Last week I was working with a client that was lamenting over their success compared to their peers. Their urgency for change was driven by it. Almost every sentence, at one point, began with, “Well, compared to our peer group.” So I asked them. Who are your peers?
According to, the definition of a peer is: a person who is equal to another in abilities, qualifications, age, background, and social status.
The client’s definition was any financial institution in the US of the same asset size. Period. Didn’t matter if they were only serving taxi drivers in NYC or the Air Force Base in New Mexico or educators in Racine, Wisconsin. They considered them peers. Didn’t matter what products of services they offer – or don’t – or what their unique field of membership needed. The big concern was growth and how they measured up to their peers.
I think this is the center of the problem with American business — capitalism – the pursuit of happiness through the dollar bill. As Peter Drucker (the greatest thinker of our time) said, “It is not necessary for a company to get bigger. It is necessary for it to get better.” So why the obsession with growth? The second most popular phrase among my clients today is: “If we don’t grow, we won’t survive.” Look around your neighborhood. I’ll bet you can find tons of small business (as in they only have one location) that have “survived” for decades. But how can they be? Shouldn’t they be all over America like Starbucks to be considered a success? Shouldn’t they have infiltrated every corner of the market and pushed OUT the mom-n-pop shops like WalMart did? Isn’t it just a matter of time before they bite the dust if they continue to shun growth? Aren’t they looking at their peer data? Probably not. Instead, they are looking at and have always focused on THEIR values and THEIR goals.
My first boss was Mr. Beazely. He had a goal of bringing English style fish-n-chips to Northeast Portland. He valued family and the servant mentality. He was very good friends with Bob Farrell (of Farrell’s ice cream parlors) who valued the same. I was 15 years old when I went to work for ‘Enry Beazely’s. He got brand. It oozed from every pore of the organization. I had to dress like a serving wench, complete with humiliating hat. The boys were dressed like some kind of swash buckler that looked like they could work at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Mr. Beazely was a stickler for cleanliness and friendliness. We cooked all the food in full view of the customers. He was fond of saying that the front counter was like the tide — you never turn your back on it. He would secret shop us all the time — and I mean he personally would pop in, with his lovely wife and friends of theirs to dine. You never knew when he was going to be there. If something wasn’t right — there were no words of discipline — no scolding. He simply would wash his hands, tie an apron around his waist and gracefully fix it.
If everything was perfect — he would shake the hand of each employee upon leaving and thank us for a delightful experience. Wow. I would walk through hot coals for that man. The coolest thing he did — that reflected his values the most was on Thanksgiving day. The restaurant was closed, of course. He invited the entire crew to the store for breakfast – which he insisted on cooking for us. After all, we cooked for him the rest of the year and he was thankful for that – he truly valued us as people.
Mr. Beazely retired a few years back and chose to close his restaurant. His work was done. They threw a party for him and kids came by (as adults now) that hadn’t seen each other in 25 years to celebrate this man. Last year he died. Did he die a failure or a success? You decide.