Leadership Letter: Business is a Gamble
March 1st, 2011

Ryan Calkins

As we converge on Vegas for a week of hurried conversations, sore feet, and maybe a few moments to play the tables, it’s worthwhile to remember what it takes to win.

First, pick the right game. There’s a reason mathematicians don’t play the slots: the house always wins. Poker, on the other hand, is a game of skill. In your business, are you trying to be the lowest price in town? Because if you are, you are sitting at the slots, watching your stack slowly melt away. Or do you offer a range of added value so that your customer is willing to pay a higher price? That puts you at the poker table where your skill, intuition and strategy mean you’ll win more often than not.

Second, gather information. Count cards and learn your opponents’ tells. Where are the aces and who’s holding a pocketful of nothing? In business this means knowing what sectors of your market are growing and which competitors represent a real threat and which are just bluffing. Are you reading the regional and national economic news to anticipate shifts in consumer spending? Do you have a regular source of good information about the housing market? How are you educating yourself on the latest innovations in our industry, from high-definition porcelains to new installation techniques to inventory and logistics management systems?

Third, know thyself. A good poker player knows how to read his opponents, but the best poker player knows how to read himself. A few years ago we were at a critical juncture in our business, when cash flow demands and growth presented us with some difficult choices. We came to the painful realization that we lacked good financial management. It was humbling to acknowledge that we needed help, but doing so meant that we could act to improve our business. In hindsight, the decision may have saved us from ourselves. The hiring of a gifted financial manager was essential for us to navigate the stormy waters of the recession. Conversely, knowing your strengths is the only way you can put them to use. Is your star salesperson toiling away at paperwork hours at a time when they should be out in front of your customers?

Finally, play long. The easiest guy to beat at the poker table is the one who tries to win with every hand. If you’re like me, you are constantly bombarded with offers of new products or services, a chance to get in on a sweetheart deal, or some other get-rich-quick scheme. Learning to discern when you are holding a full house and when you’re looking at a pair of deuces is key to being successful in poker and in business. It takes patience to wait for the right hand. After all, there are fewer winning hands than losing hands. The good news is it only takes one.

I’d be remiss to conclude without mentioning the role lady luck can play. Sure, we can all think of stories of some undeserving person somehow pulling off a big win, no thanks to their own skill. That’s the exception. Thomas Jefferson had a great perspective on chance: “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

Ryan Calkins,
CTDA president

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