‘The day this isn’t fun, I quit’

When legendary entrepreneurs like Roy Reiman and Mike Cudahy agree on fundamental principles for running a business, it might be wise to pay attention and follow suit.

Both giants in the local start-up scene sold their companies, Reiman Publications and Marquette Electronics respectively, for mid-nine figures, enough to go to the beach in perpetuity. But both are still working away at what they love every day, including angel investing and startups. They are high on my hero list.

They weren’t on the same podium, but both have distilled from life times of experience a strikingly similar set of rules and tips from long experience, and it should come as no surprise that there is a lot of overlap in their approaches to business management and leadership.

Both hate organizational charts. Says Cudahy: “You can’t represent human interaction in such a simple-minded way.” (Cudahy spoke while receiving the BizTimes Lifetime Achievement Award at the BizExpo.) Said Reiman last week at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Distinguished Entrepreneur Lecture Series: “Organizational charts take away from team dynamics.”

Both men, who have earned the right to be called big shots, say: “Don’t be a big shot.” Treat people as respected team members and avoid perks like reserved parking places. Said Reiman: The up-front spaces should go to the first persons to arrive at work. Said Cudahy: “Have a love affair with your employees.” He adds: “Keep the fancy stuff for your private life.”

They have a disdain for meetings. Cudahy: “Don’t allow meetings, the curse of American business.” Reiman: “Keep meetings to a minimum, the biggest curse on American business.” (Do these guys drink the same beverages? “Never too early for an Early Times,” says Mike.)

Have fun at work. Cudahy: “Preserve your sense of humor.” Reiman: “The day this (his two new magazines, ‘Our Iowa’ and ‘Our Wisconsin’) isn’t fun, I quit.”

Cudahy’s widely publicized list also includes these rules of the road: Ignore your competition and keep moving forward; let your people do their thing; give away the store, meaning equity, to every employee; don’t hire managers, consultants or accountants and trust your business to engineers, chemists and trusted employees; don’t go public until company is all grown up.

Reiman’s list, which hasn’t been as widely publicized, has the same hometown feel as his publications. Here are some other gems that he ran humbly out to the UWM crowd:

• Don’t make decisions by consensus; be a benevolent leader.

• Don’t make strict budgets; rather try new ideas on a small scale basis.

• Never hire or buy from someone you don’t like.

• First, be different; then be better. (Reiman’s publications didn’t take ads; revenue was only subscriptions.)

• Admit when you are wrong.

• Respond to media only through e-mail questions and answers.

• Choose your receptionist, who sets tone for company, carefully.

• Catch people doing something right and compliment openly.

• When hiring, watch how fast people walk to judge energy levels.

Business academics and theoreticians like to make the study of business a lot more complicated and abstract. But these two titans understand that the success of any business at the end of the day depends on the full engagement of the people who work there.

Their principles aim squarely at full use and appreciation of a company’s human resources. The rest of the stuff, no matter how sophisticated, is secondary.

John Torinus is chairman of Serigraph Inc. in West Bend. He is involved with several business and civic organizations and is the author of “The Company That Solved Health Care.” His blog appears regularly at www.johntorinus.com and is republished with his permission by BizTimes.

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John Torinus is the chairman of Serigraph Inc. in West Bend. He is involved with several business and civic organizations and is the author of “The Company That Solved Health Care.”

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