Author Archives: Robert Jordan

Inspiring Women Worldwide: Britain’s Diana Lamplugh

Inspiring Women Worldwide: Britain's Diana Lamplugh

I first met Diana Lamplugh back in college while working as an intern for a Member of Parliament in Great Britain. On arrival in London our group of 30 American undergrads each had to choose a family to live with. The staff member helping us had a 3-ring binder that listed each family on a separate page with details such as whether the family had pets. It looked like a totally random process, so as she leafed through pages I looked over her shoulder to see what might catch my eye. And I spotted a handwritten note on one page that read, “We have a summer home on the coast of Wales and our students are welcome to use it.” So I slapped my hand down on that page and said, “I’ll stay there.”

I lived with the Lamplugh family in southeast London and took an occasional wonderful trip to Wales.  The Lamplughs were typical on the outside – mom, dad, four kids, two dogs, two cats. I soon learned that the mom, Diana, was anything but typical. She was a dynamo. A charismatic, insightful, charming person who could get to the core of an issue or a person in no time flat.

My first morning in the Lamplugh house started as per usual for me – I took a shower. But when I came out of the bathroom to go back to my room I found 20 British women in leotards all staring up at me from the bottom of the staircase (at least I had a towel on). That’s how I discovered that Diana led exercise classes at home; was author of a best-selling book called Slimnastics; and had launched a national fitness movement that was popular all over Britain.

For most entrepreneurs those kind of credentials are all they will ever achieve. Not Diana. She was to be tested much more thoroughly by life.

Years passed and occasionally I’d go to London, each time visiting Diana and Paul. On one visit we landed at Heathrow and I called Diana. She picked up the phone and as soon as she heard my voice she asked, “Did you see me on the BBC?” I had no idea what she was talking about. She went on, “Suzy’s gone missing, and we were interviewed by the BBC.” Thus I heard for the first time about what was to become a long odyssey for the Lamplugh family. Eldest daughter Suzy Lamplugh, a real estate agent, had gone missing, presumed murdered. Scotland Yard conducted a massive search, reportedly the biggest search ever, eventually dredging the Thames to find a clue.

Suzy Lamplugh

Suzy has never been found  and a killer never convicted; the police have named a man who they strongly suspect killed her, a man in prison for another murder, but they do not have sufficient evidence actually to secure a conviction. But Diana and Paul refused to cower, and never broke down in front of a camera. Instead they formed The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, the National Charity for Personal Safety, with the mission of helping everyone to combat aggression and violence, living full but safer lives.  I write this now from a distance of 25 years from the Trust’s formation and while the Trust is alive and very active, Diana is gone, having recently died.

I don’t know if I have Diana’s guts, her spirit, her resolve to do something proactive in the face of pure evil. She pressed on anyway. Especially for women who tend to get more messages from the world to just get along – take a page out of Diana Lamplugh’s positive attitude to life. Press on.

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From Jason Fried of 37Signals: Avoid These Four Letter Words!

From Jason Fried of 37Signals: Avoid These Four Letter Words!

Jason Fried’s book Rework has a great riff on four letter words you shouldn’t use. We entrepreneurs have to be careful with our language because our enthusiasm sometimes carries us away with our passions.  Here’s Jason’s list:


Jason thinks these words get in the way of good communication, and he has a point. These are words that create a black and white situation, when in fact things are usually shades of gray. In the end, these extremes cause tension, problems, and conflict. Here’s his specific take:

Need. Very few things need to get done. Negotiation coach and author Jim Camp distinguishes between need and want this way: we need oxygen. But that deal you are working on? You want it, you don’t need it. Try asking a question instead of making a needy demand. “What do you think about this?” or “How does this sound?”

Can’t. I love what Jason wrote: “when you say can’t you probably can. Sometimes there are even opposing can’ts. We can’t launch it like that because it’s not quite right, vs. we can’t spend any more time on this because we have to launch. Both of those statement can’t be true. Or wait a minute, can they?”

Easy. It’s always easy for the other guy. For us, well, maybe its easy but no one’s going to say that. Jason writes: “For you its ‘let me look into it’ but for others it’s ‘get it done.’”

Got any pet words you hate? Love to hear ‘em, especially not the common ones like always and never…


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World Record Holder Gerald “Solutionman” Haman Takes Over the World: Video Interview

World Record Holder Gerald “Solutionman” Haman Takes Over the World: Video Interview

My good friend Gerald “Solutionman” Haman of recently sat down with me at the Thinkubator here in Chicago to share how he is taking over the world one brainstorming session at a time. I don’t know anyone who can say that they are:

(1)    The world record holder for leading the biggest brainstorming session. Gerald brought together 8,000 great minds in a Singapore stadium, generating 454,000 ideas in one hour.

(2)    The 7th Most connected person on LinkedIn with over 30,000 contacts.

(3)    Got stuck in an airport for two days and put up a sign for “free ideas”, holding mini 5-15 minute brainstorming sessions with a line of people.

Gerald is fascinating and I think that there is something to learn from his many experiences. Take a look.

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Rookie Entrepreneurs: Learn How to Change Gears Fast, Get Publicity Super Fast

Rookie Entrepreneurs: Learn How to Change Gears Fast, Get Publicity Super Fast

One of the things I found most fascinating from the champion entrepreneurs I interviewed for How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America was their ability to seize on Plan B, that is, to realize when their initial idea wasn’t a home run, and to focus on a better idea. Scott Jones, inventor of voice mail as we know it – now used by billions of people all over the world — was faced with this choice when he decided to kill a good business that didn’t have the potential for a home run. He went for the huge home run and he won.

In this podcast I interviewed new entrepreneur Limor Elkayam and we talked about her first company,, a news aggregator. When didn’t get traction she thought up the idea to create a daily deal aggregator to help make money, called Limor quickly realized that the second idea was the winner. Dealery is kind of like Groupon or Living Social, but doesn’t employ sales folks to sell to local merchants. Instead it picks up deals from a bunch of different deal sites and rebroadcasts them, earning a commission on each sale.

Not only did Dealery feel like a stronger concept to Limor, but validation wasn’t long in coming. She launched and started getting publicity within 30 minutes of flipping the switch “on” for her site. How did that happen? By cultivating the same journalists who’d ignored her the first time around! Limor said Spotery publicity “was like pulling teeth” but the same bloggers and journalists who ignored the first company readily picked up and reported on Dealery, including the New York Times and USA Today. Rookie Limor learned two great things:

First: get ready to turn on a dime. Defend your first idea, but not to the death. If things aren’t working, get ready to shift, move, change gears when you see the better idea.

Second: be upfront with your new idea. Just because you got rejected the first time doesn’t mean you won’t be embraced – quickly! – the second time around.


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Join a Mastermind Group. Or Start One!

Join a Mastermind Group. Or Start One!

What does it take to launch and grow a winning company? Everyone wants the secret sauce (including me). That’s why I interviewed 45 champions who created $41 billion (now up to $63 billion) in value from scratch and then presented their insights in How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America.

There is in fact at least one thing that I have 100% certainty will help you if you are committed and serious about your goals, integrity and desire to succeed. I truly believe that if you form or join a mastermind group, you significantly increase your chances for success. No matter what industry or profession, a mastermind group can be a vital element in your life and work.

Is a mastermind group the same thing as the now ubiquitous networking group, found in abundance all over the planet? No. A mastermind group consists of two or more individuals who come together in a positive and constructive spirit with the goal of assisting in each other’s development. It is not about making referrals. The greatest personal improvement writer of the modern age, Napoleon Hill, rediscovered this truth in his seminal work, Think and Grow Rich. He determined that the presence of a mastermind group was of vital importance for the business titans he interviewed, including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie and 500 other global leaders in the early 1900s.

A mastermind group comes together in a spirit of harmony, and in that spirit forms something called a mastermind consciousness. And I’ll bet that if you’ve had any degree of success in any endeavor thus far, you will find that you already are a part of a mastermind group. Are you happily married or in a committed relationship? You have a mastermind group. When people come together for mutual benefit, something larger emerges for the good of the relationship, not just for the specific benefit of either partner. Do you have a true buddy who always looks out for your best interest, and you for theirs? You have a mastermind group.

In a business context, a mastermind group consists of no more than 6 or 8 professionals, who meet regularly to present their goals and report on their progress. Each member is held accountable by the group. Accountability is key!

I joined my mastermind group when it was already up and running, thanks to a remarkable person named Dean Klassman. That was 11 years ago, and we’ve been meeting in person or on a conference call once a week ever since. I asked Dean and my other mastermind partners permission and conducted short, mini video interviews so you could get a feel for what I’m talking about. See what you think, and if you have your own mastermind group I’d love to hear about it! And if you send us a short video of your group, I will send each member of your group an autographed copy of How They Did It! Email bob at with your story and/or video and we’ll send something guaranteed to thrill your group and make you a hero.

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Mark Haines, of CNBC Squawk Box fame, RIP: “Rule One is Don’t Lie”

Mark Haines, of CNBC Squawk Box fame, RIP: "Rule One is Don't Lie"

I was sorry to hear of Mark Haine’s passing. He was a comfortable presence in the morning on CNBC’s Squawk Box, but more to the point, he came across as being trustworthy. He was a bit cranky at times, funny, irreverent, always upfront and real. Most importantly he treated the wide variety of leaders he interviewed with equanimity. He was not awed by anyone or any title.

Mark Haines

WSJ recalled a 2001 interview with Mr. Haines in Investor Relations Business Magazine where he said, “Rule one is don’t lie. If you do, I’ll kill you.” It was clear Haines lived by this rule in his 1998 interview with Eastman Kodak’s CEO George Fisher. In the interview Fisher denied rumors of an impending price war, yet days later Kodak launched a discount campaign. Mr. Haines then repeatedly ran parts of the interview on subsequent shows also adding in comments about Fisher’s honesty, or lack of it.

We talk a lot about acting with integrity — that it pays off for leaders not just in the long run, but right now as well. I suspect some entrepreneurs and small business owners think that the standards and scrutiny that big companies and public companies are subject to, does not really apply to them. Who’s going to notice? Maybe they figure they’ll shape up when things get better, when the business is bigger or can afford to have better standards, or when there are more employees and someone’s bound to see the boss’ shortcuts.

This plays out in every industry, every country. Look at Interactive Brokers Group decision to curtail trading in 130 Chinese stocks. Why did they decide to cut margin trading out? Because so many Chinese companies have had accounting “irregularities” that it just didn’t make sense to take risk on companies that were, well, lying.

Another one of my favorite characters who just pled guilty to stock manipulation charges is Barry Minkow. I remember sitting in a big ballroom at the annual Young Entrepreneur Organization’s national celebration years ago. Barry headed up ZZZZ Best Carpet Cleaning, a national publicly traded company that was on a tear, growing faster than you could believe. Barry won the top prize as entrepreneur of the year, and he delivered an impassioned, over the top speech. He was the definition of “my way or the highway” kind of guy. It turned out later, the entire ZZZZ Best growth story was a sham — an accounting fraud — and Barry went to jail. When he got out he had supposedly mended his ways, but now he’s back in the public eye, and not for good reason.

The reality is that anyone in business, anyone attempting to do something big – just may succeed. And that means your 15 minutes of fame is very close at hand. You may be just one more action, one more decision to go, from seeing your efforts pay off. And when that happens, a great journalist like Mark Haines is going to ask you, “so! How’d you do it? How did you hit that home run in business?”

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Photogram iPhone App Launches: Interview with Founders Brian Hand & Bob Armour

Photogram iPhone App Launches: Interview with Founders Brian Hand & Bob Armour

Take a look at this fascinating interview with Photogram founders Brian Hand & Bob Armour.

If you have an iPhone, you can download the free app here.

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“Willis” Tower for Sale. Really?

“Willis” Tower for Sale. Really?

The owners of the “Willis” Tower in Chicago have announced plans to either recapitalize or sell the building formerly known as the Sears Tower, which for 25 years held the title of world’s tallest building.

For 36 years it was iconic and it was the Sears Tower, known worldwide. A marvel of construction, nine towers banded together to accommodate winds, with two of the nine towers reaching a height of 1,451 feet; 1,730 feet including antennas. Such is the genius of human ingenuity, and while unadorned, a thing of beauty in its own right.

“Willis” Tower? A virtually unknown name, and attached to a former icon, a total zero in the world. Why rename an icon? All done by a new owner for the sole purpose of luring an insurance broker into the building. “New owner” is even something of a misnomer, really we should say an investor. Investors buy and sell assets, which is great and wonderful – hey, I’m a capitalist – but when it comes to icons I wonder how far we should go with willful destruction of brand assets.

The investor is happy to take cash off the table, or leave entirely. No problem, do what works for you. But the name? We owned the Sears Tower name, and by we, I mean anyone and everyone in the region or anywhere else, who takes pride in place, or pride in great design, or architecture or just the accomplishments great people are capable of. And part of the accomplishment is that things get named. And they become known by their names.

So the investor sells, and what happens now? Another new name when the tenant eventually leaves, I guess.

Remember the sale of Marshall Field’s department stores to Macy’s? Field’s was a class act and an institution going back to the infamous Chicago Fire in 1871. Marshall Field vowed to rebuild on the same ground the day after the fire leveled the first store.  Macy’s? Please. The one thing the city insisted on was that the metal placard on the building’s façade could not be removed. So we’ll still have the sign even though along with a name change the quality of the former Field’s stores went down. This is not a tragedy on the same level of world-class icon, I’ll grant you. More a decision that also didn’t benefit Macy’s in the long or short run. I can just imagine some smart manager’s Powerpoint showing wonderful economies of scale from not having to support multiple brands.

And in my own business backyard we have exhibit A, American National Bank. My bankers throughout my formative years in business, a bank known as the bank for business, and run by an icon, Michael Tobin Sr., known as a banker’s banker, a guy whose word was his bond. Eventually, of course, the bank sold to a bigger bank, First Chicago, which in turn became part of what is now known as Chase Bank. But not before First Chicago squandered every last iota of brand recognition and brand power American National Bank had built up over years and thousands of relationships.

The funny part of the complete erasure of the American National Bank brand was a series of full page ads that someone in the marketing department at First Chicago bank decided to run in the Chicago Tribune. The headline read: “See? Nothing’s Changed.” The ad showed two banker’s business cards, identical except for the logo of ANB on one card and First Chicago on the other.

But everything had changed. First Chicago wanted nothing to do with many of ANB’s tried and true clients – they really only wanted to keep serving their big clients, not ANB’s middle market. So they lost the name and then proceeded to also lose the client base.

Brands matter, not just as a hood ornament, but because at great companies the brand is just the tip of the iceberg of a promise and commitment of something tangible and real.

I was just thinking about the Stonehenge site in the UK. It is grand, but I wonder if it couldn’t be, well, upgraded a bit? With investment, and a better name? What about Pepsihenge? Or Nikehenge? Wait – Bobhenge! I can pay them for it!

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Surepayroll Founder Troy Henikoff: How to Start, Grow & Sell for $115 million

Surepayroll Founder Troy Henikoff: How to Start, Grow & Sell for $115 million

Entrepreneurs, you have to see this video! Troy Henikoff, co-founder of SurePayroll, started out eleven years ago, figured out the right business to be in through trial and error, then started cranking on a very standard concept – processing payroll.  Troy and team turned the conventional approach to payroll upside down and the payoff finally came with the recent sale of SurePayroll for $115M to Paychex. Troy turned over active management to partner Michael Alter years ago, and with a passion for early stage companies, he went on to help a number of other companies while Michael kept growing the business.

My hat’s off to Troy not just for SurePayroll, but for launching the Excelerate program in Chicago, which is now nurturing ten startups that each won a beauty contest from hundreds of entrants, all seeking funding and help. Excelerate provides $25k funding, office space, legal, a large of amount of mentoring and coaching, as well as a good send-off into the world. The 2010 incubator class has raised $7.2 million in venture funding and hired 65 employees since its demo day.

Now I see on Facebook that Troy’s morning bicycle ride was…67 miles! And that 62 miles were at 30 mph. I guess Troy’s not slowing down?

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“Congratulations on Your Career, And We Don’t Care”: Jeff Leitner Video, Part II

“Congratulations on Your Career, And We Don’t Care”: Jeff Leitner Video, Part II

That’s what Jeff Leitner said to one individual and many captains of the industry who take part in his brainstorming sessions. Jeff, who is the founder of Insight Labs and Lead Strategist at Manifest Digital, requires brainstorming participants, usually highly accomplished people, to leave their egos at the door and put politics aside. Posturing is not allowed and Jeff says that the goal is to allow talented people to become the wunderkind they were at the beginning of their careers.

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