Barnett Helzberg, the legendary leader of Helzberg Diamonds who sold his company to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, is an icon in Kansas City. For decades, Barnett has been a cornerstone of the Kansas City business, philanthropic and entrepreneurial communities. He is the namesake of Rockhurst’s Helzberg School of Business (as well as countless other institutions including one of our favorites, the Kansas City Zoo’s Helzberg Penguin Plaza) and is the founder of the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program (HEMP).
I have had the opportunity to speak with Barnett several times over the past few years, and I have been an admirer since I first saw him speak to my Rockhurst MBA class over ten years ago.
Last week, Barnett spoke to the 2016 graduating class of the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program (HEMP). His speech was titled, “Characteristics of Long-Lived Organizations” – the following are my takeaways from his speech. (NOTE: Barnett had five characteristics… but I split the first characteristic into two parts).
1 – High Ethical Standards
While this is important for your clients, the biggest reason to set high ethical standards is for your employees. Setting high ethical standards makes it clear to everyone how your company treats its employees and clients – and how your employees should treat each other and clients.
2 – High-Performance Standards
Barnett Helzberg at 2016 HEMP Graduation
If you do not have high-performance standards, you will not be successful over the long-term. In Barnett’s organizations, if you are not productive, you do not stay. For example, Helzberg Diamonds had a performance monitoring system where their salespeople were reviewed once per week. During the weekly appraisals, supervisors looked at a salesperson’s sales on an hourly basis for the previous week.
3 – Sensitivity to All Environments
As a business manager and owner, you must understand your clients and what drives their behavior – specifically location and distribution channels. Every 30 years or less the world turns upside down – get ready. If you are not sensitive to the changes that are taking place in your environment, you will not survive. In Barnett’s words, “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”