I want to meet Bob Parsons

We can learn a lot from how the billionaire entrepreneur does business

Bob Parsons

Every time I go to a new city, I MUST make a pilgrimage to the local motorcycle dealership.

Last week while in Scottsdale, Arizona, I needed a little service work on my BMW F800GS. So I went to GO AZ Motorcycles & Scottsdale Harley-Davidson. I didn’t know anything about GO AZ, but I was blown away the minute I entered.

Bob Parsons
Bob Parsons

First, the “dealership” is a 14-acre campus in a Scottsdale industrial park. It was unbelievably impressive, with the Harley-Davidson portion occupying more than half the campus. As I chatted it up with the service writer (we’ll call him “Ted”), he told me he was also from Wisconsin.

I asked, “How do you like it here?”

“I will never work for anyone else,” he said. “Bob Parsons is the most incredible man I have ever met.”

Who the heck is Bob Parsons and why is he so incredible? It’s not something you would hear every day. How many of your employees would say that about you?

Parsons barely finished high school and then joined the Marines, serving a tour in Vietnam. He received a Purple Heart, the Vietnam Gallantry Cross and the Combat Action Ribbon. After creating a software package called MoneyCounts, which eventually was sold to Intuit (think Quicken), Parsons founded GoDaddy.com.

At the dealership, loud music started blaring as I saw a guy about my age getting a tattoo. It felt just like the beginning of a Packers game at Lambeau. Then a huge gong sound came from the floor. A couple had just signed the paperwork on a new Harley.

But what happened next was even cooler. Every employee in the store ran over to the couple and gave them a congratulatory hug. Every employee. Without a doubt, this was my best retail store experience ever.

My guesses at why he succeeds

Uber-engaged employees. A fun, exciting, shopping experience. Fantastic customer service. How do they do it? I want to meet Parsons and ask him. But until then, here’s my best guesses.

  1. Selection. And I’m not talking about inventory here. Clearly GO AZ and Scottsdale Harley-Davidson know how to pick the right people. Every person I encountered was positive and customer-focused. I must find out their screening and selection process.
  2. The legend. Every business has (or should have) a “legend.” Jeff Bezos packaging books in his Boston apartment. Hewlett-Packard’s garage. Bob Parsons buying the dealership because of lousy customer service. Embrace your legend and tie it to your purpose.
  3. Purpose. While I didn’t see any posters about their core values or purpose, clearly GO AZ is a purpose-driven organization. I suspect helping others in need and creating a fun lifestyle are central to their purpose. Knowing their philanthropic values, I would definitely buy my next bike there, and even pay a little more if necessary. Let’s be real here: Not every business can donate all or even most profits to charity. But every business probably can find its own brand of philanthropy and fun that might inspire its employees and patrons.
  4. Bob’s 16 Rules for Entrepreneurs. They’re at bobparsons.com/my-16-rules and they come through loud and clear.
    OK, so neither you nor I are Bob Parsons. We’re not billionaires and our employees don’t worship us. Despite this, let’s be determined NOT to carry on with business as usual.

How to be more like him

First, associate with the right people – people who are right for you and your business. And it starts with a cultural match. Too often, we’re attracted to folks with the right technical skills but the wrong culture. That doesn’t work. This is true for customers, vendors and team members.

Second, understand your purpose and the purpose of your organization. And then communicate it loudly and clearly and repeatedly. Jim Clifton of Gallup wisely said, “Your customers will never be more engaged than your least engaged employee.” He’s 100 percent correct.

Third, work on the first two all the time. Improving your hiring practices and hosting strong weekly meetings, effective quarterly offsite meetings and substantive annual retreats will take you a long way in this endeavor.

Regardless of whether I’m in the market for a new bike, I STILL want to meet Bob Parsons!  

As a serial entrepreneur, business and community leader since 1983, John Howman has led a variety of businesses, from technology to consumer products. He leads two groups for TEC, a professional development group for CEOs, presidents and business owners. He can be reached at JHowman@AlliedCG.com.

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As a serial entrepreneur, business and community leader since 1983, John Howman has led a variety of businesses, from technology to consumer products companies. He leads two groups for Vistage, a professional development group of CEOs, presidents and business owners. He can be reached at JHowman@AlliedCG.com.

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