When I founded Boardroom Inc. in the basement of my home more than 35 years ago, I started with just $5,000 and a dream. Today Boardroom is one of the world’s largest publishers of consumer newsletters, as well as one of America’s largest publishers of hardcover nonfiction books, reaching many millions of readers.
The strategies I have followed over the years have helped my company to be successful in good times and resilient in bad times. They also have enriched my personal life. In this difficult economy, these strategies are more important than ever…
Whenever I need to learn about a subject, I read every book about it that I can find. I learned graphic design, sales skills, even how to be a swimming teacher and a top-notch long-distance runner — all from books.
I also go directly to the experts themselves with my questions, and I have taught my children to do this as well.
Example: When my son, Sam, was trying to decide which colleges to apply to, both he and I wanted him to get the best advice possible. Max Birnbaum, author of a top-selling college guide, had been one of my high school teachers, so I called him and set up a meeting for the three of us.
One of the colleges Max suggested was Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania. Neither my son nor I knew much about this college, but it had an excellent academic reputation and was small enough to offer students a friendly, personal environment. Sam decided to turn down several bigger, better-known schools to attend Haverford — where he thrived, got a fine education and enjoyed more direct contact with professors than he would have had at a large college.
We spent two years researching and planning to make sure the move would be successful. A search committee and real estate consultant worked hard to find the optimal location — one that would be an easy commute, either by car or public transportation.
We found the perfect building in Connecticut, very close to the train station and shopping. We hired a relocation specialist to help us manage logistics — not only for the office move but also for employees who might want to move into homes closer to the new site. We designed a package of financial incentives to encourage employees to stay with us through the transition.
Our planning paid off. On a Friday, we closed the New York office. The movers, transition team and computer team worked all weekend — and on Monday, the computers in the new Connecticut location were up and running, and all employees’ boxes were by their new desks. Out of 75 employees, all but two stayed with us.
We also have weekly phone meetings with our major vendors. Even when things are going smoothly, these check-ins allow us to follow up and make sure that nothing is overlooked. We can catch potential problems before they become big issues.
Early in my career, I sold advertising space for the phone company. When I believed a company would benefit from a boldface listing in the phone book, I didn’t just tell them so. I would bring a mock-up of the proposed ad to the sales call so that the customer could see how it would make his/her business stand out from the others. I sold more listings than all the other salesmen in the office put together.
Many years after founding Boardroom, I wrote to an executive at a major publisher to propose a new marketing venture that I believed would help us both. When I received no response to any of my letters, I got a 24-by-36-inch piece of poster board from my art department, handwrote a giant-sized letter and had it delivered to the executive by messenger. He replied to that letter, and we began a very successful business relationship.
Example: I keep track of my busy schedule using a simple paper calendar that I designed. It consists of one sheet of paper that fits in my shirt pocket. My assistant prints it out for me — one month appears on one side of the paper, the next month on the flip side. I can see my schedule for each month at a glance.
This system of continuous improvement has dramatic benefits. Productivity and job satisfaction are high. Employees feel valued. The ideas generated have saved us substantial amounts of money.
Example: Soon after we started the I-Power system, an employee suggested that we make our books slightly smaller so that they would weigh less than four pounds, thus qualifying for a lower postage rate. That one idea saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
When I see an article that makes me think of someone I know, I clip it and send it to the person with a note. When we pay writers or vendors, I write personal notes on the payment slips. Sometimes I enclose little gifts. At Boardroom, we celebrate the anniversary of each employee’s start date. On my children’s birthdays, I not only give them gifts — I also send flowers to my wife.
People contribute so much to our lives. It’s important to say thank you.
I have an attitude of healthy skepticism. No matter how well-known a source is, if he/she has nothing substantial to say, we won’t run the article. Our readers trust us, and I do everything I can to continue to earn that trust.