IF YOU have had an e-mail account for more than 20 minutes, you probably receive your share of electronic legends.
Electronic legends are those items that come into your e-mailbox from someone you may or may not know announcing something that may or may not be true. They are like urban legends — those stories that everyone swears are true and no one can verify.
One of those items came our way recently. You may have received it, too. It's about a speech Bill Gates supposedly gave at an unidentified high school in which he lists 11 things he did not learn in school.
We have not gone to the trouble of calling Microsoft to verify if these 11 rules really are from Bill Gates. It is equally easy to believe that someone in the truck equipment industry wrote them.
Let's take a look at Gates' Top Ten plus one.
Rule 1: Life is not fair — get used to it. This is particularly true for truck equipment distributors. Every forecast we see calls for the big guys to get bigger. They will be the ones manufacturers want to distribute their products, the ones qualifying for the volume discounts, and those attracting top-notch sales and shop personnel. None of this is necessarily fair — just reality. It doesn't mean the little guy can't win in this industry. He just has to be more creative, flexible, and responsive in his approach to the marketplace.
Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. A lot of sales literature and press releases cross our desks. An alarming number of these announcements begin something like this: “Joe Smith, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of XYZ Corporation, the leading manufacturer of widgets, is proud to announce…” The new widget may in fact be revolutionary, but the corporate chest-beating typically appears first, overpowering whatever benefit the product actually provides. When we put our individual or company self-esteem ahead of the esteem we have for the customer, we put our future in jeopardy.
Rule 3: You will not make $40,000 a year right out of high school. Look at the big companies in our industry that are growing “unfairly” and you probably will be able to trace each of them back to some entrepreneur who started small, worked hard, made smart decisions, and sacrificed his own desires for his company, customers, and employees.
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. He doesn't have tenure.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. “Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping — they called it opportunity,” Gates allegedly says. Have you ever noticed that successful truck equipment companies tend to have employees who focus on getting the job done instead of on whose job it is?
Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault. Instead of whining about our mistakes, we can learn from them. We shouldn't let anything go to waste.
Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. “They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes, and listening to you talk about how cool you are,” Gates tells the high school students. A “know-it-all” attitude has given a number of truck equipment mechanics the confidence they need to go into business for themselves. Being quick to recognize they don't have all the answers has led the successful ones to make the changes necessary to allow their startups to flourish.
Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. “Some schools have abolished failing grades, and they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer,” Gates may or may not have said. “This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.” It was interesting at this year's NTEA convention how many of the same distributors win their suppliers' sales awards every year. But there are always just enough new winners to prove that new companies can make it in this business.
Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. “You don't get summers off, and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself,” Gates is quoted as saying. Check out who attends your industry's events. Chances are you will see a number of old warriors — founders of successful companies who could be out playing golf. Yet there they are, networking, learning, and seeking new ways to do business.
Rule 10: Television is not real life. Maybe not, but our industry is a lot like television — we have a few melodramas, our share of sitcoms, and a market that, like Nielsen ratings, decides if our performance is good enough to remain on the air.
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one. Hey, maybe Gates wrote this after all.