Winning the Triple Crown in Business

August 19, 2015 Jeffrey Hayzlett

When you're the President, CEO, and Racing Manager of one of the most successful breeding farms in the world, you understand what it takes to win in business. Elliot Walden of WinStar Farms joined me on a recent episode of All Business on CBS Radio's Play.It, and we discussed his years of experience in leading a winning brand, and strategies the c-suite can utilize every day to keep business racing.

1) Know Your Seasons

While Walden's business of breeding mares may be slightly different than what your business is, the point still stands -- know your seasons. For Walden, he has the breeding, gestation, and foaling seasons down to an exact science. He has to, should he expect to earn revenue from breeding and selling foals. Having it down to a science allows him to foal 160 to 170 new foals a year, which 80 percent are then sold when they become yearlings. 

How do you determine your seasons? Pay attention to when sales spike, specifically what time of year it was, and what marketing and advertising plans you had in place. Also keep in mind the economy, and what was happening in your area as well. As you chart these things, you will start to notice trends and patterns. It's how retailers know when to start putting holiday items on shelves, or when companies like Frito-Lay and Pepsi know when to have extra product in their warehouses. For every business, seasons are different, so pay attention to yours.

2) See Your Product Through

On WinStar Farms, they are able to take their horses from cradle to grave. They not only breed and foal on the farm, but they are also trained and raced there as well. That means Walden and his team see through the entire process of the business.

When I was the CMO of Kodak, I made sure I understood when and how the products were made, and went through the steps of purchasing and calling customer service with issues and complains. I even went so far as to don various store uniforms to sell the product and hear what not only the customers, but the sales teams, were saying. 

It's mission critical that you also see your product through, from inception to delivery -- and sometimes even past that. It's not good enough that you have the idea and have people running with it. You need to get your hands dirty and be involved in your business. How else will you know where opportunities and challenges lay? 

3) When You Fall Off The Horse, Get Back Up

Walden's career has had plenty of falls, fails, and losses. He shared with me how, when he was a trainer working with Victory Gallop, he had opportunities to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes -- 2/3 of the Triple Crown. Both races, he was beat by a neck length by Real Quiet. Losses like that can be heartbreaking -- especially when it's twice in a row. But Walden never let that get him down. That year he and Victory Gallop went on to win the Belmont Stakes, upsetting Real Quiet's Triple Crown bid.

In business, losses are going to happen. It's inevitable. But it's what you do afterwards that defines you. So your competitor down the street launches a new product just like yours a week before you're scheduled to launch. Don't get mad, and don't get even. Outlast the bastards by going back to the drawing board and design a new product that's going to knock their socks off. As I wrote in Running the Gauntlet: To all the naysayers, opportunists, and obstructionists who do their best to stop the progress of change in an organization. Note: We will beat you.

4) Working With Others

Walden said, "Sometimes the toughest thing about the horse business and dealing with horses is the people," I couldn't agree more. Walden Farms is possible because of the many people who are working towards the common goal of moving Walden Farms to become the best, but sometimes, people might lose sight that they are also a team that needs to work together, not just with the horse. The team needs to work as one to ensure the breeding to training to retirement cycle continues to run smoothly.

Much like the horse racing business, c-suite executives must cultivate a team mentality, so that everyone moves in the same direction. Without that cohesive thinking, teams become disjointed and out of sync -- not something you want for your business. Hold regular weekly or bi-weekly meetings with your entire team for them to share what it is they're working on, and where there might be opportunities to work together -- or even improve. It can be a sit-down formal meeting, or an informal stand-up meeting in the break room.

It's just as important that the executive team be on the same wavelength, too. How will you drive change in your organization if the executive team can't get their act together? The executive team from Mitel, one of the leading providers in communication solutions, shared with me that they make it a priority to meet on a regular basis. If the c-suite from a billion dollar company can clear their calendars to meet regularly, it goes to show how critical it is for your executive team to meet, too.

These lessons learned from Elliott Walden can serve as new strategies to implement, reminders to review, or even turning points for the c-suite. We're all in the business of making money, but we can't make money on our own. Make sure your team sets their goals clearly based on these lessons from Walden so that the outcome is always the same: winning the race!

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