Author Archive

Tom Heuer, Miami University Center for EntrepreneurshipRecently, I was thinking about the people who really made a difference in my life. A few mental pictures popped into my mind. As I remembered these individuals, one very important ingredient emerged – humility. All were individuals of the highest character. Their personal character was why I listened intently to and believed their message. As I matured, character was also the reason why I chose not to be mentored by certain people. It was difficult to embrace their message when I experienced their self-serving attitude in every situation. Their life motto was “my way is the right way.”


Patience and Perseverance Still Matters

Posted: June 7, 2015 by Tom Heuer in Leadership, People

Tom Heuer, Miami University Center for EntrepreneurshipA few weeks ago, I was fortunate to cross paths with an older, delightfully engaging woman while having my car serviced.  As we were conversing, I sensed a major event was about to happen in her life.  Since 1996, she had been driving the same small, four door sedan. She claimed to have logged 245,000 miles on it. “It has been my goal for years to purchase a brand new, beautiful automobile.   I have been saving and investing a few dollars every month for the last 15 years.  Every month was a challenge.  I am now about to drive away in my brand new car.”  With a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, she shared, “This is one of the most important days of my life.”   Her pride and sense of self-worth was overwhelming.  She had come to the end of a seemingly endless journey with numerous detours and had achieved what she set out to accomplish.  The victory was hers – completing the journey by driving away in a new car.


Accountability: The New Body Odor

Posted: April 26, 2015 by Tom Heuer in Culture, Leadership, Operations, People, Startup

Tom Heuer, Miami University Center for Entrepreneurship

During my college days, I remember that hygiene often became an afterthought. Showering, washing clothes, having clean sheets and towels were not on the priority list. It just wasn’t that important to us. Rolling on the ban deodorant took care of everything. This one daily activity allowed us to attend classes without being repulsive. Working together was not inhibited by a foul, distracting odor. Our interests were not derailed by anything that distracted us or tempered our thoughts about the situation or individual. Ban deodorant always did its work.

In today’s business community, accountability seems to have become the new “body odor.” Whisper the word “accountability” and people run away and hide. Obviously, it isn’t the smell that turns people away – it is the personal commitment that is required. (more…)

To Struggle or Not to Struggle

Posted: February 22, 2015 by Tom Heuer in Culture, Leadership, People

Tom Heuer, Miami University Center for EntrepreneurshipDuring the first week of my entrepreneurial leadership classes at Miami, I introduce a definition of leadership – “Leadership is the art of convincing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations” (Kouzes and Posner).   My first question to the students always is “which words or phrases really pop out at you.”   Their response is almost always “struggle.” Why? From their perspective, a leader is a positive person and struggle is a very negative term. And so, this begins an interesting but intense discussion around the merits of “struggle” in one’s life.   Usually, I win the discussion because ultimately I refer to such admired leaders as Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jesus, Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln and point to how their struggles shaped their legacies.

Refer again to the “leadership” definition. Often glossed over in the definition are the two words preceding to struggle – to want. Leaders convince employees, peers, vendors, partners, etc. to want to struggle with them. Just envision the difference in the result when people want to struggle. The project or the work is completed with a sense of urgency moved by passion and desire for the outcome. Entrepreneurs generally know how to create this environment because their employees see them struggle every day to experience breakthrough in their business. Their daily example encourages the people to want to struggle for the start-up’s successful launch.

Conversely, corporations today have difficulty moving their employees to struggle for the enterprise. A 2013 Gallup poll found that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. This means that only one in eight workers is committed to struggling in their job and for the enterprise. Why? Corporations have very few leaders to model the way. Without the leader igniting shared aspirations, employees will become frustrated and disillusioned in their work. The lack of effort shows up in their mediocre performance. They have no desire to struggle or deliver discretionary effort in their job and for their company. This will not be disrupted until bosses become leaders and motivate their people to extraordinary performance.

So, how can leaders gain a commitment from their employees and ultimately, develop an edge against their competition? Consider the following actions:

  • Learn how to inspire shared aspirations. Even, your top performers need to know what they are struggling for. If you fail to clarify the vision, your people will exit the boat and you will be left paddling by yourself. Find a way to get your team on the raft with their oars in the water.


  • Breakdown your organization into smaller, entrepreneurial units. Model the behaviors you expect so the business will excel. Work alongside your team. Encourage ideas from your people. And, of course, do something with the ideas.


  • Spend time watching other leaders work their magic. Focus on how they engage their people. Listen to how they communicate with them. Watch how they listen intently to what they are saying and provide a related response. View how they encourage them and reinforce their efforts. See how they treat their people with dignity and respect. And then sit back and watch how the team gladly struggles for shared aspirations.


Just be a LEADER and your people will want to struggle along with you.



Ordinary or Extraordinary – No Decision

Posted: January 11, 2015 by Tom Heuer in Culture, People

Tom Heuer, Miami University Center for EntrepreneurshipOrdinary – a word everyone disdains, but a condition most people accept. Crazy – maybe. Recently, I had invited a student to my office for a coaching session. After a few pleasantries, I informed the student that he was having a “very ordinary” semester. This statement didn’t faze him in the least. Concerned, I followed with “why doesn’t this assessment upset you.” He retorted “how much harder would I have to work for extraordinary and will it be worth it.” My only response was – “you don’t want ordinary ever to be associated with you.”   After a long pause and no response, I scratched my head and ended the coaching session. Ordinary or Extraordinary – why would anyone choose to be ordinary?

Ordinary is fraught with complacency. Complacency is dull and easy. Extraordinary requires effort and passion. Personal effort and finding your passion is always hard work. Complacency seeks the status quo; it desires to be comfortable. There are no challenges waiting for ordinary. In fact, no challenges are being sought by ordinary. They want to burrow in and wake up every day to a routine of mundane tasks. And ordinary is painstakingly pleased with their tenured skills and expertise. Leaving themselves and others behind is an ever-present reality for this large group of people. And there are so many ordinaries walking aimlessly around the business world today.


Fear Instant Gratification

Posted: November 2, 2014 by Tom Heuer in Culture, Leadership, People, Startup

Tom Heuer, Miami University Center for EntrepreneurshipAll businesses and their leaders experience fears.  The fears could range from products being disrupted to the defection of top talent to the loss of important customers.  Fears are also real and ever present in start-ups today.  Will we be able to attract the talent to launch the business?  Will funding be available to launch the business?  Have we really identified our primary customer?    These fears are real and are generally self-inflicted because we lose patience and seek instant gratification.  Business success – whether in start-ups, small businesses or large corporations – requires patience and the shunning of instant gratification.  But, the race to achieve short-term results is a magnet for instant gratification thinking.  It is simply says “let’s take the easy route versus expending extra effort to become great.”

I have lackadaisical students every semester believing that the business world is just waiting to draft them in the first round. It is hard to dissuade them even with intensive coaching. There will be NO instant gratification during the recruiting process. Start-ups rush to launch their business even though they have not fully identified their primary customer or differentiated their product.  Companies recruit external talent into key roles without fully understanding whether the candidate’s personal values fit the organization’s culture.  Instant gratification treats these recruits like mercenaries – make things happen now.  Senior management places pressure on the sales force to close deals prematurely so the quarterly numbers look inflated.  This action mitigates the short-term problem but creates credibility issues going forward between senior management, the sales team and the customer.  Instant gratification’s major purpose is to minimize potential.


Success = Believe in Who You Are!

Posted: August 17, 2014 by Tom Heuer in Uncategorized

Tom Heuer, Miami University Center for Entrepreneurship“Business is difficult today.” We hear this statement from the executive leaders that we consult with and from the recent graduates who are in their first or second position. We are not hearing that “business has been robust over the past few months.” Now, we wish that this was an anomaly, but reality is telling us that many companies are struggling. Beyond experiencing difficult economic times, why are many companies not meeting expectations?

The answer is very simple – most organizations are too fixated on delivering today’s results and not preparing their company for tomorrow. “Today” is important. Without today’s success, you may never arrive at tomorrow. However, many leadership teams come to the understanding way too late that organizations must prepare every day for their future. The hard work of business sustainability/growth relies on allocating time to thinking and focusing on the future. What is happening in the marketplace? How is our industry changing? What firms are entering the market innovating and creating disruption? How are our customers’ needs changing? Are these changes being factored it into our future?

Our experience is that most companies and their leadership teams can avoid sluggishness if they work hard at envisioning the future while staying true to who they are. Yes, the markets and business environment are evolving rapidly. But, leaders who are in touch with their company can adapt to disruption swiftly. The adjustment will be difficult if senior management is primarily concentrating on delivering the monthly or quarterly plan.

So, what are “real growth” companies eagerly doing to sustain their revenue opportunities? In working with clients, we have discovered five distinct approaches:

  1. These companies know who they are and have worked hard to share this with their stakeholders. The leaders believe in their identity. This belief inspires their view of the future. So, with support of their stakeholders, they are committed to their vision long term.
  2. Culture is everything to these companies. Success starts with a defined culture. Leaders embrace and promote the culture. They hire people and entice customers who reflect their values and culture. Culture adherence makes companies powerful.
  3. They know their customers intimately and reinvent their product offerings and services to reflect their customers’ articulated and unarticulated needs. These companies are uncanny in creating demand and ultimately, sustaining their business – because they know their customer.
  4. By realizing their identity and understanding the customer intimately, these companies put serious resources behind developing the capabilities necessary to execute the business/service Securing the capabilities is their promise to loyal customers. This drives sustainable revenue growth.
  5. Achieving margin growth is second nature. These companies will jettison businesses, products and people that are no longer in line with their identity and/or are underperforming. This approach provides the resources to build the capabilities for delivering the value proposition and sustaining sales.

Success in today’s difficult business environment requires all companies to know their identity and stay committed to it. This is leadership’s job. Your stakeholders will expect you follow this path. So, stay disciplined and be encouraged by the company’s steady and sustained sales growth.

Please let me know your thoughts. Send me your comments –

Please – Just Inspire Me!

Posted: February 23, 2014 by Tom Heuer in Culture, People

Tom Heuer, Miami University Center for EntrepreneurshipThese are the words uttered by many employees these days as they trudge (slow, weary depressing walk) into work believing something – somehow, someway – will be different today.  But, their hopes quickly end up being futile thoughts.  “Just another day at the office” is the common, six word theme heard around the dinner table.  So, the conversation moves to other topics more meaningful than work.

Is this prevalent in business today?  The book – The Cynical Americans by Kanter and Mirvis – chronicles the highly cynical environment found in companies today.  In the latest edition, the author’s research finds that almost fifty percent of employees working in corporate America (including start-ups and small businesses) are cynical.  Your issue – how can any company win in the marketplace with half of their workers sensing that their company will not win?


What It Takes to Pitch A Winner

Posted: October 20, 2013 by Tom Heuer in Money, Startup

Tom Heuer, Miami University Center for EntrepreneurshipEvery day, I become more impressed by my students who are engaged physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually in starting-up a business.  The New Ventures class grows every semester because of the very real roller-coaster the student teams will experience on their way to developing and delivering an inspiring presentation to venture capitalists, business executives, commercial bankers and entrepreneurs.  The Pitch – it is often their most memorable academic event in college.

So, how does every student team and most entrepreneurs arrive at the “memorable pitch.”  After being involved with the start-up process for years, I am not convinced that there is any one process that works better than others.  In his excellent book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell pronounces that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.  Well, I may not have reached that level of expertise, but I have seen a pattern emerge as to why start-up student teams and certain entrepreneurs are successful.  They seem to focus their energy on three elements – the problem, the idea and the team.

The Problem

It is all about the problem.  Every successful start-up and on-going business owes its viability to solving a problem the target customer cares about.  This initial step in the start-up process usually has some emotional association with the entrepreneur.  The problem has happened to them numerous times and the frustration level becomes elevated.  The journey to search for a solution to the problem ends up being the motivation to start the business.


heuerFrom our perch in higher education, the role of the entrepreneur and corporate executive seems very different.  The entrepreneur’s passion is to take calculated risks by starting-up businesses.  Their aim is to solve a business or social problem.  Conversely, corporate executives are laser focused on achieving monthly financial results to placate their stakeholders – primarily shareholders.  These “diverse interests” seem to encourage a very different view of the world.  Having been in both roles during my career, the situations may be very different but the approach to achieving investor and shareholder value is the same.  Both – the entrepreneur and the corporate executive – must deliver today’s results while preparing the company for the future.  Both aspirations are vitally important.  In today’s business world, delivering today’s results receives more energy, time and resources.  It is the attention-getter but just as important is the defining of the start-up or company’s future.

Why Is The Future A Lower Priority?

Why is so much energy focused on “the NOW ?”  We think numerous reasons exist for business owners and corporate executives to lust after today’s results and miss the mark on preparing the business for the future.

  • “The future” is nebulous and so, it is hard and requires extra effort and commitment.  Conversely, the present is in the numbers and is easier to define and execute.  The future is hard – so there is less passion for it. To entrepreneurs and corporate executives, understanding the future must receive the same amount of shelf space as the present.  Working hard to understand the future will eventually make the present easier.
  • To get to the future, you must be willing to constantly inspire the possibilities in your team, your employees, your partners, your customers, etc.  This requires the entrepreneur and corporate executive to change their priorities and to value what can be learned by visiting the field to work with customers and employees.  Just look at Starbucks and its meteoric growth.  A major factor was Howard Schultz’s passion for visiting the stores, talking with customers and employees and learning about the business.  To develop an extraordinary company, the leader must be willing to feel some discomfort.  You will not be able to inspire the possibilities in anyone by sitting in your office looking at numbers.  So embrace being uncomfortable to create something extraordinary.
  •  Achieving today’s results provide instant financial gratification to entrepreneurs and corporate executives.  I have often heard that “my hard work over the years has entitled me to the financial rewards of achieving short-term results.”  The financial incentives are more enticing for delivering monthly/quarterly results than developing the next big industry disruption or the next revenue wave for the start-up.  Instant gratification remains a stronger “north star” than building a business with financial longevity, customer focus and social conscious.  Unfortunately, until the reward systems change, focusing on a start-up or company’s future will take a backseat.  And, so will innovation and business growth.

The Present Creates the Future

 What is the message?  The future is created by all the things done in the present – every day.  Leaders need to understand that if there is a mist in the ivory tower, there will be a fog on Main Street.  Translated – if the leaders are not sure about the future, the employees will not understand whether their work today made a difference.  Gaining clarity about the future is a challenging and difficult aspect of the entrepreneur and corporate executive’s role.  But, today,  it is just as important as delivering today’s results.