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Elon Musk: A Story of Change

“Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.”

 

They say that the only constant in life is change.

 

If there is anyone on this planet that knows the implications of that, it is Elon Musk.

 

Just looking at his first line on Wikipedia tells you all that you need to know about what change means to Mr. Musk.

 

“A South African-born Canadian American business magnate, investor, engineer, and inventor.”

 

There are few people with as diverse of a citizenship background as Musk and even fewer who have experienced the level of success that he has had in so many different ventures.

 

But his story goes deeper than that.

 

Let’s take a look at Elon Musk’s story to get a better idea of what made him into the leader that he is today.

 

A Curious Child

 

Born in 1971 to a Canadian mother who was both a model and a dietician and a South African father who was an electromechanical engineer, pilot, and sailor, Elon Musk learned from a very early age that living a static life wouldn’t get him very far.

 

After his parents divorced in 1980, he also learned that sometimes life would change whether you’re ready for it or not.

 

Although Elon was intellectually curious from a young age (he loved to read, program computers, and create video games), he was also bullied severely in school.

 

In one instance, a group of three boys threw him down a flight of stairs and then beat him until he was unconscious.

 

Ready for a Change in Scenery

 

After finishing high school shortly before he turned 18, Elon decided that he was ready for a change of scenery.

 

Thus, he obtained Canadian citizenship through his mother and left South Africa to attend Queen’s University in Ontario.  

 

Despite being enrolled in one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Musk again felt that he was not in the right place at the right time.

 

So, he left.

 

Musk then enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania, where he went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in physics from the College of Arts and Sciences and a Bachelor of Science through the Wharton School of Business.

 

After a successful undergraduate career, Elon thought that graduate school was the next logical step in his career.

 

The result? Maybe you can guess.

 

After enrolling as a PhD student in Stanford University’s applied physics and materials science program, Musk felt the urge for change yet again.

 

So, he left. After two days.

 

The Beginning of a Storied Career

 

Leaving that PhD program turned out the be one of the best decisions that Elon Musk ever made. Instead of researching, writing, and being paid much less than he was worth, Elon and his brother set off to begin their own company.

 

This company was called Zip2.

 

A web software company that acted as a city guide, Zip2 was eventually bought out by Compaq for a cool $307 million in 1999 (Musk received $22 million for his 7% in the sale).

 

This was just the beginning of what would become one of the most storied careers in history.

 

After selling his first company, Elon then used half of the money from the sale to create an online financial service and email payment company called X.com.

 

Never heard of X.com?

 

That’s because X.com merged with a company called Confinity, and Confinity brought a little money transfer service over by the name of PayPal.

 

Although Musk was eventually ousted as CEO due to disagreements with the board about certain software aspects of the company, he did receive $165 million when Ebay acquired PayPal in 2002.

 

Today

 

After selling PayPal, Elon Musk’s career exploded even further.

 

Acting as the current CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk is on the cutting edge of technology and space travel.

 

He is attempting to explore Mars, building spacecrafts, and designing the automobiles of the future.

 

About space travel, Musk says,

An asteroid or a super volcano could destroy us, and we face risks the dinosaurs never saw: an engineered virus, inadvertent creation of a micro black hole, catastrophic global warming or some as-yet-unknown technology could spell the end of us. Humankind evolved over millions of years, but in the last sixty years atomic weaponry created the potential to extinguish ourselves. Sooner or later, we must expand life beyond this green and blue ball—or go extinct.”

 

What it comes down to for Elon Musk is that, while change is difficult to handle in a lot of ways, it’s the only way that people can survive and grow.

 

Whether it’s changing cities, countries, companies, or the way that we look at some of the biggest problems that we face, the human race would’ve become extinct already if not for our inherent ability to change and evolve.

 

The next time you’re facing a difficult decision or feel that you have become stuck in your path, think about this quote, “Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.”

 

Whether that disaster is physical or mental, have the courage to change.

 

You won’t regret it.

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Jack Ma: Innovation and Optimism

“Never give up! Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine. If you give up tomorrow, you will never see the sunshine.”

Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, is one of the richest men in Asia and ranked No.2 in the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” list by Fortune in 2017. Today, he’s one of the world’s most influential businessmen and inspirational philanthropists, and his rags-to-riches story is testament to his belief that you must “never give up.”

Early Innovator

Born in Hangzhou, China in 1964, Jack’s parents made ends meet by working as traditional performing artists. There was little money in the family and Jack recognized that education would be his way to get ahead in life. After a visit from President Nixon in 1972, Hangzhou grew into a popular tourist destination, bringing lots of English-speaking visitors into the area, an opportunity that an already innovative Jack took full advantage of in his teenage years. Each day, he would ride his bike to the Hangzhou hotel, some 40-minutes from his home, where he offered his services as a tourist guide in exchange for the opportunity to learn and improve his English. It was one of these tourists who nicknamed him “Jack” after struggling to pronounce his actual name, Ma Yun, becoming pen pals after the visit.

Jack continued to give free tours for nine years while struggling to get ahead with his formal education. He failed the entrance exam for college twice, finally succeeding on the third attempt – an early indication of the resilience and perseverance that would shape his extraordinary life. He graduated from Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute in 1988 with a B.A. in English and began applying for jobs, only to find himself faced with yet more failure and rejection. The police force rejected him, saying, “You’re no good,” and then even KFC turned him away with Jack famously quoted as saying, Twenty-four people went for the job. Twenty-three were accepted. I was the only guy…”

Internet Discovery

He eventually found employment as a lecturer of English at Hangzhou Dianzi University, but on a trip to the U.S. as a translator in 1995, Jack got his first hands-on experience of the internet, something essentially unheard of back in China. He typed “beer” into the search engine and was fascinated to discover that no Chinese beers appeared anywhere on the results pages. It was this discovery that inspired him to set up an internet company for China, a venture that would fail, but he didn’t give up.

In 1999, Jack and a group of 17 friends raised enough money between them to found Alibaba – effectively China’s answer to Amazon – with the intention of helping Chinese companies reach an international market. That group of 18 in Jack’s apartment has grown to a workforce of 30,000 over four large campuses, and while many mistakes were made in the early years, Jack recalls saying, “We will make it because we are young and we never, never give up.”

Crazy Jack

Jack is now globally recognized as a true innovator, yet in the past his ideas have been branded as “crazy”. Crazy or not, his success story demonstrates the enormous power of an optimistic attitude and relentless perseverance. He has said, “If you never tried, how do you know there’s no chance? If you don’t do it, nothing is possible. If you do it, at least, you have the hope that there’s a chance.” Well, Jack Ma has certainly gone ahead and tried; he didn’t give up when tomorrow got tougher, and he’s now enjoying the sunshine.

In a letter written to his employees after the company filed for its IPO (initial public offering), Jack said: “We know well we haven’t survived because our strategies are farsighted and brilliant, or because our execution is perfect, but because for 15 years we have persevered in our mission of ‘making it easier to do business across the world,’ because we have insisted on a ‘customer first’ value system, because we have persisted in believing in the future, and because we have insisted that normal people can do extraordinary things.”

You may see yourself as an ordinary person today, but what extraordinary things might you achieve if you don’t give up tomorrow?

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Melinda Gates: Global Impact

“What great changes have not been ambitious?”

Melinda Gates is a business leader and philanthropist, and co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alongside her husband Bill Gates. Today, they are the richest couple in the world, but Melinda did not come from a privileged background. She has seen great changes in her life and the ambition that drove her in her education and career now drives her great ambitions in philanthropy.

Melinda’s father worked as an aerospace engineer in Dallas, Texas and her mother was a stay-at-home mom who came to regret not going to college. For this reason, her parents encouraged her and her three siblings to focus on their studies, saying, “No matter what college you get into, we will pay for it.” Melissa’s father created a side-line source of income in rental properties, and everyone in the family, including Melissa, helped to run and maintain the business by doing whatever jobs were required every weekend.

Daily Goal

When Melissa was 14, her father bought an early Apple computer to help with the family rental business and she took to it straight away, learning BASIC and then teaching her friends the programming language during school vacations. At Ursuline, the all-girls Catholic high school she attended, the motto is Serviam, translating from Latin as “I will serve” and the students are expected to get involved in volunteer projects, but Melissa was something of an all-round star pupil. Her former math and computer science teacher has said of her, “Every day she had a goal; the goals were run a mile, learn a new word, that sort of thing, but her ambition was never abrasive. Never. She was always lovely and charming, and she would win people over by being persuasive.”

It was during her Freshman year that Melissa discovered only the top two students from Ursuline had earned places in elite schools. She says, “I realized that the only way to get into a good college was to be valedictorian or salutatorian. So that was my goal.” She achieved her valedictorian goal, and her valedictory speech perhaps gave an indication of the philanthropist she would become: “If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.”

Career Ambition

She achieved her ambition of earning a place at Notre Dame University. However, a visit to Notre Dame with her father led to disappointment as officials informed them the university was shrinking its computer science department, saying, “computers are a fad” – this was 1982! She chose to attend Duke University instead where she earned her BA, going on to achieve an MBA and then joining Microsoft in 1987. She was the youngest and the only female recruit in a batch of ten MBA’s, but her ambition saw her rise to the position of general manager of information products within nine years before making the decision to leave the company and concentrate on family life – having married the company CEO.

Impatient Optimist

But Melinda’s “goal a day” ambition didn’t stop there. Shortly after their wedding, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was born. Describing herself as an “impatient optimist”, the Foundation’s primary goal is to improve equity in the United States and around the world, and eradicate the illnesses that cause the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of children in the developing world every year. Just over two decades later and Melinda writes in the Foundation’s annual letter: “Polio will soon be history. In our lifetimes, malaria will end. No one will die from AIDS. Few people will get TB. Children everywhere will be well nourished. And the death of a child in the developing world will be just as rare as the death of a child in the rich world.”

A huge ambition, perhaps, but what great changes have not been ambitious? As Melinda says, “Goals are only wishes unless you have a plan,” so what’s your goal for today?

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Marissa Mayer: Creating Impact at Yahoo

Marissa Mayer Quotes

Marissa Mayer became CEO of Yahoo in 2012, a post she stepped into after thirteen years at Google where she had been one of the company’s earliest employees and the first female engineer. On arrival at Yahoo, she became the youngest woman ever to lead a Fortune 500 company, and while her success in this post is up for debate, there can be no denying that Marissa is someone who’s not afraid to step up to a challenge, or in her words, “I always did something I was a little a little not ready to do.”

Growing up, Marissa describes herself as “painfully shy”, yet she pushed through this to become captain of her high school debate team, Spanish club, and pom-pom squad, alongside taking part in a wide range of extracurricular activities including ballet and piano lessons. Perhaps overcoming her natural shyness taught her how to do what she was “a little not ready to do” but she says, “I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough. Sometimes that’s a sign that something really good is about to happen. You’re about to grow and learn a lot about yourself.”

Being in the Room

Marissa graduated from Stanford University with degrees in symbolic systems and computer science. She had intended to major in paediatric neuroscience but switched to symbolic systems – a combined study of computer science, philosophy, linguistics and psychology – which she describes as “studying the brain without the gore.” After graduation, she had any number of job options open to her but chose to sign up with Google because she felt the company offered greater opportunities to be a part of the decision-making process. She explains her choice by saying, I also interviewed at McKinsey, which is a great company, but I had some friends who went there, and they said, ‘Well, we give the presentations, and then we leave the room, and the executives make the decisions’ … I just felt like at Google I could be in the room. Even if you fail, you learn so much by being where the decision is made.”

When Marissa joined Yahoo, the company was struggling, and the first thing she wanted to do was change the culture. She wanted the people working there to feel valued, and she wanted to attract new recruits who would feel excited about joining the company, so she spent the first few weeks listening to people and building a picture of what could be done to generate a sense of pride in the workplace. She says, “One of the things that make people proud to work somewhere is having insights into how decisions are made.”

Go Time

Marissa made herself available to talk to people in the cafeteria every day, and she remembers on one occasion soon after her arrival, an employee approached her and asked, “Is it go time?” Having only been there for a few days, she made it clear she wanted him to stay and give her a chance, but he then let her know she’d misunderstood him; when he said “go”, he meant it as in getting to work. He explained that he was frustrated by the amount of time it took for management to make decisions, saying he had ideas he wanted to put forward.

This was exactly the attitude she was looking for and she opened up a weekly forum to encourage all employees to put forward their ideas which were then shared with the board, helping to demystify management decisions and create transparency across the company in the process. While at Google, Marissa learned from personal experience that being “in the room” and being a part of the decision-making process helped to generate a sense of trust between employees and the board which, in turn, helped a sense of pride to develop. Her leadership style and the decisions she has made have been criticized by many but she has her own way of dealing with this, saying, “One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is there are always a lot of good choices, and then there’s the one you pick, commit to, and make great.”

As of this writing, Yahoo has been sold to Verizon and Marissa will not be a part of the future rebranded company called “Oath” (merging the capabilities of Yahoo and AOL). While Marissa’s future is uncertain, a leader as bold and innovative as Marissa is sure to find her way. We all have moments at work and in life when we feel a little not ready, but just remember, it’s pushing through those moments that helps you to grow – and it could be a sign that something really good is about to happen!

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Thanks, AttaCoin!

AttaCoin

It’s not often that people get to do what they truly love. At LQD, we love nothing more seeking out inspirational stories in history and in current events so that we can help motivate our readers. It’s for this reason that we’d like to thank AttaCoin for generously sponsoring this blog.

For those of you unfamiliar with AttaCoin, they are an exclusive manufacturer of employee appreciation gifts. These gifts are based on a concept, called the challenge coin, that has roots that go back over 2000 years. The coins are beautiful and very substantial. Each is 1.75″ in diameter, solid metal, and features a durable multi-color design that should last for years. AttaCoin also sells a variety of very cool accessories including an exclusive gift card box that holds both the card and one of their coins.

As part of the deal, AttaCoin will be the exclusive sponsor of this site and hence the only advertiser. No ads for Viagra, debt consolidation services, or any other such nonsense here! Thanks for your readership and please keep the ideas coming!

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Sheryl Sandberg: Leaning In to Leadership

“What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” 

Sheryl Sandberg is Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, founder of Leanin.org and author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Previously, she held the position of Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google and prior to that, she was chief of staff at the U.S. Treasury Department. In 2016, Sheryl was ranked No.7 by Forbes in the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list, so why would this powerhouse of a woman ever need to ask herself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?”?    

Fear of Success

Well, it’s a question Sheryl has asked herself many times, and, as she sees it, she asks it because she’s a successful woman, and women are fearful of success. Her reasons for believing this to be so come from personal experience, and reach all the way back to her school days.

Having excelled in high school, her yearbook contained the words, “most likely to succeed”, but she had these removed because she feared they would make her unpopular and she wouldn’t get a date for the prom. She went on to win a scholarship in her first year of business school, but chose not to tell anyone about it, again through fear of this level of achievement reflecting badly on her and making her unpopular. In her own words, she says, “I instinctively knew that letting my academic performance become known was a bad idea … Being at the top of the class may have made life easier for my male peers, but it would have made my life harder.”  

Fear of Being Left on the Shelf

Sheryl’s parents were supporters of her academic achievement, but they also encouraged marriage. They believed it was important for a woman to marry young so that she’d get a “good man” before they were all taken, and the fear of being left on the shelf meant Sheryl was married at the age of 24. However, only a year later, she was divorced, leaving her with feelings of “massive personal and public failure”.

Fear had driven her decision to marry, and now divorce had left her so fearful of how she’d be perceived by others that despite having an MBA from Harvard and the offer of a job in Washington, she chose to move out to California in an attempt to escape the shame.

Fear of Not Being Liked

Fast forward to 2008 and her new role at Facebook. In her first performance review with new boss Mark Zuckerberg, he tells her that her efforts to be liked by everyone are holding her back. Sheryl realized he was right when he said that pleasing everyone wouldn’t change anything, and she now says, “Everyone needs to get more comfortable with female leaders, including female leaders themselves.”

This realization became the subject of a TED talk Sheryl gave in 2010. But, once again, fear of exposing herself and fear of telling her personal stories almost prevented her from giving the talk in the way she did. She stood backstage and agonized over whether to open up or stick to the safety of statistics and academic studies, but then she asked herself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” She spoke honestly about the difficulties of being a career woman and a mother, and the heartache of having her young daughter cling to her leg and plead with her not to get onto the plane that day. The talk triggered an avalanche of positive feedback, spurring Sheryl to use her speech as the basis of her bestselling first book, Lean In. Amazingly, she has since said, “Everyone I knew told me that I shouldn’t do this book, or talk about this, since it would be bad for my business career.”   

What Would You Do?

Sheryl Sandberg could have listened to those negative voices of fear, but she asked herself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” – and then she did it. All of us may find ourselves facing difficult situations or decisions we’re fearful of making as leaders, but next time, try asking yourself the same question – and then go do it.

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Mary Kay Ash: The Face Behind the Empire

“Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway.” 

Mary Kay Ash was the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc. in 1963 and The Mary Kay Foundation in 1996. Today, Mary Kay Cosmetics has over 3 million independent sales agents across 35 countries and is valued at around $2.6 billion. Mary Kay Ash is now recognized as America’s greatest woman entrepreneur, so what led her to say, “Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway”?

You Can Do It

Well, Mary Kay Ash grew up with the responsibility of caring for her father who had tuberculosis. Her mother worked long hours to support the family and it fell on Mary Kay’s shoulders to look after her father at home. The tasks Mary Kay faced as a young girl were often daunting, but her mother would guide and encourage her by saying, “You can do it, Mary Kay. You can do it.”

She dreamed of becoming a doctor and her “you can do it” attitude saw her graduate from high school, but her parents couldn’t afford to send her to college. Mary Kay married at the age of 17 and had three children before her husband left to serve in World War II. During the war years’ she supported her family by selling books door-to-door, and then she and her husband divorced on his return in 1945.

A Man’s World

Mary Kay was hugely successful as a door-to-door salesperson and after her divorce she took a job with a direct sales firm. Her success soon found her head-hunted by another company and her marketing skills quickly put her into the role of national training director. But, after 25 years of hard work in the direct sales business, her success had yet to be acknowledged by her supervisors and Mary Kay left the company when one of the men she’d trained was promoted above her and given double her salary.

This was the 1960s and Mary Kay believed that she was living in a man’s world. After quitting her job, it became her intention to write a book that would help women to succeed in the workplace. She sat down to write out a list of everything she felt the companies she’d worked for got right and another that highlighted the areas where she felt there was room for improvement. However, it soon became clear that she’d inadvertently created a business plan for her dream company.

Beauty by Mary Kay

in 1963, at the age of 45, Mary Kay put her $5,000 of savings into turning her plan into her business – a business designed to help women achieve unlimited opportunities for personal and financial success. With the help of her son, she opened her first Beauty by Mary Kay store in Dallas and her dream began. In the male-dominated business world of the ‘60s, she was the bumble bee that shouldn’t be able to fly – but she went ahead and flew anyway.

With dedication, determination and hard work, Mary Kay turned her small business with a sales force of nine into one of America’s largest direct selling cosmetics companies with an independent sales force of millions. She did it with the “you can do it” attitude passed on to her by her mother and she said, “Sometimes I wonder if my mother was aware of the seeds she was planting in my life as a child and where they would take not only me, but thousands of other women. What she sent into my life I sent into others’. And they in turn have sent what they have into many lives as well.”

The Power of Praise

Mary Kay Ash built her business on her philosophy of “praising people to success” and her steadfast commitment to empowering women, inspiring them to believe that they too can “fly”. She believed that any company’s greatest asset is its people and that “a company is only as good as the people it keeps.” In our hectic business lives, we may sometimes forget the importance of praising hard work and effort and we’d all do well to remember her visionary approach: “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, “Make me feel important.” Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”  

 

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Sam Walton: An American Dream

“If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”

Sam Walton was an American businessman, entrepreneur, and the famous founder of WalMart and Sam’s Club. He opened his first WalMart store in 1962 and by the 1980s he was opening new stores at a rate of around 100 per year. In 1992, the year of his death, Sam Walton had a net worth of $25 billion and his outstanding achievements earned him the Medal of Freedom, presented by President George H. W. Bush. His approach to business mirrored his approach to life, and his story is testament to his belief that, “If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”

Most Versatile Boy

Sam Walton grew up in the Great Depression and worked hard to help his family make ends meet. As a schoolboy, he milked the family cow and delivered the bottled milk to customers before delivering newspapers on a paper route. He was also a good student and high school athlete, being voted “Most Versatile Boy” at his graduation.

He went on to gain a bachelor’s degree in economics, but during his college years he continued to work hard doing a variety of odd jobs and waiting tables in exchange for food. On graduating from college, Sam stepped into a trainee management position at a J.C. Penney store where his boss became exasperated by his messy bookkeeping, questioning his suitability for retail work. However, the reason Sam fell behind with paperwork was that he never liked to keep a customer waiting – an early indication of his commitment to customer service and his salesmanship skills earned him an extra $25 per month on top of his $75 monthly pay.

In Business

At the age of 26 after World War II military service, Sam became the manager of his first store. With the money he’d saved and a loan from his father-in law, he bought a Ben Franklin franchise variety store and quickly became the leading store in a region spanning six states. His success caught the eye of his landlord who wanted to buy the business for his son, and when Sam refused to sell, the landlord simply chose not to renew his lease.

Some may have given up at this point, but Sam learned from the experience and moved on to look for new premises, this time with a 99 year lease. In 1950, he opened Walton’s Five & Dime in Bentonville, soon achieving the same level of success as his previous store, and by 1960, he owned a total of 15 stores.

New Strategy

Sam was working hard but the returns were failing to match his efforts so he chose to adopt a new strategy of discounting. At the time, discount stores were only found in larger cities so he chose to bring big stores with discounted prices across the range to small towns.

This was a big gamble and involved mortgaging his home, but Sam believed in himself and his belief allowed him to accomplish an amazing thing – the opening of his first Wal-Mart store in 1962.

High Expectations

Just as he had back in J.C. Penney as a trainee manager, Sam strived to keep exceptional customer service at the heart of his business. He worked hard, and he expected his employees to work hard, but he also knew that motivated, happy associates would lead to happy customers, saying, “Individual’s don’t win, teams do.”

He became one of the first in business to offer a profit-sharing plan with his employees, and he did so to demonstrate his respect for each of them at every level, and also to motivate and encourage them in their efforts to better themselves and the business. In his memoirs, he said, “It’s the single best thing we ever did,” adding weight to his belief that, “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”

The Bottom Line

For Sam Walton, the bottom line on his success was his continued appreciation of his workers. He said, “Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise” – something everyone in business at every level would do well to remember.