I love to write short stories that offer inspiration to those who read them. I have decided to capture these stories in a book that I hope to publish in 2016.

Each month or so, I will send out another chapter that I am considering for the book so that I can get some feedback. Please note each story is only the introduction to the chapter, not the entire chapter. I value your comments, thoughts, and observations- so please send them to me. I received over 100 emails after the last chapter. If you have a story that might make sense to tell, let me know and I will see if I can include it.

“Three Suitcases” is a story about the choices one makes in building the culture of their company, and the consequences these decisions have for the growth, stability and longevity of their organization. 

You are getting ready for a very long journey.  In fact, it might last the rest of your life.  Your friends have packed your suitcases and when you walk into the room, you see there are three suitcases ready to go.  Each suitcase is about the same size, but there is a different label on each of them.

One suitcase is labeled “Your Employees;” one suitcase is labeled “Your Profits;” and the third one is labeled “Your Customers.”  The dilemma is that you have only two arms, and can only carry two suitcases. Which two do you carry with you on your journey and which one do you leave behind, hoping that it is there when you come back, assuming you come back?

It is a compelling question, and how a person or company chooses to answer it has very much to do with the culture, the tone set by those at the top, and how the company and its leaders are perceived both internally and externally.

You may ask, why does the culture of a company matter? The culture of a company is its DNA. It determines who we are, what we do, and how we want to be perceived. The culture of a company can be created or defined in an instant, but to truly embody the company both internally and externally, the desired culture must be heavily and consistently applied over a long period of time from the top down. On a daily basis, the leadership of any organization is presented with choices that ensure the culture they have created is the life-blood of the company.

So back to the original question: “Which two of the three suitcases do I pick up and carry with me, and which one do I leave behind?” For me the answer is very simple. I pick up the “Employee” and “Customer” suitcases every single time.

It is not because I don’t care about the profits, but rather it is because I do care about profits. Without profits, there is no company, no means to invest in the future, no potential to innovate and grow, and very little ability to reward those employees who make the growth and success of a company possible.

Leadership is not about maximizing profits, but rather abut maximizing the individual potential of your Employees to ensure the resulting products and services delivered to your Customers are the highest possible quality of work. An organization in which employees know they are valued, are well trained, and are given the resources necessary to do their jobs at an optimal level, will achieve success in both the short-term and the long-term. The needs and expectations of customers will be met, and often exceeded.

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a small discussion with our Vistage Group with Dr. Gustavo R. Grodnitzky, the author of the recently published book “Culture Trumps Everything:” In his book, Dr. Grodnitzky argues for the importance of social capitalism, intricately linked with the concept of the Profit Paradox. According to the Profit Paradox, in business long-term profits are best achieved by not making profit the primary goal of the business. Rather, a company must focus on all of its stakeholders (its employees, its customers, shareholders and its community, to name a few), not just its shareholders.

By building a company culture around the company’s stakeholders first and foremost, you create a non-monetary incentive for all stakeholders that will in turn drive profits while also developing long-term loyalty from employees, customers, vendors, and investors. Throughout my career, I have believed that if you invest time and effort in your employees and your customers, profits will follow.

If you haven’t already, I highly suggest you pick up Dr. Grodnitzky’s book to learn more about how the concepts of social capitalism and culture are behind the success and growth of many of the most profitable companies in the world.  The empirical data is very compelling.  Over the last 25 years, those companies that focus on all of their stakeholders out perform those that focus only on their shareholders.

Which leaves me with a final question for you.  What suitcases do you pick up?  Your answer may reveal more about your company’s culture and values than you might think. Again for me, I would carry the suitcases that say Employees and Customers.  By doing so, I truly believe the “Profit” suitcase will float by itself and I will not have to carry it.
“I strongly believe that you can’t win in the marketplace unless you win first in the workplace. If you don’t have a winning culture inside, it’s hard to compete in the very tough world outside.”

– Douglas Conant, former CEO Campbell Soup

For more stories like this one, please check out my book, The Toughest Guy I Ever Knew and Other Short Stories.

SD Mayer