Prohibition & Entrepreneurialism

Ersilia Conjoli CecconiThis is Ersilia Conjoli Cecconi. In this picture (circa 1900) she was 22. I believe it to be her wedding photo. Ersilia is my great grandmother, and my hero. In fact, I made Ersilia my confirmation name (for all you Catholics you can appreciate the grief I took for not picking a Saints name—the Nuns were not happy). I did it anyway–because I wanted to honor the strength of this woman.  I didn’t realize how prophetic that would be and how much I’d need to find that kind of strength myself in the not too distant future.

Up until two days ago I’d never seen a picture of my great-grandmother. I’d been to Italy, and stood in the church where she married Onorato Cecconi, in a small town just north of Florence, but, I assumed that any pictures were lost to time and the poverty of immigrants who rarely could afford such luxuries. After watching a documentary about Prohibition, I shared with my husband Ersilia’s story beginning with the loss of her husband in a mining accident in 1926, in a rough little town outside Pittsburgh called Whiskey Run. With six children, no income and unable to speak English, her situation was dire. But like many women in my family, she figured it out, she got it done and she kept her family together. Continue reading


Vision Without Execution is Hallucination

Factors to Close the Execution Gap

Thomas Edison’s quote, uttered more than 100 years ago, rings true across organizations of all sizes in the year 2013. In fact, in a wobbly economy where entrepreneurial activity is on the rise, execution is even more critical for success and survival.

There was a time when strategic planning was a leader’s primary focus and concern. That is no longer the case, strategic planning is important, but as a sole focus of leadership it’s a luxury.  In the start-up realm the analogy would be a founder fixated on creating the perfect business plan but finding themselves crippled when it comes to turning that plan into action. Knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different skils sets that leadership must possess in order to take an idea from concept to reality.

In the current business climate, a well-implemented mediocre idea is far better than a great idea that can’t get off the ground. A great idea is a starting point—execution is what differentiates a winner from a loser creating barriers to entry and long-term viability.

So, what can start-up or even growth stage companies do to support execution? Here are five thoughts based on what I’ve personally observed in more than 15 start-ups during my career.
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Project YOU

A new client joined the ranks of PNG this month and as I typically do—when I see something really interesting that I know they’ll relate to—I send them a link. A post caught my eye this morning; a presentation on SlideShare by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha called Start-up of You. Any PPT that kicks-off with the requisite cave man analogy morphing into European basketball is certain to catch my eye.

The ol’ “differentiate or die” story is really coming home to roost for many of us in our mid-life. For thousands of the sandwich generation reinvention of ourselves is not just a cool idea we’ll get to one day—it’s an economic necessity. There are lots of us out there, milling about, looking for a way to get kids through college, take care of our parents and still retain some hope of a few days at the beach before we don’t remember anymore. Ok, that’s depressing! The point is that with years of experience (or as they comment in the preso hopefully not 1 year done 25 times) we know a few thing about what we like, what we do not like and what we are relatively good at after a few decades of hammering in the salt mine of adulthood. The suggestion is that we are all innately entrepreneurs (even the drones at Dunder Mifflin recognize the misery of their pathetic work lives and seek more).
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Hope for 2013

As we near the end of 2012, a difficult twelve months for many Americans both personally and professionally, a Forbes article by Kevin Kruse caught my eye this morning Schwarzkopf.  With the passing of General Norman Schwarzkopf (Stormin’ Norman to those of use who remember his leadership during Desert Storm) I can’t help but be amazed that more than 20 years have gone. Desert Storm will always mark an important season for me, a year living on my own and launching my career, the return of my children’s father after a 12 month deployment with the USMC and the birth 9 months later of our first child, a daughter named Marinda.  In her lifetime some things have changed and most not for the good. We are still at war; we face a withering economy, high unemployment and massive debt.  Now a junior in college she, like so many other Millennials are searching for a place to hide (Peace Corp, Grad School etc) to ride out a nearly 50% under/unemployment rate amongst the educated of her generation.

I can’t help but think about a 1991 Newsweek Cover featuring General Shwarzkopf’s face as he hugged a young woman who had been rescued. This was a rare moment, a female soldier taken prisoner—but we found her, we saved her and the troops came home. Schwarzkopf then and now is the embodiment of leadership.  Personally and professionally he maintained his dignity and respect for his troops, the mission and the enemy during his active duty career and afterward.
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A Real “Punching Nun”

I got to head back to college this weekend for the 25th reunion of the class of 1987 at St. Vincent College, a Benedictine Monastery and liberal arts college nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountain range in Western Pennsylvania. The school became co-ed in what would have been my freshman year after 150 years of just men, monks and seminarians. I transferred to SVC from William & Mary. I did that all on my own and my parents were none too happy with me until last Friday evening when I was given an alumni of distinction award and they forgave me for good. I think we are all in agreement that things worked out fairly well. I was asked to detail some memories from those couple of years spent in a place that my children say looks like Hogwarts. There were only eight Econ majors in my class and I was the only woman (ok–girl). Continue reading


A New Spin on Marketing: The Art of Communicating from the Inside Out

A sharp friend introduced me to this May 4, 2010 TEDx Presentation by Simon Sinek, a sharp/tragically hip leadership guru who has a unique spin on the art of marketing. On his web site he starts his own bio with “Simon Sinek is an optimist.” I like that, and I believe it (The Nun is certainly an optimist). So, I’m following his blog. I think that’s what he means when he talks about the fact that we are drawn to things we care about or things we relate to emotionally. Per a recent tweet:

When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.

His thesis is fairly simple—It’s not what you do but why you do it—that’s what people connect to, that’s what makes good ideas into great products. So it’s about passion, leading with heart & soul and drawing a crowd who really get’s the message. And maybe instead of colors and personality tests—what about hiring people who believe what you believe? Let’s be honest, if we’re going to spend more than 10 hours a day doing something, we ought to be motivated by more than a financial payoff. In a tough market companies need adequate capital, good people and favorable market conditions. But in a really tough economy, companies need passion and leadership that believes in something. As Sinek said, “Martin Luther King had a dream not plan”… True dat!

The same is true of any relationship, we seek to be known and understood. When we feel understood, we are attracted—yea, works on eHarmony and for Apple Corporation. So it’s only taken 47 short years for that to click, but better late than never…


89 Business Clichés that will Get an MBA Promoted And Make Them Totally Useless or “Bid-ness’isms”

Eric Johnson’s hilarious summary of the top 89 Business Cliches made me laugh out loud—more than a few times.  What really stood out (as I created the mental check list of the ones I’m embarrassed to say I’ve used in the past, ok, just a few days ago) are the number of sports, finance, military and Home Depot-type references.  What does this tell you? Women did not create this stuff, but at times we help to perpetuate it.

During my seven years with Ford Motor Company I continually watched young, male MBAs (I was one of the few females in finance) catch wind of the latest business book reference or cliché referenced by their manager and in less than 30 minutes, somewhere near the water cooler, you’d hear it repeated by a an upwardly mobile finance program trainee.  Oh how I’d cringe! I was a serious tomboy in my youth so the sports stuff came naturally–so I did know what they were talking about most of the time. Now that I’m aging, a whole new collection of clichés are rearing their ugly heads meant to ensure that us old folks sound relevant… Let’s stop the madness!

I’d like to nominate the following for extermination (ok, let’s just get rid of the entire 89), starting with these: Continue reading


Your Story Is Your Brand

I wish I’d written that but Liz Ryan, Career Commentator (Huffington Post) beat me to it. In an economy where so many are looking for new positions or reinventing themselves, it’s always a good time to really think about how you want to present yourself in the new economy. When you sell a product the goal is differentiation. When you sell your personal brand the objective is the same. As Liz points out, using lame, beat business jargon is not the way to go. There are far too many people out there who are saying the same thing.

A friend who is in the “Mulligan” season of her life has been looking for a way to present who she is and what she wants to do for the remainder of her career. She and I have done more than few start-ups and together have been “fire-women” trying to salvage businesses that were on the verge of self-implosion. She brought up the term “Smoking Hole”, what we would say to describe those “verge of failure” investments. So, “Smoking Hole Prevention Services” started as a joke and has morphed into a story…

When I created my brand and built the web site, it was all about my story–not my credentials or business skills. I know I’m quirky but no one ever forgets the name Punching Nun Group. I don’t want to hide that under a bunch of BS that doesn’t have meaning to me or the power of differentiation. I’m not an intellectual. I’m a fireman (ok fire-women) with a sense of humor–no apologies.

Be you, be kind, be interesting and have fun. Life is far too short…


Leadership Lessons from “The Godfather”

Seriously, how could I refuse?  In an April 2, 2012 article in Fast Company by Lydia Dishman, some sage advice is shared with executives in growth organizations on the merits of leadership Mafia style.

1.     Build a Powerful Community

Whether it’s your friendly funeral home director or doing a favor for a new LinkedIn connection, it is true that helping your peers will benefit your business in the long run.  We are all short on time but one good turn deserves another and builds a “goodwill” account that can come in handy when facing your next financing, looking for a top notch sales person or addressing management struggles. I prefer to not keep a ledger on this sort of thing but your network will be much faster to respond when you’ve been responsive to them.

2.     Hold People Accountable

Showing weakness leads to assassination. Ok, that’s a bit severe but in business or life, there are moments where bravery is a requirement and the path of least resistance is a killer.  A wise person told me once, hire slow and fire quickly.  FTE’s are a huge investment and a weak link in any area of a growth organization is like a cancer that causes far more damage than meets the eye.  I’m a big fan of ripping a band-aid off quickly, whether it’s a bad consultant or employee, don’t wait the cost is more than you can imagine. Continue reading


The Extraordinary Software Development Manager

Seth Godin’s post for March 12, 2012 Extraordinary Software Development Managers”

Rings true (as most things Seth Godin says).  He compares software development to building a skyscraper (versus throwing a party). In this brave new world (compared to the 1990’s) so many product concepts are built on a software platform. SaaS solutions and the recurring revenue they generate, are the rage, and the preferred business model in a digital world.

Godin’s comments mirror my own experience having worked with a variety of software-based companies over the past decade—some did well, some not so well. The basis of success for the winners centered on the development team–and the maturity with which the team and the software were managed.    Like a skillful architect the software development manager must piece together an ever-changing strategy providing investors and the company with a real plan including costs, timelines and deliverables.

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