15/set/2014

Pensieri...

Come replica a chi obietta: Google sarà anche "l'impero del non fare del male", ma la Cina e la Russia non sono di certo dei campioni della libertà della Rete
«La Cina è stata la prima nazione a censurare WikiLeaks: è successo nel 2007. E' una nazione politicizzata ed è spaventata da quello che il suo popolo pensa. Ma in un certo senso,questa è la visione ottimistica, perché la Cina crede che ciò che pensa il suo popolo è importante e, invece, in molte nazioni occidentali la libertà di parola è il risultato del fatto che quello che la gente pensa non conta nulla: le élite dominanti non hanno bisogno di essere preoccupate di quello che il popolo pensa perché un cambiamento nella politica non andrà in nessun modo a cambiare il fatto che quelle élite possiedano o meno le loro aziende. I problemi con la Cina e la Russia sono completamente interni».

09/set/2014

How the Rich Got Rich

BY   @JEFF_HADEN

Like to emulate the success of others? If wealth is what you're after, look to an unconventional source for tips: the IRS.
 
 

John D. Rockefeller, America's first billionaire, said, "If your only goal is to become rich, you'll never achieve it."

Easy for him to say, but his point is well taken: If the only thing you care about is making money, no matter how much money you make it will never be enough.

Still, even though we all define and calculate success differently, most of us would like wealth to factor into our equations.

To find out how, check out the 400 Individual Tax Returns Reporting the Largest Adjusted Gross Incomes, an annual report issued by the IRS. Granted the IRS Statistics of Income division must be where fun goes to die, as my CPA friend Bill Zumwalt (who forwarded me the report) says. But if you want to get rich, there's interesting data buried in all the charts and tables.

(The latest report is for 2009, which to you and me was a long time ago but to the government is really, really up to date.)

In 2009 it took $77.4 million in adjusted gross income to make the top 400. That might sound like a lot, but it's down from $109.7 million in 2008 and significantly down from a record high of $138.8 million in 2007.

A mere $77.4 million only got you in, though; the average earnings were $202.4 million, a lot of money but well down from the $334.8 million average in 2007.

Where it gets interesting is how the top 400 made their money:

  • Wages and salaries:  8.6%
  • Interest: 6.6%
  • Dividends: 13%
  • Partnerships and corporations:  19.9%
  • Capital gains: 45.8%

The top 400 averaged $92.6 million in capital gains income--16% of the total capital gains reported by all taxpayers. (Do the math and the whole 1% thing seems like an overestimate.)

Obvious conclusions:

  • Working for a salary won't make you rich.
  • Neither will making only safe "income" investments.
  • Neither will investing only in large companies.
  • Owning a business or businesses, whether in part or partnership, could not only build a solid wealth foundation but could someday...
  • Generate a huge financial windfall.

The data clearly supports the last point. A total of over 3,800 taxpayers have made the top 400 since 1992, but only 27% appear more than once, and only 2% appear 10 or more times.

Clearly, getting rich--in monetary terms--is the result of investing in yourself and others, taking risks, doing a lot of small things right... and then doing one big thing really, really right.

And hopefully achieving other goals along the way--because then, even if you don't get rich, you'll still be wealthy.

How Real People Make It Big

There's way too much focus on amorphous concepts like leadership and entrepreneurship these days. If you spend enough time around successful executives and entrepreneurs, you quickly learn that none of them ever set out to become either. That's just not how it works.

The more I think about it, if I came into the workforce now instead of 30 years ago, I'm not sure I would have made it. Frankly, the odds are much slimmer now. There's just too much distraction, too many shiny objects, too much information keeping people from focusing on what really matters.

Make no mistake: It's still possible to make it big. It just takes some focus, and the ability to tune out the noise and the pomp. This is how real people who grew up with nothing end up making it big in the real world.

By making their own luck. They say luck is when preparation meets opportunity. That's absolutely true. Take baseball. When you get a high fastball right where you want it, it doesn't do any good if you can't hit it out of the park. You've got to be ready when that break comes.

By trusting their gut. I don't get crowdsourcing; it makes no sense to me. When everyone collaborates and has to agree on everything, you don't get innovation and you don't get great work. Sometimes you just need a focus group of one.

By making smart decisions. There's a good reason why smart people do well in this world. They can reason. They don't throw caution to the wind based on one data point from a source that isn't credible. There's simply no way around it. Good things come to people who make good calls.

By taking risks. The single biggest reason why the vast majority of people go nowhere in life is because they don't or won't take risks. They take the easy way out, the path of least resistance. You don't make it big that way. Ever.

By finding big problems that need to be solved. There's a huge misconception that innovation is mostly about inventing or coming up with cool new things. More often than not, innovation is about figuring out what people really need or want but can't have or afford.

By saying "sure, no problem" a lot. If you're always telling people why you can't do something, if you parse everything and nitpick, I've got news for you: You're not going anywhere. If you want to make it in this world, learn to say, "sure, no problem." Practice. It's good for you.

By working their tails off when they need to. Sure, there are people who became rich and successful the easy way. There must be. But I've never met or known one. Not one out of thousands. So forget it. If you're not ready to work your tail off whenever you need to, settle in for a life of mediocrity. And one more thing. First you do the work. Lots and lots of work. Then success happens. In that order.

By focusing on what really matters. You know all the personal branding, blogging, tweeting, liking, messaging, posting, status updating, and social networking everyone spends all their time doing these days. None of that matters. Period.

By negotiating hard. And getting equity. Whether it's your own company or a piece of somebody else's, if you want to make it big, you've got to get a piece of the pie. The catch is that nobody wants to give it up, at least not easily. So you've got to negotiate hard. Do it. It'll pay off big-time.

By finding ways to resolve their issues and complement their weaknesses. I keep hearing about strengths-based leadership. What a crock. If you've got big issues or weaknesses that are holding you back, you need to face reality and find a way to either resolve them or partner with others who can put up with you and fill in the gaps.

By listening and learning from smart, accomplished people. This is the argument for getting out in the real world and working for a stellar company or two while you're young. You'll learn how things work in the business world. You'll learn how to manage. You'll learn the ropes from people who've actually accomplished what you aim to do.

By doing. Nobody ever got anywhere by sitting on their butts and saying, "Someday I'll do that ... maybe tomorrow." Successful people are people of action. They do things. They get things done.

Now go out and make it big.

6 Things You Should Know About The Future

The future isn't what we thought it would be.  We don't walk around in silver suits, travel to colonies on Mars or drive in flying cars.  Instead, we dress casual, take selfies and communicate in 140 characters.

Yet in many ways, we're much better off than we imagined. Rather than a Mad Max dystopia of war, famine and disease we are safer, richer and healthier than we've ever been.  As I've argued before, in a very real sense 140 characters are better than a flying car.

That's the funny thing about the future.  It's never as fantastic as we hope nor as horrible as we fear.  The one thing that's for sure is that times will change and we will have to adapt. While there is no way of knowing exactly how that change will play out, we can identify trends, make common sense judgments about where they lead and prepare for them.

1. Change Will Happen Much, Much Faster

If you think back ten years, the world was very different.  In 2004, Google was still relatively new and just had its IPO.  There were iPods, but no iPhone and no real mobile Internet.  A 42 inch flat screen TV would cost you $4000.  There was no social media, no cloud and very few location based services.  Life was recognizable, but very different.

Twenty years ago there was no commercial Web.  Even simple mobile phones were expensive, relatively rare and so big that we mostly kept them in our cars.  We listened to music on CD's and had very little personal technology.  It's hard to imagine a present day millennial living in 1994.

No one can predict exactly what life will look like in 2024, but there are a few things we do know.  Our technology will be a thousand times more powerful than in 2004 and a million times more powerful than in 1994.  So change of all kinds will happen exponentially faster than it ever has before.

If you thought it was tough to keep up in the past, it will be that much more challenging in the future.

2. The World of Bits Will Invade The World Of Atoms

Probably the most dramatic difference in the next decade or two will be the extent that the world of bits will invade the world of atoms.  A smartphone today replaces an amazing array of technology we used to buy separately.  Now, when you want a new gadget, you download a new app.  We will see similar trends in manufacturingenergy and healthcare.

Solar energy will be competitive—or cheaper—than the grid and getting your personal genome sequenced will cost less than $100.  A vast array of technologies, from CAD software to 3D printers to robots has been transforming the way we produce physical goods.

We've become used to a virtual world where things get cheaper and better with astounding speed, but as X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis argues in Abundance, that may soon be true of the physical world as well.  When the economics of manufacturing, healthcare and energy starts to look like the economics of information technology, life will be very different.

3. Your Technology Will Know You

When IBM recently released its five trends for the next five years, they chose to focus on the personal web.  Up till now, technology has been built for the masses—it works reasonably well for most of us, but can be maddening when we depart from statistical norms.

Our schools educate our children to perform to national standards, but take little note of individual aptitudes and deficiencies.  Go on vacation off the beaten track and, chances are, your credit card will be blocked.  The websites we frequent know our buying history and can recommend us new items, but in the physical world we are strangers.

That will all change.  Google Now can already look at our schedules and alert us if we need to leave early because of unusually bad traffic, but we can expect our technologies to get much, much more personal.  IBM has recently opened up its Watson platform so that every service we use can access cognitive computing.

So in the future, our technology will know us.  Teachers will be able to access data about our child's aptitudes not only across classrooms, but across school years.  Medical treatments will take into account our personal body chemistry.  When we walk into a store, the selection will be catered to our tastes, body size and shape.

4. The Meek Will Inherit The Earth (And Find Out They Are Powerless When They Do)

Technology is not an island.  It ends up affecting every fabric of life.  The automobile did not only end travel by horse, it also created suburbs, gas stations, shopping malls and contributed to global warming and the environmental movement.  The ripple effects often eclipse the initial innovation.

Communication technology has already begun to transform human potential.  Our fates used to be very much tied to the circumstances of our birth.  If you grew up middle class in London, your life chances were remarkably different than a child from reasonably prosperous family in India.  That gap has closed tremendously in the last generation.

Yet as Moisés Naím explained in The End of Power, the effect is probably most deeply felt in power relationships.  Every significant institution—from governments to religions to charities—has declined in its ability to shape events and been replaced with… well nothing really.  As Naim puts it, "Power has become easier to get, but harder to use or keep."

Probably the most salient example is social media.  It used to be that if you had a message for the world, it would be filtered by gatekeepers—the government, an editor or an academic institution—but now anyone with a smartphone can broadcast—in text or video—as they see fit.

We can only expect this trend to accelerate as open technology takes hold.  Today, we all have access to the world's most powerful technology through the cloud.  In a decade, as I noted above, that technology will be exponentially more powerful and no one will truly be in control of it.

5. You Will Have To Learn To Collaborate With Machines

If you've been on a plane lately, you might have noticed that there were pilots in the cockpit, but probably weren't aware that they don't fly planes as a normal matter of course anymore. In reality, they fly-by-wire, meaning that they operate computers that do the actual flying.

But it's not as if pilots don't still have important work to do.  They monitor the flight, communicate with humans on the ground and take over in emergencies.  In the rare case of a crash, data from the onboard computer is analyzed and and the insights gained are applied to future flights.

Now, as Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee show in their new book, The Second Machine Age, computers are starting perform a variety of tasks that we used to associate only with humans.  IBM's Watson system is already helping doctors personalize treatment and it's working on similar solutions for other human endeavors, even cooking.

So in the future, we will all need to learn how to collaborate with machines much like pilots do.   In effect, rather than depend solely on our personal databases of experience, we will apply the sum total of human knowledge to our everyday and professional tasks.

6. Your Business Model Will Not Last

A generation ago, when you started a career, you were expected to learn and then perfect your trade.  As you progressed up the ladder, you gained prestige and authority, but your job didn't really change all that much.

Today we no longer have that luxury.  Whatever your field of endeavor, the one thing you can be sure of is that your business model will not last.  Your basic assumptions about how you will create, deliver and capture value will be disrupted and you will have to radically rethink how you go about things.

So the future is certainly not what it used to be.  We can no longer extrapolate from the past to understand what lays ahead, but must experience it and adapt as it happens.  We can no longer plan, we can only prepare.

30/lug/2014

An Entrepreneur's Most Important Tool: Self-Delusion

It's one of the greatest inventions in human history. Right up there with the wheel, the steam engine and the waffle maker. I'm talking about self-delusion.

I don't mean damaging self-delusion (and certainly, too much can lead to disaster). I'm talking about constructive, healthy self-delusion, which is absolutely crucial to building a business.

As an author, I rely on self-delusion as much as I rely on my laptop, Wi-Fi access and excessive caffeine. For authors nowadays, each book is the equivalent of a startup company. You have to figure out your consumer, your unique approach, your budget, your marketing strategy.

And as with every startup founder, I spent some mornings during my last project battling pessimism and despair. Well, actually, most mornings. I was writing about my quest to be as healthy as possible. I'd wake up feeling the project was too big, too unwieldy. I had too many squats to do, too many diets to test. I'd never finish the manuscript.

My solution? Deception. I tricked my brain. I'd force myself to act in an optimistic way. I'd compel myself to email medical experts and request interviews. I'd coerce myself to call my publisher with elaborate plans for the book launch (A health contest for readers? A Dr. Oz appearance? A party with kale martinis?)

And after a couple of hours, it worked. My mind would catch up with my actions. I would start to feel optimistic. It's astounding how much the outer can affect the inner, how much behavior can affect your thoughts.

Millard Fuller – the founder of Habitat for Humanity – summed it up gorgeously. He said: "It's easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting."

This is not pseudo-scientific blather spouted bunkum-filled books like The Secret. The idea that your actions alter your thoughts is one of the foundations of cognitive-behavioral psychology and has been studied since the 19 century (both William James and Charles Darwin wrote about it).

Force your face into a smile, you will be happier. Sounds creepy, but it works.

A raft of studies have backed this up, including a recent one in the Journal of Psychological Science that showed fake smiles (or even holding a chopstick in your mouth to mimic the shape of a smile) lowered your heart rate in stressful situations. The book The As If Principle by psychologist Richard Wiseman cites plenty of other research, including how your posture affects confidence and risk-taking (a powerful, chest-out stance boosts esteem).

The idea has spawned rhymes. There's "Fake it till you make it." In Judaism, there's the aphorism "Deed before creed," meaning that if you follow the Ten Commandments, your mind will catch up.

I actually learned this trick not from rhymes, but from writing a book about six years ago. The book was called The Year of Living Biblically, and was about my quest to follow all the rules of the Bible as literally as possible.

This came about because I grew up with no religion at all. As I say in my book, I'm Jewish, but I'm Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is Italian. So not very. No offense. Great breadsticks.

But I had a son, and I wanted to know what to teach him about my heritage, so I decided one way to learn about the Bible would be to live it. To learn it from the inside out.

So I bought a stack of Bibles. I got a board of spiritual advisers. Rabbis, ministers, priests. And I wrote down every rule that I could find. As you may know, a very long list. Over 600 rules.

I wanted to follow all of them, without picking and choosing, to see which improved my life and which didn't. I wanted to follow the famous ones. The Ten Commandments. Love your neighbor. Be fruitful and multiply. (And I'll have you know that I was fruitful and did multiply. I had twin boys during my year. So I take my projects very seriously).

But I also wanted to follow the lesser known rules. The Bible says that you cannot shave the corners of your beard. I didn't know where the corners were, so I just let the whole thing grow. As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time at airport security.

It was a life-changing year. Mostly for the better. Not all, but mostly. But it was also the most challenging year of my life.

The Bible says you cannot gossip, or lie, or covet. I'm a journalist and I live in New York City, so that's pretty much 80 percent of my day.

So I was faced with this huge question: How do you become a better person? How do you undertake an ethical makeover. And that's when I tried self-delusion.

For instance, during the year, I had a friend in the hospital, and I really didn't want to visit him. I hate hospitals. But I said, what would a good person do? And then I acted AS IF I were a good person. And when I was at the hospital, some part of my mind said, 'I'm at the hospital. I must be compassionate." And I became a little more compassionate. I tricked my own mind.

I was blown away by this strategy. It changed me profoundly. Of course, I still covet and lie and gossip a huge amount. But after the book, I do it fifty percent less. Maybe forty. Or thirty five.

The strategy was key to actually finishing the book itself. Many days I'd wrestle with writer's block. I'd faced with that horrible blank screen with the nefarious blinking cursor.

My method: Just start typing. It didn't matter what. Just the action of clicking on the keys is the important thing. So at the start of a writing session, I'd write the most ridiculous nonsense. Whatever came to mind. I'd write about the pigeon bobbing its head outside my window." Or "Here I am drinking some decaf Indonesian coffee." Anything.

Eventually I built up enough momentum that my sentences become semi-coherent. I could just delete the first twenty minutes of babble.

One big caveat: Don't get too carried away with the self-delusion. You need a mix of self-delusion and realism. The best companies have a blend of irrationally exuberant leaders balanced by the hand-wringers. I try to find this blend in myself (mornings are for realism, afternoons for undeserved optimism).

And now, back to work on my next book. I'm acting as if it will be a huge, massive, crash-the-Amazon-server hit.

Eredità da due miliardi di lire Ma Bankitalia non cambia in euro Invece il lascito in marchi subito convertito in Germania

ROVIGO — Trova due miliardi di vecchie lire, poco più di un milione di euro, nella casa di Berlino dello zio paterno, ma non riesce a incassarli perché non più validi. Così Sara Ferrari, 43enne originaria di Rovigo da molti anni residente a Bruxelles dove lavora come funzionario in un ente pubblico, s'è rivolta alla «Federazione nazionale consumatori» per cercare di ottenere quanto ritiene le spetti. Come racconta la donna, «mio zio paterno Salvatore emigrò molti anni fa a Berlino, dove si fece valere per la sua bravura come orafo. Lo zio è morto alcuni mesi fa, celibe e senza figli. Riordinando una delle case che mi ha lasciato in eredità ho trovato alcuni documenti che facevano riferimento a una cassetta di sicurezza aperta molti anni prima dallo zio in una filiale della Deutsche Bank di Berlino». A inizio luglio Sara Ferrari è andata nella banca berlinese con i documenti della successione ereditaria e ha aperto la cassetta di sicurezza. «Al suo interno – riprende il racconto la rodigina – c'erano alcuni Bot del Tesoro italiano con tagli da 10, 50 e 100 milioni di vecchie lire oltre a denaro contante per un miliardo e 450 milioni in banconote da 500 mila lire oltre a circa un milione di marchi tedeschi».

Se per il cambio della valuta tedesca in euro ci son voluti una decina di giorni e la cifra ammonta a circa 730.000 euro, tutt'altra musica per il cambio in Italia. Sara Ferrari si è recata allo sportello Bankitalia di Milano per chiedere le modalità di cambio del denaro italiano. Qui sono iniziati i problemi. «Mi è stato risposto che in base al decreto Monti del 6 dicembre 2011 – riprende Ferrari – le vecchie lire ancora in circolazione si prescrivono a favore dell'Erario con decorrenza immediata e che il relativo controvalore è versato all'entrata del bilancio dello Stato per essere assegnato al Fondo per l'ammortamento dei titoli di Stato». Insomma, i due miliardi di vecchie lire scoperti nella casa berlinese dello zio Salvatore non possono essere incassati. «Così – afferma la donna - mi sono rivolta alla "Federazione nazionale consumatori" per avviare tutte le azioni giudiziarie contro Bankitalia e il ministero delle Finanze, con possibilità di ricorso anche alla Corte Europea, per ottenere il pagamento in euro della somma che ho trovato in lire». Ma l'amarezza di Sara Ferrari non riguarda solo l'inghippo legato al decreto Monti di fine 2011. «Da italiana che vive all'estero da molti anni – afferma la donna – non posso non far notare che in Germania ci son voluti dieci giorni per ottenere valuta corrente dai vecchi marchi, e si parla della bella somma di 730.000 euro, mentre nel mio Paese non è possibile altrettanto ». Conclude la 43enne: «Nonostante si chiami Unione Europea le leggi non sono uguali per tutti i cittadini».

29/lug/2014

Record $2 Billion Sale Of The Los Angeles Clippers Approved By Judge

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The estranged wife of Los Angeles Clippers co-owner Donald Sterling can proceed with the record $2 billion sale of the NBA team despite her husband's objections, a judge ruled on Monday, in a likely coda to a case of lingering racism in American sports.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas said the deal struck by Shelly Sterling with former Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O> Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer was permissible and could be consummated even if Sterling, who has been banned for life from the National Basketball Association for racist remarks, chose to appeal.
Shelly Sterling
"She had every good reason to believe that Donald agreed to the sale of the team," said Levanas, who added that he found Donald Sterling's combative testimony at the emotionally charged nine-day trial "often evasive and inconsistent."

The ruling was a major victory for an embarrassed NBA and Shelly Sterling, who had asked the probate judge to confirm her as the trustee of the family trust that owns the Clippers. She acted in May to have her 80-year-old real estate billionaire husband removed when neurologists deemed him to have early Alzheimer's disease and unable to handle business affairs.

Shelly Sterling, 79, cried after the ruling and told reporters outside the courtroom: "Either way we'd win. I am just doing what I had to do."

Donald Sterling's attorneys said they would file an appeal of the decision.

"He doesn't see this as the final battleground," said Sterling's attorney, Bobby Samini. "This is one stage of a long war."

In an unprecedented move, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling and fined him $2.5 million three months ago after his taped private comments imploring a girlfriend not to associate with black people, including NBA Hall of Fame player Magic Johnson, were published.

The majority of NBA players are black, and Clippers interim CEO Richard Parsons testified that team sponsors were ready to leave, head coach Doc Rivers could quit and players would refuse to play if Sterling was able to keep the franchise he has owned for 33 years.

Under Sterling, the Clippers for decades languished as a league doormat and afterthought to the marquee Los Angeles Lakers, but in recent years they have added enough talent to compete in the NBA playoffs.

Sterling had vowed to block the sale he initially blessed because he said his wife improperly removed him as a trustee of the family trust that owns the Clippers.

Shelly Sterling also said she believed her husband's ban from the NBA would be lifted. During the trial, Sterling had treated her with both love and contempt, calling her a pig and liar at one stage.

 'BRINGING DIGNITY BACK'

The NBA, looking to close a chapter that brought shame to the basketball league and outraged fans, said it was "pleased" with the court's decision.

"We look forward to the transaction closing as soon as possible," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement.

The tentative ruling will take formal effect when Levanas issues it in writing in coming weeks after he considers objections.

Ballmer, known for his enthusiasm for pick-up basketball while at Microsoft, is ready to get to work, his attorney, Adam Streisand, said.

"He is very excited ... about bringing dignity back to the Clippers," Streisand said.

Legal experts said the ruling was so strongly in favor of Shelly Sterling that any challenge from Donald Sterling was unlikely to derail the sale.

"He can appeal as much as he likes, but the Clippers are going to be sold to Ballmer," said Ed McCaffery, a professor of law at University of Southern California.

Sterling has also sued the NBA, the league commissioner and his wife in state and federal courts, contending the team was illegally taken from him.

"We expect that we'll continue to get grenades from all directions," Streisand said.

(Additional reporting by Tim Reid; Writing by Mary Milliken; Editing by Grant McCool and Mohammad Zargham)



Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/r-judge-clears-way-for-2-billion-sale-of-los-angeles-clippers-2014-28#ixzz38qPcXLxy

Top Five Startup Tips From Spanx Billionaire Sara Blakely


Sara Blakely, Spanx inventor and youngest woman on the Forbes Billionaires list.

For the cover of our recent World's Billionaires issue, I profiled Sara Blakely, who took a simple idea — footless pantyhose — and turned it into a $1 billion business. At 41, the inventor of Spanx is now the youngest self-made woman on the Forbes rich list.

Since our first meeting last summer, I've logged hours of interview time with theFlorida-born billionaire. As always with these sorts of profiles, some of her words of wisdom didn't make it through the editing process. Here are Blakely's top five lessons for would-be entrepreneurs, culled from the cutting room floor:

1. Don't let the first "no" (or five) stop you.

Before Blakely hit it big, she worked a handful of unglamorous jobs — all of which, she says, contributed to her eventual success with Spanx.

After scoring miserably on the LSAT exam twice and deciding to forgo law school, she spent a nightmarish three months on a moving walkway at Disney World, wearing Mickey Mouse ears and guiding customers onto an Epcot Center ride. When she couldn't take it anymore, she started working for office equipment company Danka. She was responsible for selling $20,000 worth of fax machines each month door-to-door. It was 1993, before fax machines were a staple of every small business.

"I was the delivery department too, and the biggest fax machine was like a copier — I was 22 and tiny," she says. "It was very high stress, with [the bosses] always asking what you're going to bring in each month."

Blakely remembers almost begging business owners — like the proprietor of a Clearwater, Fla. fruit and vegetable shop — to buy her products. "The produce stand man's objection was that he didn't have an electrical outlet," she says. "I said, 'If I can overcome that, would you buy my fax machine?' Do you know what I did? I went to the business on the corner and asked if I could run an extension cord to the produce stand. That was my first sale. I did this for seven years."

Blakely credits Danka with teaching her how to cold-call, how to handle customers' objections, and how to get her foot in the door — all crucial skills when she decided to give Spanx a go. "My training of cold-calling and everyone under the sun telling me no, and my keeping going, was a huge part of the first two years of Spanx," she says.

2. Don't quit your day job just yet.

Blakely was 27 years old when she decided she needed a product that didn't exist, namely slimming shapewear than wasn't, in her words, "a hardcore girdle" or old-fashioned control-top pantyhose with an unsightly seam along her toes. She stayed at Danka, working 9 to 5 , but spent her evenings and weekends meticulously researching pantyhose design and existing patents. When the time came to try and get her prototype made, she'd drive back and forth from her home in Atlanta to North Carolina, where she got used to hearing "no" once more, this time from the owners of hosiery mills.

Blakely didn't resign from her role at Danka until the age of 29, two years after she first conceived of the idea for Spanx. She learned to subsist on minimal sleep and kept her sideline gig from her colleagues, having early batches of her footless pantyhose delivered to her home while she was at her day job.

"There were days that I'd be at Danka all day and the semi trucks would drop boxes of Spanx outside my apartment," she says. She didn't turn in her resignation letter until she was absolutely sure her start-up was on the right track.

"I resigned on October 14, 2000," she says. "I quit Danka and two and a half weeks later I was on the Oprah Winfrey Show."

3. Don't seek validation from others.


While Blakely was busy working on her big idea, she made a decision not to tell her friends and family — her then-roommate and boyfriend aside — what exactly she was doing. She knew that, out of love and concern, her nearest and dearest would try to talk her out of dedicating every non-work waking hour to a product that admittedly sounded a little crazy.

"My family knew that 'Sara's working on some idea' but I never told them what it was," she says. "Don't solicit feedback on your product, idea or your business just for validation purposes. You want to tell the people who can help move your idea forward, but if you're just looking to your friend, co-worker, husband or wife for validation, be careful. It can stop a lot of multimillion-dollar ideas in their tracks in the beginning."

By the time she came clean, Spanx was in production and there was no talking Blakely down.

4. Hire your weaknesses.

After Spanx was named one of Oprah Winfrey's Favorite Things in 2000, the floodgates opened. Shops like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale's couldn't keep the footless pantyhose in stock. Blakely was out on the road, shilling Spanx in the foyers of department stores and, from 2001, on QVC for hours at a time. But there was no adult supervision, to borrow the phrase made famous by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Enter Laurie Ann Goldman, a longtime Coca-Cola executive who'd worked on the soft drink giant's branding for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics among other big projects. She'd just had a baby and headed to Atlanta's Saks store seeking some Spanx control-top fishnets. They'd sold out of most sizes.

"I started thinking about supply chain management and why they were all sold out," Goldman says. "I went to the sales associate and said, 'you know, you really need to talk to your vendor about a replenishment plan.'"

Blakely was a charismatic salesperson and a great face for Spanx, but she'd never worked in fashion, nor had she taken a single business school class, Goldman remembers. The two met for lunch after the Saks episode. Goldman first came on board as a consultant, then, in 2002, as CEO.

"She brought much more formality, more structure," Blakely says. "We had formal business planning which we'd never had before. We had one-year and three-year targets. Laurie Ann knew right away it could be huge. We're very different people but we think very much aligned. We usually come out at the same place and if we don't there's a healthy debate that goes on. Ninety percent of the time she executes the same way I would, but better."

5. Never stop evolving.

Blakely could've stopped with footless pantyhose, her first product. After all, by 2000 she'd come a long way from her first salary at Danka, age 22: $11,000 plus commission. "My revenue was $4 million my first year in business, off of one $20 item," she says. The second year, revenues hit $10 million. But as competitors and copycats started flooding the market, she and her growing team knew they couldn't rest on their laurels.

In a decade, Spanx's catalog has grown from that initial pair of pantyhose to 200 products. However, Blakely only okays a new category (bras, for instance, or men's undershirts) if it makes sense for the company and if she thinks it's fulfilling a customer need. Now, with the help of Goldman and her team of 125 at Spanx's Atlanta HQ, Blakely's taking the brand international. While Spanx has been a hit in English-speaking Commonwealth countries, Asia is a huge target, followed by the Middle East.

"In the next decade, I see Spanx going worldwide," Blakely says. "Everywhere. No butt left behind. It's going to be all over the world and it's going to be an aspirational brand that transcends categories. There's so many things we can improve upon and make better.

What are the books that influenced Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Bill Gates?

The following books shaped tech's most influential people and helped them become the CEOs and global leaders they are today.


Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos enjoys business book "Built to Last" and a fictional novel, "The Remains of the Day."

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos enjoys business book "Built to Last" and a fictional novel, "The Remains of the Day."

REUTERS/Richard Brian

Given that Jeff Bezos founded Amazon as a marketplace for books, it's not surprising he reads a lot. He once told told Fast Company he buys 10 books per month.

His favorites? Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras and  The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

He told Newsweek: "If you read The Remains of the Day, which is one of my favorite books, you can't help but come away and think, I just spent 10 hours living an alternate life and I learned something about life and about regret."

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is a fan of "Tribal Leadership" by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is a fan of "Tribal Leadership" by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright.

REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Tony Hsieh is building up downtown Las Vegas as a hot new tech hub, and he's also the CEO of Amazon-owned shoe company, Zappos.

He enjoys the book Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright. Other favorites include Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow by Chip Conley and The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt.

"Tribal Leadership codifies a lot of what we've been doing instinctually and provides a great framework for all companies to bring company culture to the next level," he says.

Microsoft's Bill Gates recently told the Reddit community that his favorite book of the last decade is Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined."

Microsoft's Bill Gates recently told the Reddit community that his favorite book of the last decade is Steven Pinker's

Reuters

Bill Gates with a Microsoft tablet in 2000

In a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything, Microsoft founder Bill Gates named his favorite book of the last decade: Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

"It's a long but profound look at the reduction in violence and discrimination over time," Gates explained.

Other favorites include J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

"It's very clever. It acknowledges that young people are a little confused, but can be smart about things and see things that adults don't really see. So I've always loved it," he told the Academy of Achievement.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg only lists one book on his Facebook profile: Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game." But that's not his favorite book.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg only lists one book on his Facebook profile: Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game." But that's not his favorite book.

Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, lists a lot of interests on his Facebook profile. But the only book listed is Orson Scott Card's science fiction novel, Ender's Game.

Strangely, that's not his favorite book. He told The New Yorker in 2010 that his favorite is actually The Aeneid by Virgil. 

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg enjoys John le Carre spy novels.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg enjoys John le Carre spy novels.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg L.P., lists John le Carre spy novels as some of his favorite literature.

He describes one in particular, The Honourable Schoolboy, as "600 pages, mostly description, [and] there is almost nothing that happens. But it's fascinating."

Oracle's Larry Ellison enjoys "Napoleon" by Vincent Cronin

Oracle's Larry Ellison enjoys "Napoleon" by Vincent Cronin

Oracle

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison

Ellison reads a lot of literature but one of his more recent favorites is Napoleon by Vincent Cronin.

"It's interesting to read about him for a couple of reasons: to see what one man of modest birth can do with his life, and to see how history can distort the truth entirely," he tells Achievement.

Apple CEO Tim Cook likes "Competing Against Time"

Apple CEO Tim Cook likes "Competing Against Time"

AP

Tim Cook likes Competing Against Time by George Stalk and he's been known to hand out copies to Apple employees.

Elon Musk says he's read thousands of books, but he really likes Douglas Adams' "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

Elon Musk told NPR that he's read "thousands and thousands" of books. The Tesla Motors and SpaceX founder enjoys the Lord of the Rings series and he's read the work of many philosophers.

But one of his all-time favorites is Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Glaxay, which he read while growing up and trying to figure out his place in the universe.

One of the biggest takeaways Musk got from reading Adams was, "The question is harder than the answer."

"When we ask questions they come along with our biases. You should really ask, 'Is this the right question?' And that's hard to figure out," says Musk.

Jack Dorsey gives every new Square employee a welcome kit containing one of his favorite books, "The Checklist Manifesto."

Jack Dorsey gives every new Square employee a welcome kit containing one of his favorite books, "The Checklist Manifesto."

Borovsky via Instagram

A Square employee's welcome kit containing "The Checklist Manifesto."

When Jack Dorsey hires a new employee at his company Square, he gives them a welcome kit. In it is a big red book, The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right by Atul Gawande.

Gawande is a doctor and writer for the New Yorker. Its premise: A simple checklist can help people manage complex situations. Gawande uses a number of examples across a variety of industries, from medicine, technology and even disaster relief to illustrate his point.

"Success metric for my work @Twitter: these books disappear from my desk. (you should read it too)," Dorsey tweeted in April.

He particularly likes this passage about venture capitalists choosing which startups to invest in. He quotes it on his Tumblr:

Smart specifically studied how such people made their most difficult decision in judging whether to give money to an entrepreneur or not. You would think that this would be whether the entrepreneur's idea is actually a good one. But finding an idea is apparently not all that hard. Finding an entrepreneur who can execute a good idea is a different matter entirely. One needs a person who can take an idea from proposal to reality, work the long hours, build a team, handle the pressures and setbacks, manage technical and people problems alike, and stick with the effort for years on end without getting distracted or going insane. Such people are rare and extremely hard to spot.

- Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto

Steve Jobs was influenced by many books, most notably "Innovator's Dilemma," Shakespeare, Plato and "Moby Dick."

Steve Jobs was influenced by many books, most notably "Innovator's Dilemma," Shakespeare, Plato and "Moby Dick."

REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

In Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, he listed a number of books that influenced the co-founder of Apple.

Among them: William Shakespeare's King Lear, Plato, Clayton Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma, Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Chogyam Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, and Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

One article particularly influenced him to collaborate with Steve Wozniak, "Secrets of the Little Blue Box" by Ron Rosenbaum and published in a 1971 issue of Esquire.



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