December 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions Talking Heads December 1998

Current Issue
December 1998
Talking Heads

Business leaders are stepping out of the boardroom and up to the podium. Here’s what they have to say&

By Dana Nigro

Deborah Rosado Shaw
of Umbrellas Plus
Jim McCann
of 1-800-FLOWERS
Peter Guber
of Mandalay Entertainment

They’ve built multimillion-dollar companies from the ground up. They’ve taken an idea and run with it straight to the top. They’ve overcome difficult backgrounds and career setbacks, then used those lessons to earn their future successes.

If you’re looking for a business speaker who can really shake up your organization and give the audience some genuinely new ideas, here are a few entrepreneurial CEOs who will take time out from their daily duties to share their experiences.

Most speakers bureaus won’t give out an exact fee because prices are negotiable and may change based on market demand (such as whether the speakers have just published books or if their companies have been getting lots of press recently). Speaker prices in general range from $5,000 to $100,000, and the business leaders here tend to fall toward the middle of that. Many will do pro bono work on a case-by-case basis or will donate their fees to charitable organizations with which they are involved.

Jim McCann
CEO of 1-800-FLOWERS
Contact: Leading Authorities Inc., in Washington, D.C., (202) 783-0300 or (800) SPEAKERS
Fee Range: $20,000$30,000

What does a one-time social worker who ran a group home for troubled boys in Queens know about the corporate world? Enough to grow a New York City florist shop into a $300 million global company that has 2,000 employees and conducts 10 percent of its business over the Internet.

“You don’t develop relationships with groups; you have relationships with individuals,” says Jim McCann. “I nearly gave my life to learn that lesson.” McCann shares many of the stories detailed in his new book Stop and Sell the Roses. As director of St. John’s Home for Boys, he had trouble engaging a tough kid named Norman. One day, Norman came home and found McCann planting tomatoes in the backyard. When McCann explained what he was doing, Norman “went on to say things many I couldn’t quote literally such as ‘unless you can smoke it, it’s not going to grow around here.’ That was the most dialogue I’d had with him.”

"Do your homework; know what your needs are cold," adds Norman Aamodt, manager of events marketing for Philadelphia-based software giant SAP America. Each year, the company sponsors SAPPHIRE, where customers and prospects converge to try out SAP's programs and related products. This year, more than 15,000 people showed up for the event at the Los Angeles Convention Center. "Odds are, when you get to the facility, their people are not going to be as knowledgeable as you need them to be," he says. "It's not a knock on them. These buildings were started basically as big meeting rooms, but everything's really changed."

The next day, Norman verbally battered McCann for five or six minutes. When the kid swaggered by with a broom handle the day after that, McCann feared they were going to tangle. “But he had seen me using stakes to tie the tomato plants to and figured I could use it,” McCann says. From then on, Norman would stop by to help out with weeding and watering, and during these times would reveal what was on his mind. Says McCann, “I wouldn’t have had those conversations unless we’d been working on the garden.”

Out of this experience grew McCann’s first commandment for success: “Make a relationship, then do business.”

Often, groups want to hear about how 1-800-FLOWERS made the most of technology to grow. “We are known as a high-tech company, but we’re not,” says McCann. “We’re a high-touch company that harnesses technology for our benefit.” He continues, “If you use technology to foster relationships, to free you from mundane tasks for example, if I’m a florist and can show you 15 different variations on a computer screen and show you what you’ll get then we have a lot more time for dialogue. If you’ve shopped with me before and have our Fresh Rewards card, I just swipe it and your credit data is taken care of, so we can chat about your daughter’s first baby instead.”

Deborah Rosado Shaw
CEO of Umbrellas Plus
Contact: Umbrellas Plus at (800) 345-2309
Fee Range: $1,200-$4,800

Growing up in the South Bronx, assaulted by gang members, Deborah Rosado Shaw wasn’t sure if she would make it out of high school alive. But this enterprising daughter of a minister and a social worker did, indeed, making it to Fashion Avenue to found a wholesale accessory company.

Umbrellas Plus, a multimillion- dollar corporation, supplies private label and promotional leisure furniture, beach accessories and rain products. It’s a licensee for Disney, Bill Blass, Jones New York and Warner Bros. and sells to stores such as Bed, Bath & Beyond and T.J. Maxx. Shaw, one of only two Hispanic women CEOs in her industry, also has set up Powerlink, a firm that advises on diversity issues for such major corporations as Costco and Wal-Mart.

“I call it as I’ve lived it,” says Shaw, who describes her presentations as irreverent and straightforward. “My message, for the most part, is for women. I speak to a set of experiences in the marketplace that [other prominent management consultants] couldn’t unless they showed up in drag. You have to live in this body and move it forward in the marketplace to understand what you come up against. The women out there climbing the corporate ladder are missing someone talking to a piece of them that doesn’t get addressed.”

Shaw, who won the 1996 Women of Enterprise Award (issued by Avon and the U.S. Small Business Administration) and was voted one of the 50 Most Influential Latinas in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut this year by El Diario, the country’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, gets the strongest response to what she calls her “bad-girl talk.”

“You’ve got to be a bad girl to succeed in business, either in a corporate setting or as an entrepreneur. If you’re trying to do something that’s never been done, you have to make up a new set of rules in order to play. A lot of times, people aren’t going to like that.”

Shaw discusses overcoming personal and professional obstacles, balancing motherhood and a career, networking to build a business and entering the business world as a Hispanic woman. She hopes to give women real tools for success, encouraging them to make choices about their personal priorities and then take action.

“Just trying something, even though it can go wrong, helps to show you what the right thing for you is.” Shaw wants women to recognize that even with all she’s accomplished, she’s afraid at times, too. “If you aren’t doing things that make you shake in your shoes, you’re not doing the right stuff.”

Peter Guber
Chairman of Mandalay Pictures
Contact: Greater Talent Network, (800) 326-4211
Fee Range: Not provided

Coming from an industry that may be America’s most successful export Hollywood entertainment Peter Guber offers a peek into the film, television and record industries, with lessons for any business. The man behind Rain Man and Batman must have more business lives than a cat he’s held top positions at Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment and has founded Casablanca Record & Filmworks, PolyGram Pictures, the Guber/Peters Company and Mandalay Pictures.

As chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures, he more than doubled the troubled company’s market share and annual revenue. As a producer, his films have earned more than $3 billion and more than 50 Oscar nominations.

“In the movie business, every movie is a new business,” Guber says. “Nobody says, ‘Hey, I heard it came in on budget, let’s go see it!’ No one goes to see a movie because of a brand, except maybe Disney’s. The alchemy of success is like the quest for the Holy Grail. You’d better plan on doing something pretty functional if you want to eat today.” ou and your exhibitors different options at the show. Many facilities have both.

What exists in most cases, he says, are mere copycats. “Everyone says he has the director who did Titanic or the actor and thinks any one of those elements will bring success to the picture.”

Guber, who prefers “conversations” to speeches, crafts a new presentation for each group, researching the particular company or industry. Sharing anecdotes from his 30 years of experience, he addresses topics such as business management, entertainment as a vehicle for communication and understanding information technology.

“Today’s executives must understand how to cope with change,” Guber says. “Change itself has changed in the last 10 years not merely the rate, but its scope. It used to be linear; now it’s spatial and exponential. You have to let go of the neat, anal quality of ‘I’ve got my arms around the whole thing,’ because you can’t it keeps evolving. You have to develop tools that deal with the landscape changing in three dimensions. Bringing interdisciplinary intelligence to management skills is a crucial tool for competing for the future as opposed to competing in the present.”

Guber concludes: “If you don’t have an attitude that embraces the unknown, then someone else globally or locally will take away your business.”

Wally Amos
CEO of Uncle Nonamé and founder of Famous Amos Cookies
Contact: Leading Authorities Inc., (800) SPEAKER or (202) 783-0300
Fee Range: $5,000-$10,000

An inspirational speaker rather than a management guru, Wally Amos talks about turning lemons into lemonade something he knows about firsthand. The high-school dropout parlayed a weekend hobby into a business that made his name a household word, then lost it all including his name and had to start over.

“My goal is to help people feel better about themselves, to give them tools to remind them how great they are and that they can overcome anything,” says Amos. In his extemporaneous talks, he shares how, in 1975, he started a cookie store in Los Angeles, reportedly the first gourmet cookie store in the country. Two years later, the business went national and its success helped create an entire niche industry.

But as he traveled more to promote his cookies, Amos lost his grip on corporate management. He brought in investors and eventually ended up as a figurehead who promoted the product but who could only watch as the new owners changed his recipe and switched from a gourmet brand to a vending-machine staple. He left and then, after a lengthy legal battle, lost the right to use his name and face on any food products.

“I’m just a reminder to other people of what they’ve overcome,” says Amos. “People think, ‘Oh, I could never overcome that,’ but then they think about it, and they do it every day.”

He doesn’t see his talk as specifically targeted at the corporate world. “It’s no different than any other world. Life is not segmented. If you’re uncomfortable at home, you bring that to the workplace. The idea is to help people be whole. If your home life is good, you will be really productive in the workplace.”

Amos also shares passages from his books, including The Famous Amos Story: The Face That Launched a Thousand Chips, Man With No Name: Turn Lemons Into Lemonade and Watermelon Magic: Seeds of Wisdom, Slices of Life.

“I have a little piece called ‘The Watermelon Credo,’” says Amos. “I’ve taken each letter from ‘watermelon’ and given it a characteristic. ‘N’ is for ‘Never give up or become a victim.’ I went through 19 months of litigation, but I never gave up. If you just keep going, something positive will happen. If you allow someone else to control you, you are doomed. The only way you are going to come out of the situation is to take responsibility for your actions.”

Amos took what he learned and, in 1992, started a company selling fat-free and sugarless muffins. Uncle Nonamé a reference to the legal loss of his name, it’s pronounced with a Hawaiian accent to reflect where he now lives continues to expand into retail markets such as Pathmark, Acme and Wal-Mart. “If I can do it, then anyone can,” Amos says.

Tom Scott and Tom First
Co-founders of Nantucket Nectars
Contact: Greater Talent Network, (800) 326-4211
Fee Range: Not provided

The “juice guys” started off their careers out of college with the sole goals of living on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts and avoiding “suit and tie” jobs. So they formed the Allserve boat delivery service, with the slogan “ain’t nothing those boys won’t do” which turned out to be anything from washing boats to shampooing dogs.

While there, Tom First experimented with peach juice concoctions, trying to re-create a nectar he had once tasted abroad. The two buddies peddled the drinks off their boat to other vessels cruising the harbor. When the juice actually sold, they hired a bottler to produce 1,400 cases.

Less than 10 years later, the two had gone from selling juice off their odd-job boat to overseeing a company with more than 100 employees and 30 varieties of beverages. Marketing directly to college campuses and relying on advertising and labels with a personal touch, the company built the brand around the United States and in several international markets. In 1997, Nantucket Nectars reached $45 million in sales.

In their casual speeches, the Toms (who usually present together) get comfortable with the audience and comment on their experiences with marketing to Generation X, startup companies and corporate structure. “We like to bring in anecdotes about all the dumb things we’ve done,” quips Tom Scott.

There was the day they were still selling juice off the boat and had a record day, making $300. “We were all excited,” says Scott. “The guy who operated the boat opened the cash box and the money all blew out into the harbor. He was afraid to jump in after it, so it all just floated away.”

Then there was the luckier time when they were meeting with the president of Arizona Iced Tea because they wanted to distribute his hot product to help build up their tiny distribution business. The weather that day was bad, and almost no one was out on the road. “The guy was asking us how many trucks we have and we say, ‘Oh, six or seven,’ basically lying,” explains Scott. “Then in the whole city of Washington, D.C., there coming down the road was one of our purple trucks. It looked like we had a lot of trucks and were really hard-working.”

The Toms bring a positive message about starting a new business. ”It’s a lot simpler than people think,” comments Scott. “It’s hard, but it’s not high intellect. It’s doable you have to believe and you have to stop being afraid.” But best of all, they always bring a bottle of Nantucket Nectars for everyone.

Christy Haubegger
Publisher and founder of Latina
Contact: Greater Talent Network, (800) 326-4211, or Reyes Entertainment, (213) 852-1525
Fee Range: Not provided

After graduating from Stanford Law School, Christy Haubegger followed a less-than-traditional path for an attorney: She founded Latina, the first bilingual magazine for Hispanic women in the United States. As a teenager, Haubegger would flip through fashion magazines and become frustrated that she couldn’t find pictures or articles that related to her as a Mexican-American. Finally, she got tired of waiting for someone else to start a magazine she wanted to read.

After graduating from Stanford Law School, Christy Haubegger followed a less-than-traditional path for an attorney: She founded Latina, the first bilingual magazine for Hispanic women in the United States. As a teenager, Haubegger would flip through fashion magazines and become frustrated that she couldn’t find pictures or articles that related to her as a Mexican-American. Finally, she got tired of waiting for someone else to start a magazine she wanted to read.

After drawing up a business plan and knocking on doors for months, Haubegger found a backer in Essence Communications, publisher of Essence, the first magazine for African-American women. In 1996, Latina was born and launched Haubegger onto numerous media lists of the top young businesspeople.

“The Hispanic market is the hot new market that everyone wants to know about, so I disabuse myths about it,” says the dynamic 30-year-old. “I’m part of the market. I’m a lawyer and I started a business, which dispels the notion that we’re all recent arrivals. I have a lot of fun with the stereotypes. I always quiz people.”

Haubegger brings a fresh perspective to talks on starting a business and making companies more entrepreneurial. “The new economy is one of ideas, and the media business exemplifies that,” she says. “I think that who I am and what I’m doing gives people a peek at what business is going to look like soon&. No one handed me this business and I don’t have the good old boys’ network. I have to make it up as I go along.”

Among the subjects she discusses are the challenges of building a young team, of working on a budget so tight she quips, “I wish we had a shoestring,” and of attracting and retaining employees without being able to offer generous salaries.

“I’m more competitive because I’m leaner, and we feel more personally invested in what we do here,” she says. “We get to wake up and feel like what we do matters. We are creating positive images of Hispanic women, who are an underserved audience.”

Haubegger speaks to eight to 10 groups a year. “I don’t like preaching to the choir. I want to shake up the way you think about running your company or division. I like to have fun.” She adds, “What’s been interesting to me is to see myself in this catalog of speakers who represent what business leadership in America used to look like. The case studies they wrote 20 years ago aren’t as relevant as my experience last week. I like having that role.”

Charles Hughes
President and CEO of Land Rover North America
Contact: Greater Talent Network, (800) 326-4211
Fee Range: Not provided

When Charles Hughes was hired as head of Land Rover North America in 1986, the high-end British sport-utility vehicles hadn’t been available in the United States since 1974. “We established a brand that had been out of the market for 17 years into one of the most sought-after brands in the car business, and people are fascinated by that,” says Hughes. Groups turn to him to learn about creating brand identity, building a company from the ground up and rebuilding existing companies.

“When I was first hired, I had to build the company from scratch,” says Hughes. “We had no dealers, no employees, no building nothing. We had some minor level of awareness of the brand, which is revered by people deeply into sport utility vehicles. It was every bit as exciting as people think.”

Range Rover North America started as a tiny boutique. In 1992, it switched to the Land Rover name and began offering three models, sold through Land Rover Centres, a unique auto retail concept that combines sales, parts and service with related products and benefits for owners.

During his collegiate-style presentations, Hughes tells stories of his off-roading trips around the world, asks questions of the audience and shares insights.

“Once you differentiate your brand, it has to be consistently woven into everything you do,” he explains. “A lot of people get that on an intellectual level, but not on an emotional level.” At Land Rover, all employees have driven the vehicles, so they become product evangelists. “That’s taking what we’re saying and putting it into the heart of the company. That goes deeper than advertising and promotions.”

Hughes speaks to about six to eight groups a year, often those building brands themselves or that consist of people who create products. He thinks it helps to have a subject that has cachet, like high-end cars. “A lot of people have had similar experiences to what we’ve done but might not have the glamour factor that makes it easier to focus attention on the subject,” he says. “Part of what I’m able to do is make that message more accessible and interesting.”

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