Interview with Michael Feuer about “The Benevolent Dictator”

When Kevin Small suggested that I look at a book called “The Benevolent Dictator,” I was skeptical – the word dictator doesn’t paint a good image for me. As I read through the book, there was a lot of business wisdom in the book and the keyword was “benevolent” rather than “dictator”

I had an opportunity to do a quick interview with the author Michael Feuer where he provides a sneak preview of what’s in the book.

First, a brief bio of Micheal Feuer:

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20K of his own money. During a 16-year span, Mr. Feuer, as CEO, grew the Company to almost 1,000 stores world-wide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Mr. Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring over 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Mr. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic Boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises.

Now, the quick interview:

RS: If you wish someone took only three things away from your book what would they be?

MF: 1. If one just dreams about building a business, it’s guaranteed to be only that — a dream. Instead start “doing it” by creating a plan and then testing the concept. It’s all about ready, aim, fire. Remember if it were so easy to start a business, everyone would do it, but few are willing to put in the effort and instead spend too much talking and not enough doing.

2. Not having the money is the biggest and oldest excuse for not starting a business.  There is plenty of money availability, but one needs to put him or herself in the potential investor’s shoes and figure want are the hot buttons to get someone to part with their money. Always think creatively about where there is money to be found.  If it’s not the bank, or big venture firms, it can be an investor who has the same passion for whatever one is creating.

3. One must have discipline in every aspect of building a company. Many new entrepreneurs don’t get traction because they are trying to go in 10 directions at once.  An elephant is eaten one bit at a time, same as building a business.

RS: How do you put lightning back in the bottle again and again?

MF: Dream, dare and then do.  It’s not that hard when one figures out it’s the journey, not the destination, that really matters. Also, always remember “it’s not what you do, but who you are that makes you a success.”

RS: What were the big lessons learned as you turned a $3 million investment into a $1.5 billion sale as a CEO?

MF: It’s really just a matter of more zeros. I have found that scale makes it easier to get things and build.  In the book I write , “if you don’t ask you don’t get”.  When raising money for a billion dollar company there is not much difference in the steps or the priorities.  The priorities must always be: know who you’re serving. In my companies the mission statement is always the same: “Serve the customer, create opportunities for employees, and great value for investors.” If you’re running a corner store or a public company, it’s basically the same.  Also, focus on what’s important and don’t get bogged down on matters that don’t add to your mission.

RS: What are three things you will say to young entrepreneurs who are starting today?

MF: 1. The truth is out there, it’s a wannabe’s  job to find it. This means figuring out what customers aren’t getting somewhere else and giving it to them. Someone needs to figure out what the customer wants before he or she needs it.

2. Trust but verify.  Too many young entrepreneurs assume that what someone says is what they’ll really do.  This applies to employees, vendors, (and investors?) . It’s not about being cynical, it’s about follow up and survival.

3. Don’t be afraid to be wrong, just be smart enough to have a plan B.  Don’t fall in love with your plan, fall in love with what you’re going to achieve.

Here is the link to the book:

The Benevolent Dictator by Michael Feuer