Monday, April 17, 2006

Learning from Your Client

J.B. Fuqua, famous conglomerateur, philanthropist, the man who endowed Duke University's Business School, The Fuqua School, and a Makovsky client for nearly 20 years, died on Wednesday, April 5, of complications from bronchitis. He was 87. It was truly a sad day for me, as I have so many fond memories of the times we spent together.

When I started Makovsky + Company, Fuqua Industries, then a $2 billion public company, was among our first clients. Ultimately, we were rewarded with the Duke opportunity as well. ("We need to make it a top ten business school," said Fuqua, and we did!) We had the good fortune to serve as public and investor relations counsel to J.B. and his various properties, and were instrumental in building the reputations of all of them. I got to know J.B. very well, and along the way, I learned many business lessons from him ... perhaps more than I have learned from any single individual I have encountered in my career.

What are some of those lessons – more or less in J.B.'s own words.

l. "Always return your phone calls, because Santa Claus may be on the other end of the line!" Sounds simple, right? Well, we all know that many folks need to be pursued aggressively to get a response. Not J.B.

2. "Use other people's brains ('opb' -- he called it)." It is always smart to hire people smarter than you are, particularly in areas where you may have a weakness. J.B. was a master at this. It was a key to his growth.

3. "Use other people's money (he tagged it -- 'opm')." Debt or equity in the right amounts can spur growth. He advised to use other people's money at the right time.

4. "Ask those who are responsible to you: What did you do for me today?" J.B. was direct and did not mince words. He was not the client for someone who could not handle tough talk. I heard his "What did you ..." many times on the phone. It taught me to stay way ahead of our clients.

5. "Listen more than you talk." This guy must have been one of the inventors of the art of listening. He said so little that it was downright intimidating (until you got to know him very well). But it forced the other party to talk. The advantage went to J.B. The lesson is clear.

J.B. never said anything to me about being loyal ... but loyalty was at the core of his personality. He always gave you time to fix things that went wrong, and in a nearly 20-year relationship, things occasionally were imperfect.

He wanted ideas. He told me he had four homes and gave me all four phone numbers. He said: "Call me till 11 any night if you get a good idea!" I did. If he liked it, he told me to develop it. If he did not like it, he said, "I don't like that idea. Call me with another one sometime," and the conversation was over.

I will miss you, J.B. Thanks for your confidence throughout the years.

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