What does it mean to have the power of knowledge?
I recently listened to an interview with NBA Superstar Shaquille O’Neal, where he described some of the keys to his business success. He used the story of getting his first $1 million signing bonus and feeling like he had struck it rich. In short order, he bought himself a 150-thousand-dollar Mercedes. He drove it home proudly to show it off. His father asked, “That’s great, son. What about mine?” Feeling humbled, Shaq and his father returned to the dealership and bought another Mercedes of a similar price. Sure enough, Dad thought Shaq should also get one for his mother. So, he did, although it was admittedly—slightly less, at roughly $100 thousand. Within days, Shaq also wrote a $20,000 check for a one-year lease on a penthouse apartment in the city of his new team.
Shaq grew up on military bases, and it wasn’t long before a family friend and banker, who knew Shaq and his family well, asked Shaq to come in for a sit-down. The banker thanked Shaq for the confidence demonstrated by depositing his signing bonus. Then he went on to point out to Shaq that, having spent over $400 thousand of that first $1 million in a matter of days. This meant Shaq was effectively broke. Shaq was unaware of the taxes associated with such wealth. That the $1 million that came in was only about $600 thousand after taxes. Shaq was crushed—but determined.
He knew he needed help around him, or he would wind up like the 60 percent of professional athletes who end their careers broke. Today, Shaq’s published net worth is roughly $400 million.
You may be familiar with many of Shaquille O’Neal’s celebrity endorsements and commercials (Icy Hot, The General Insurance, Burger King, and Pepsi, to name a few). The through-line of all his commercials is the goofy and self-deprecating humor. Shaq never wanted his mother to see him on TV and be embarrassed. So early on, he was assured that he would always have final creative control of any ad. Icy Hot has renewed Shaq’s contract 17 times! How did Shaq learn to retain creative control early on? He sought help.
There is much more to Shaquille O’Neal’s great story. Listening to the hour-long interview, I couldn’t help but think of the similarities with most corporate success: knowledge and commitment. It’s the knowledge part that tends to trip us up. Primarily, this is because we have a hard time acknowledging our knowledge gaps. Shaq learned early because of a trusted ally. The banker told it to him straight and painted a very clear picture of the broke version of Shaq that poor decisions would lead to.
I visited a very successful small business recently. They are thoughtfully preparing to break through the small business size barrier and compete without relying on the small business set-asides for which they currently qualify. Over the years, their growth has been impressive. They are now approaching $100 million in annual revenue—which will be their new floor. During one portion of my visit, I sat for an “ask me anything” session. The CEO and leadership team sought my thoughts and counsel on a variety of issues related to their strategy.
In most cases, my responses were succinct and straightforward. Drawing on my decades of experience and associated expertise, I could quickly connect the dots and identify viable options in front of them. I love being in those settings because it requires me to be in the moment and assimilate a variety of diverse inputs to bring quality solutions forward.
Asking the important questions
Are there questions you wonder about your business but don’t seem to have the right opportunity to ask an expert in a safe setting?
How long will those questions linger?
What may be perplexing or nagging to you might be apparent to an expert. But you have to reach for that tool.
Ask yourself three questions about your business or your present role:
- What could move the revenue needle within the next quarter?
- Have I set the right conditions for that movement to happen?
- Do I really know what conditions must be set?
If there was any uncertainty about any of questions 1-3, who’s your equivalent to Shaq’s banker? Odds are that you will turn to someone in your immediate network who has gone before you.
That might be the easy choice, but likely not the best choice. If you have a nagging question about moving your business within the next quarter, send me an email. It is very likely that I have seen your situation before and can offer the counsel you have not heard elsewhere. My holiday gift to you is to help you start 2023 stronger than ever.