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I've been reading the 1982 book on corporate management called In Search of Excellence; Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies. It was my father's copy and he was getting rid of it. In reading it I was constantly reminded of Professional River Outfitters, in Flagstaff, AZ, where I last worked. It is obvious to me that the owner of PRO has integrated the basic learnings of this book in his approach to management, and also obvious to me that IT WORKS. This book is an excellent read even though it is 26 years old.

Here are the commonalities that the authors found among all the excellent companies that they studied:

1. A bias for action, for getting on with it. In other words, rather than being paralyzed by changes, analysis, etc, these companies just go ahead and do what they have to do.
2. Staying close to the customer. Excellent companies cater to and listen to their customers, and everyone in the company is devoted to serving the customers.
3. Autonomy and entrepeneurship. Innovative companies foster leaders and innovators among their staffs by allowing people to try new things on their own, encouraging attempts, and forgiving mistakes. This openness allows the companies to adapt to changing markets.
4. Productivity through people. Everyone in the company, right down to the rank and file, is treated with respect and care. Staff are seen as a source of ideas, not just a pair of hands.
5. Hands on, values driven. The employees know and share a philosophy that influences the way that they approach their work. (The NOC once had a fetish for "quality" as expressed by Robert Pirsig's book Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. PRO still keeps its focus on providing reliable and functional service in a narrow niche.)
6. Stick to the knitting. Excellent companies don't try to do it all--they do what they know best and refrain from expansion into unknown areas.
7. Simple form, lean staff. There is no need for a giant matrix of managers, and you only need a few staff to run a successful business, if they are the right staff.
8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties. Excellent companies are loose in that they allow a great deal of autonomy to every single staff member, and tight in that they are fanatic around a few core values. "Product champions" are allowed a very long leash.

So with all this in mind, we're here at the Mariott in Knoxville and paying $100 for a room because "it's a holiday". The room was advertised at $79, so that was our first disappointment. The room is pleasant enough but the in-room coffee is bad. The shower is nice but there was hair stuck to the wall. This morning we went out to the lobby to get breakfast only to learn that it costs $10 to get a hot breakfast. For $100 you'd think a hotel would offer breakfast. The lady who was there to guard the food was slump shouldered and miserable, and said that the worst part of her job was having to tell people that breakfast is not included. I went for a bagle which she then charged me $2.13 for. I hadn't brought my wallet to breakfast, and told her she'd have to wait to get the payment from me. She wanted to put it on our room bill, but Suzanne had already paid it and I wasn't about to let her do that. She had put the bill on the table for $2.13 before I ever sat down. She offered me a cup of juice which I accepted, and it was delivered to the table in a glass that had towel lint all over it, including on the inside.

Oh, and last night we noticed that Darth Vader lives next door. There is something that makes a hollow sound with a breathing rhythm, and it is next door. We don't know what it is, but it is loud. Darth Vader took a shower this morning, and we could totally his shower running.

The most important factor though in our overall feeling about this hotel is that lady who stood there and told us that breakfast costs $10. Her vibe was yuck. People make all the difference. ALL THE DIFFERENCE. When I run my business, my employees will enjoy my philosophy of business. My employees will enjoy working for me, because they will be given the power and freedom to make things right. The one time that I managed a staff of 15 or so, at the Nolichucky, my staff told me that they liked working for me. I simply asked them to get the job done and do their best. I didn't tell them how, unless they asked for my help.

I enjoyed that power and freedom working at PRO, and because of that, I worked harder than I would have if I felt I was just being used. I saved money for the boss when I could and made money when I could. And I can't say that I have done that for all businesses where I've worked. When I don't like where I work, I don't care if the business survives and I don't care if the boss loses face. In fact, as an unhappy employee I am willing to sabotage the business. I don't think I'm exceptional in this. I wonder if that miserable woman guarding the breakfast food cares one whit about Mariott. I would bet that she does some damage before she moves on.

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