent forces often work against the aggregated power that an aligned corporate organism could potentially generate.
Structure sometimes is the cause. Some internal divisions (and divisiveness) defy logic. Imagine, for example, a company where separate departments devoted to customer acquisition and customer retention executes disparate and unaligned marketing campaigns. Or several groups control portions of an organization’s website, yet no one person or team “owns” it. What a clusterf@#(k!
Neil Smith, the lead author on this book (abetted by veteran scribe Patricia O’Connell), is a veteran consultant. His specialty, as such, is helping companies get out of their own way.
A consultant? Danger! Danger!
I’m always wary of consultants and their books. Many turn out to be extended brochures for their services. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but I want to read a book that informs, enlightens and provokes me. I have nothing against sales brochures — I’ve written a zillion myself, in fact — but I’d rather spend time with a meaty and actionable tome than an extended, self-serving sales piece.
Despite the annoying mantra-like repetition of “the PGI Promise®,” Smith’s company’s guarantee, he and O’Connell do a solid job of presenting their principles, then illustrating them with suitable anecdotes and strategies.
Here are the eight barriers that Smith identifies as being the main cause of the dumb things companies do, in the form of an acronym (A PROMISE): Avoiding Controversy, Poor Use of Time, Resistance to Change, Organizational Silos, Management Blockers, Ignorance of Size, Superficial Assumptions or Wrong Information and Existing Processes.
Fortunately (or unfortunately; take your pick), there’s no acronym that covers Smith’s prescription for dealing with the barriers. Instead, he explains and gives examples for each barrier. In most case, it’s a matter of simplifying existing processes and eliminating bureaucracy and reducing redundancies.
As with many of these types of books, once the problems are laid out, everything seems pretty obvious. But Smith has the advantage of not being a part of the problem and can tackle the problems as an outsider with no partisan axe to grind. Also, as a consultant, he’s empowered by his client to cut through the red tape and bullshit, something internal managers may not be able to do, Often, it’s a matter of sifting through data to determine why things are happening (or not happening).
Perhaps the best service Smith provides for readers is a chance to read about organizations’ dysfunctionalities, his analysis and solutions, so they can look at their companies and solve their own issues or, preferably, avoid them entirely.
Smart enough!


Club Reviews: How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I enjoyed this book tremendously. Inside as I read the pages it all sounded so familiar and it made sense. Our workplace today functions exactly how the writer has stated. The newest thing today is culture change but it is hard to get everyone on board to except it. Change is a hard concept for employees as well as leadership to adapt to.
People are afraid to take chances and improve themselves as well as their departments.  No one is willing to stick their neck out for what they believe in because they are afraid of failure or reprisal. I especially like the Silo way of management. Our Director today just spoke about that and we function as a Silo and that is one of the first things we are going to change. We need to communicate in order to function as a team. It won't happen in a day but if we work together we will achieve our goal. As I read the book, it all sounded too familiar.  Great book, its a keeper. Patricia Garcia, Miami

As I read Smith's book, I could continually bring to mind specific instances during the life of my business where the Eight Barriers were in play.  Likely, those barriers have kept us from growing as efficiently as we would like.  The practicality, and sometimes sheer simplicity, of the ideas give an excellent road map to a manager who is interested in enabling employees to take ownership of ideas to help a business grow.
The book does feel like a sales pitch at times.  As is usually the case with the "sales pitch" book, however, real life examples encountered by the author as he consults with real life companies make for invigorating and enlightening reading.  I have already begun to address some of the barriers in my office.  Now if I could only find employees who bought in and spent even some of their time coming up with great ideas to grow the firm.  I am ready to tear down the communication walls and watch profitability soar. Scott Rembold, Coral Gables

Neil Smith provides superb illustrations of how barriers affect how change happens within the organization. He spells out how complacency and lack of urgency can be a strong deterrent to effective execution of new processes.  I learned most of all people across all levels can be agents to change and Management must recognize that empowerment of employees is beneficial to the organizations long-term goals. I would recommend this book. Peter Kihn  Sterling Heights, MI
This is a well-written book. It flows very well which means the principles and stories (examples) weave together very well. It also means that the content has a kind of internal logic in the order in which things are presented. At times, though, I felt that there was an overwhelming amount of content to sift through. My copy of this book is full of underlinings and curled pages. A lot of what was in the book would be considered “reminders” for me. I’ve heard it, done it or written about it myself. I did enjoy how it was all brought together based upon another person’s professional experiences so much like my own, but different enough to have value for me.
I think that the book is in need of a subtitle that includes “managing change”. This is a major contribution to how managers should deal with change. The 8 problems that were addressed were almost like a sidebar to change, even though there was a chapter for each of the 8 problems. Even those chapters were loaded with ideas and applications about change. Bob Preziosi, Davie
Reading Smith's book gives the feeling of having a pleasant conversation with him as an efficiency expert. His Promise model embodies his ideas. Smith's company, Promontory Growth and Innovation, offers a promise combining the best elements from processes that he has used and have worked for him over the years. Promise is also the barrier acronym. The PGI Promise is designed to create the environment necessary for change. The process is clearly laid out in order to help companies save money, increase profits, and reduce complexity. It is easily understood and logical.
Internal resources are used encouraging employees to share their ideas and work together.
Psychology and communication are very important keys in the process of changing the culture of the company in order to make it run more efficiently. Examples with solutions that have been implemented are included to enhance the reality of a program that works. Personal anecdotes that are added give that extra touch! Smith so strongly guarantees that his program will work that if the program fails to do what he says it will - his work is free! What a great guarantee! That in itself is a strong incentive to read and understand the process and to have him be the guide!  You can only gain from his experience and guidance. To top it off, Smith has never had to work for free. That should tell you something! What a great book! I wouldn't try the process without his guidance though. It clearly is not for a do it yourselfer!!!  Besides, what do you have to lose by using his guidance? Margot Byrnes, Miami

This was a fun book to read.  It was so realistic and refreshing to see that many of the best ideas are from the employee themselves, as they are the ones who are living day to day the work lifestyle and can see more clearly than the decisions that are sometimes made by company officials from an office out of the area that are implemented and assumed to proceed in a timely fashion with clear cut results.
The book shows how important it is for companies to think outside the box, look at all channels and continue to brainstorm by including the insight and knowledge from active team members, to compliment a solution that they think will be effective in that particular environment.  It is not only about implementing an idea, but also taking ownership for the idea in all phases starting with conception, moving into implementation, monitoring and focusing on changes or updates where and when needed, and finally results. Trisha Molina, Miami Springs

This book was deceptive in a good way. On first glance, it appeared to be a book that was going to be a book that was easy toy read, yes, but full of platitudes and information that would be easily obtainable anywhere.
As I began to read, I realized that this book was easy to read but was also full of good information and examples that could only have been obtained by working in depth with different companies.
The authors not only presented case studies in a way that was engaging but also displayed the depth of the problem without too much extraneous detail.
I found myself reading portions aloud to my companion as we were driving on a lengthy trip.  I could relate to some of the scenarios as a leader in organizations and as an employee.  There were many "aha" moments and times of reflection. I would highly recommend this book. Lindsey Wilkins
I received my book How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things just a few days ago.  I was reading Colin Powell's latest book It Worked for Me and as soon as I finished I grabbed my book for review.  I thought I would share an interesting story with you before I begin to write my book review.  As you can see by my signature block, I am in the consulting business.  I have spent 50 years in the "defense business" working with the ARMY and Marine Corp to equip our troops with the finest combat and tactical equipment.  Although I am semiretired I still do some consulting and have numerous high level contacts across DOD.  Before I received my book for review I got a call from the CEO of a company.  I did not know this gentleman before his call but I had been referred to him by another consultant friend.  He wanted some help from me on some specific business issues within the defense sector.  We agree to meet at a mutually acceptable site to discuss what help he needed from me.  We had a long but great conversation about what he needed and I have agreed to consult directly for him as we work these issues he has laid out.  About an hour into our discussion, he all of a sudden mentions the book How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things.  He had read the book and as I was very impressed.  He had contacted Neil to start preliminary discussion about starting his own 100 day project.  As you might well guess, my appetite to read the book went off the scale.  Now that I have read the book, I understand why this gentleman was excited to consider his own 100 day project.  Enough of that let me share my review thoughts with you.
I would say right up front this is a great book for any senior leader of any type organization to read and digest.  No matter what size organization and no matter what type organization, CEOs and their senior leadership team are always interested in decreasing cost and increasing revenue.  Or, that is, at least they should be!  Thus this book expertly lays out the fact that while decreasing cost and/or increasing revenue, should be every leaders goal often issues personal or organizational get in the way and the result is "dumb things."  When I do reviews I like to always start with what I call the "bottom line right up front."  For this book the bottom line is-the CEO and leadership's job is to establish vision and set strategy and then let their associates figure out how best to achieve the desired success.  There should be no argument that it is not the senior leaders but rather the folks who do the work who know where all the "dumb things" currently being done are hidden, on purpose or accidentally.
As I read and reread the 8 barriers (A PROMISE), I was struck by how down to earth and simple they were.  And right on the mark!  But then I said ok I got it and agree with the barriers and I quickly lunged into Neil's 12 Principles anxious to see how he suggested one deal with these barriers.  His Principles are down to earth and make absolute sense.  Things like engaging all the stakeholders in the process, fixing accountability, reaching consensus, assigning risk and expecting 100% implementation of all approved projects are right on the mark.
As I came to the end of the book, I was blown away by the 100-Day plan.  I could not help by think back to my days when I ran organization of 15,000 people or so about many of the "dumb things" I had seen over the years.  I was reminded that often times these things are not avoided intentionally (but sometimes they are), but rather in our day to day business we just never get around to attacking these things.  As Neil lays out the plan, shows the people that must be made available, the commitment of leadership and the organizational sacrifice, one quickly sees this ain't easy but it is essential if we are going to have an organization that changes and adapts as customer requirements evolve.  And Neil repeatedly makes the point that in the final analysis, we must have a culture change.
I highly recommend this book to any leader.  I could see where a 100 day plan could be organization wide and if for some reason not organization wide done at division or group level.  And when I saw Neil's disclosure that he had not been involved in any project that did not in combination reduce cost and increase revenue by at least 25%, I was ready to sign up.  I can't imagine any organization's senior leadership not wanting that success.  And to know that then allows the organization to decide how to employ this 25% is overwhelming.  The point is made that most companies will decide how to split this between increased revenue to the bottom line for shareholder value while using some to invest and grow the organization for the future. Doug Newberry, Cane Ridge, TN

Neil Smith uses simple observation and common sense to identify 8 barriers that enable even well managed and successful companies to stifle creativity and efficiency. He gives us all the benefit of not only the process and means to overcome these common pitfalls but to allow us to understand the psychology of why they exist and how we could deal with them.
Interestingly, many of the barriers result from individual selfishness and stubbornness and with culture change and recognition and cooperation, the restrictions to change can be overcome.
This book should be a must read for leaders, as well as managers and workers, since there is a message for each of them at their own level and a lesson to be learned. 
Marvin Stein, Coral Springs

 There's something decidedly old fashioned about author Neil Smith's book, How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things. However, that's not a bad thing. As the preface points out, Smith's observations are borne of twenty years' experience. The reader definitely gets the feeling that the author has been taking notes during the past two decades. One also gets the sense that he would be very interesting to travel with or have at a dinner party due to his keen synthesis abilities. He would aptly fit what Pink Floyd describes in the song, "Comfortably Numb," as having "...amazing powers of observation."  Smith seems anything but, "comfortably numb," however, with his sharp mind and wry wisdom.
I like the structure of the book and how Smith sets up the issues as eight barriers. It's a little corny to have them spell out "A Promise," but that doesn't mean it isn't effective.  It's an easy book to read and digest especially since  at the end of each chapter he summarizes that chapter, provides a "Takeaway," a "Solution," and best of all, questions for applying to one's own situation ("Look at Your Organization").  Two chapters seemed especially relevant today: Barrier 4, "Organizational Silos;" and Barrier 5, "Management Blockers." Probably every reader can relate to organizations where one department doesn't share information with the other and is, perhaps, operating  in extreme conflict. Smith encapsulates this idea so well in his comment in the summary: "The goal of breaking this barrier is not to smash silos, but to 'turn towers into tunnels' - to get people to cooperate across silos." He also asks pointed questions at the end of this chapter to make the reader apply the idea of navigating this barrier. One especially effective question is this: "In what areas would increased collaboration and giving up some autonomy be more beneficial for the company than maintaining your individually?"  Zing. "Don't be selfish," is the unwritten "takeaway."
On a final note, I like the way the author sprinkles in sidebars by Dr. Richard Levak, an organizational consultant. His observations serve to elaborate on an idea in a chapter and this provides yet another dimension to Smith's chapter. Dr. Levak's articles usually elucidate WHY people do what they do and how it can affect an entire organization, good or bad. Barrier 5, "Management Blockers" is an example where Dr. Levak explains why an individual's behavior - feeling threatened - for example, can be toxic for an organization. If a manager likes an idea of an underling, but feels that their supervisor won't like it, he won't present the idea out of fear for his own job. It's easy to believe and most likely everyone has experienced this at one time or another, but this reader never broke it down to simple human psychology. I liked this book and would definitely recommend it. Kathy D. Doran, Miami Beach

I personally enjoyed reading this book because it brought up many issues I face in dealing my many US corporations.

I've faced many of these barriers trying to sell our data and services to corporations seeking to capitalize on the growing multicultural consumer segments in the US.  I've seen people make dumb decisions simply to avoid controversy.  They avoid making an important decision for their company, in order to avoid any type of controversy with their boss or people below them.  We see poor use of time everywhere, that is no surprise.  The reluctance to change barrier is one many corporations are experiencing right now.  The consumer dynamics are changing daily, those corporations that don't change risk becoming obsolete.  I also come across the organizational silos barrier, especially when it comes to data.  Many companies have so much data but they fail to take advantage of it because it is managed by different departments that don't share data with each other.  The miss the boat month after month by not being able to consolidate all this data and make communication between departments more effective.  I see management blockers very often, managers who feel threatened by making a decision never end up making the decision that is best for their company.  Management blockers are not easy to handle and could go one for years before someone takes a stance.  Lastly I'd like to reference the incorrect information barrier, in these data rich days it is imperative for companies to make decisions on accurate and reliable information.  There is no excuse for companies not putting in the effort to get the right data in their hands to make strategic decisions that can drive the growth of their business.  I enjoyed this book and will certainly recommend it to my colleagues. David Mesas

"This book is the perfect guide to the internal workings of a company. It addresses every aspect of management and the outcomes of poor leadership in the most critical of times. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to take their company to the next level. Enjoyed it so much, I purchased one for my boss. Great read and worth every penny. Deidre Campbell, 


Next Book: How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Here's the author's website:

From the publisher: Every day, seemingly intelligent and successful companies make headline news for poor decisions that can cause their business to stumble and make many of us scratch our heads in wonder. Why would such a successful business make ”that” strategic decision? Neil Smith, with more than 20 years of experience leading large-scale performance improvements, reveals the hidden barriers that limit excellent companies from reaching their potential, and cause even the smartest managers and leaders to falter. During his experience transforming some of the top global businesses, Smith has identified 8 barriers that exist in every organization and prevent them from implementing literally thousands of ideas to improve the way they work:

  • Avoiding Controversy
  • Poor Use of Time
  • Reluctance to Change
  • Organizational Silos
  • Management Blockers
  • Incorrect Information and Bad Assumptions
  • Size Matters
  • Existing Processes
Rich with anecdotes and case studies, Smith identifies the ways in each of these barriers interrupt your own business. He then outlines a fast and proven process in which 12 principles of business transformation can break down the processes that hold companies back. What Smith offers his readers is the same thing he offers every day to the major companies he works with,  A PROMISE that by following his insights, the company will be able to increase communication, simplicity, and profit to levels never before attainable.

Throughout the book, Dr. Richard Levak contributes personality and organizational insights that shed light on why an individual or an organization behaves in contrary ways, giving you a better sense of why these internal walls exist and how to be aware of your actions in your day-to-day life.


Review: SuperFuel

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

SuperFuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future by Richard Martin. Palgrave Macmillan. 272 Pages.

Review by Richard Pachter
As a kid, I loved science fiction. Approaching teen-hood, reading SF (never "Sci Fi" — ugh!) seemed like a natural sequé from the comic books, I'd devoured since I was about six. I also enjoyed my father's Popular Science magazines and even had my own subscription for a while. I liked science in elementary school, too, but as I got older, I found it to be a challenging subject and lost interest. Blame Chemistry (and chemistry, i.e. raging hormones) if you like. Oh well.

But I've always enjoyed speculative fiction, as some SF was called, and even though my interest and grasp of the facts upon which the conjectures are based may be precarious or nonexistent, the "hard" science fiction of Heinlein, Asimov and Clark made my early membership in the Science Fiction Book Club a thoroughly rewarding experience. It was also not too hard on my allowance, which helped, too.

I don't read very much of that these days, as the cheery utopias and grim futures are less appealing in context with our current reality.

But the old SF fan in me might have been the trigger that led me to SuperFuel.

Richard Martin takes a very serious, complicated and highly technical subject and spins a very readable and entertaining text. You can read and/or download an excerpt here.

His premise — that Thorium would be a cleaner, safer and more efficient fuel for nuclear power — is presented in a convincing and lucid manner. The science and specifics are above me. My fault, since Martin does his best to avoid unnecessary jargon and math, instead focusing on the macro, rather than the micro. Though I suspect that if you have a more solid grounding in science, you will come away with a much deeper and meaningful experience and insights.

In addition to his explanation and advocacy, Martin looks at the political and commercial landscape and offers solid suggestions for dealing with any potential roadblocks with "next steps."

I have no clue as to whether or not Thorium is, indeed, the answer to our fuel problems but Martin does a fine job of making its case. SuperFuel is an interesting and entertaining book — even for old SF fans and Popular Scientists.


Club Reviews: SuperFuel

Monday, June 25, 2012

SuperFuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future by Richard Martin. Palgrave Macmillan. 272 Pages.

Super Fuel provides the reader with an understanding of the future as it pertains to the need to develop Thorium based energy. The author does tend to labor in the many aspects of nuclear physics which can be off-putting. Super Fuel provides a window into the future of sustainable fuels. R.W. Groce, Miami

It’s about time somebody opened a  discussion of energy from a commercial view beyond just cap-and-trade(the scientific, security and economic concerns all have to come together as affordable).  This book does a good job of it on the nuclear power choices.   Given the realistic options for green energy in a questionable economy, we must address all we have to work with.  Any substitution for green house producing gas sources like coal, must include nuclear power in some form or other.   But there are huge  problems to solve when it comes to finding alternatives to coal energy production.  This book gives us some background on the  Thorium fueled electronic energy source, (the so called next generation of nuclear) touted and praised as the future of Nuclear Energy production.
This interesting book should get credit for taking on the challenge and doing a respectable job of filling in the history of commercial nuclear power that was derived from the success of the U.S. Navy in harnessing power for ships.  It carries the ball further by hypothesizing the future of Thorium powered nuclear reactors, in light of the Japanese Fukushima flood/meltdown, and disasters of Chernobyl and Three Mile island, that curtailed the building of any new nuclear plants since approved since 1973.
Unfortunately it does not convincingly cover all the criticisms : the politics behind the suppression of new nuclear reactors, or the promotion of this energy source to allies.  It convincingly maintains that time is right for a next generation version of this clean source, and that the security problems can be controlled.  But the question of the Thorium process’ radioactive products  are the biggest concern; as well as the question of producing more fuel (it requires Uranium isotopes) that might be ripe for theft, for construction of a bomb by enemies, and possible destructive consequences if the byproducts fall into the terrorist hands.
I won’t discuss the chemical processes where this discussion gets high tech fast, or the downsides of this innovative approach to making smaller safer nuclear power.  But it is great to draw attention to these issues. This book is quite technically based and this should be left to the academic and professional community to evaluate the scientific accuracy of the authors statements. But the history of development is interesting. Credit author Martin for satisfying the curious as to how we’ll address the future of our aging (vintage 1973) reactors with the LFTRs (Liquid fueled thorium reactors). They apparently work and might be a reasonable investment in a clean energy continuum, but only if this does not undermine the present industry.
The reader gets the impression that this is not a hype book; but an attempt to prove that the technology must  be successfully demonstrated, and then justify the considerable investments if the market forces are to be allowed to address our energy crisis.  There is still a great deal of oil influence and improvements to be accomplished in making alternatives affordable.   It’ll take all types of technology besides solar photovoltaic and natural wind, geothermal and tidal harnessing.   This book sends a message to the would-be energy backer: we’d better get our science perfect.  It’s not just about our finances.  With some estimates as high as 65% of the population against nuclear power;  the everyday business person must  improve his/her technical knowledge to share facts with the average citizen and bring our consciousness  to the knowledge levels of countries we compete with for energy and economic benefits, before we vote this out.  Then we can evaluate  the promises and claims to make real progress.One disturbing fact in the launch of this book however is that energy conservation groups, including the reputable Union of Concerned Scientists, who in their latest newsletter are refuting the claims of safety and improvements by LFTRs over conventional fission reactors now operating.  Investors will have to solve a few of the salt water processes problems like a threats of byproduct disposal, and control of the converting processes if the industry will be able to run this source as a successful investment. Run with it but be sure the case is clear for both pro and cons.
In summary this is an interesting addition to the non-petroleum energy literature, and worthy of consideration for people interested in green investments.  Read this book and see what you think. Jim Swaner, Miami Shores

Super Fuel is one of the most fascinating books I have read in a long time.  It is well written and well documented, relying on extensive research on the subject of nuclear and thorium power.  It delves into the history of nuclear and thorium power and how politics has allowed a more dangerous technology to be adopted when a less dangerous technology (Thorium) was already available.  It explores why the US is stuck in an inertia to change even when better alternatives to traditional nuclear technology exists and how the US is persisting in hanging on to old ways because that is the way it has always been done.  It shows how the lack of long-term planning by our government will leave us behind, while more progressive Asian  nations will move ahead of us in yet another industry.  This book should be required reading for the US Congress. Darlene Johnson, Coconut Grove

What I found to be the recurring issues of Thorium energy were described as "complacency" of the industry itself and "inability"of political leadership to reform it. Comparisons to the auto industry were made but the battle for energy solutions faces is much stronger and complex to resolve.  Many great minds of the past have wrestled with the topic.  I believe anything is possible but time is not on our side - It's not the two minute warning but were in the fourth quarter.  Peter Kihn, Sterling Heights, MI

Super Fuel attempts to promote thorium,a cheap,safe, abundant, and readily available energy source from the past that has been overlooked  but is beginning to be put into use in the rising super powers of China and India.
The author's presentation is interesting but very technical and therefore difficult to understand as well as uninspiring. It reads more like a text book than a promotion for a new clean energy source.
Perhaps if it had been written more clearly, more people would be inspired and interested in the push for thorium.
More information about the mining of thorium and its benefits and use, either real or possible would be helpful.
Perhaps I was searching for something with a more exciting and clear presentation that could explain the availability and possible uses in layman's language that would be easy to understand rather than the scientific presentation. What a disappointment! Margot Byrnes, Miami

"Super Fuel" gives a good historical recount of how uranium based technology won out over thorium for use in nuclear power.  The book does seem to be somewhat one sided.  The author writes many things as though they were facts, but they seem to be more opinion or speculation.  The use of thorium is seen as a safer and cleaner energy source, although there are dangers to thorium the same as there are with uranium.  The author also doesn't cover the fact that if someone did want to build a thorium power plant in the United States, it would take decades to get approval to do so.  It seems like we would be better off building windmills or solar power plants with that amount of time and resources to complete such a project.

The book did give some insightful views of why one technology won out over another.  Not so much that one technology is better than another, but that the politics around the two technologies is what made one technology win. Frank Donn, Miam

Energy is on everyone's mind for this century.  It was amazing to read this book and learn that a possible energy source in the Nuclear family that was much better then Uranium was cancelled because it did not lend itself to military use.  However this material, Thorium seems to be a very good material to be used to produce electrical power for public use and appears to be much safer than what is now used in Nuclear Reactors for electrical power production, Uranium.

It is hope that our political readers will read this book and make a commitment to pursue this power source for the good of mankind.  Also if the United States does this they could be looked upon more so as a leader and begin another another energy revolution just like the discovery of energy started the Industrial Revolution.  It does seem that other countries are pursuing development of this electrical energy source — Thorium.  Let us hope that we can stay ahead of them in development of this green energy source. Gordon Ettie, Miami


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