by Kevin DeYoung, Qualpath

I’ve been in this industry for 30 years, starting as a sales rep and consequently founding two successful startups. I also ran an international division for a publicly traded company. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and had my fair share of successes. Fortunately, I had great mentors and partners along the way. Some people say I’m successful, but like beauty, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

This article is about best practices, but not in the usual way. During my journey and particularly in my early years, I showed a high propensity for making mistakes. While making mistakes I kept a journal of “rules” — things that I learned. As of now my “rule book” contains 70 different rules. This article has a few of them.

You want a good business model?

There are tons. Here is your perfect business model: Cash in has to exceed cash out. Profit and loss statements are useless. Anyone who knows anything about business at any level knows it’s about the balance sheet. If you are in business for yourself or working for a company, you have to understand this financial statement.

Most people don’t understand balance sheets, so if you want an edge, learn the balance sheet. The balance sheet has all the company assets on it (cash, accounts receivables, inventory, debt, etc.). Think it’s boring? I hope you are one of my competitors.

Lastly, do not build a business plan without cash flow in mind. Do not run a business without cash-flow projections. I don’t care what size your business is. If you are working for a multibillion conglomerate (I did), ultimately it’s about the cash —  always was, always will be. Cash is king. There is no sale without a successful collection.

In a corporate fight, whose side do you take?

If you have to take a side and it’s not illegal, go with the side that controls the money. In business whoever controls the money usually wins. The morality in business is money and profit.

I’m not saying it’s OK to break laws, lie, cheat or steal — absolutely not! I don’t wish to go into ethics. Even thieves have ethics. Ethics are not something honest or good; they are values held by either a person or organization.

A good rule of thumb regarding ethics is, if you are going to do something, evaluate if it’s lawful,  whether you’d have a problem with it being reported publicly, and if you could look at yourself in the mirror afterwards and still feel good about yourself.

Politics

Know this: Most of the people at the top of the organization are there because of competency and political savvy. They know how to maneuver. You know who they are. Some of them are more competent or incompetent than others. Some are just ivory tower corporate robots; if they had to hack it in the real world, they would have their lunch eaten.

Don’t get caught up in others’ competency (or their lack thereof). They got there because they were competent and good at self-promotion.

Never criticize a peer or superior in a subjective fashion. Critique processes and results, but not the people. Keep your mouth shut, and if someone approaches you and tries to pull you into subjectively criticizing a person, walk away. Besides, you have work to do.

Want job security?

Can you say clearly that you are making your company money? Here is a simple calculation. How much are they paying you? How much money are you bringing in? How much of that is profit? How much of that profit is something that would still exist if you were not there? This leaves your independent difference making profit. Now take that and negate your compensation. Is that number positive or negative?

If you don’t know this answer, your bosses won’t (or maybe they do … uh-oh). In business, absence of data goes to a negative perspective. Management doesn’t calculate to a positive speculation; they have to be prepared.

If your difference-making profit is good, make sure you are communicating this. Don’t get caught up in being humble. There are a lot of humble, productive people in the unemployment lines looking for work.

Managerially, I always wanted to be on “the line.” “The line” is a position in which your departmental or personal production is measured against your cost. Some people shy away from this because those positions are considered high-attrition slots. Sure they are; first, they pay better, and second, they are measured better, so if you suck at them, you’ll get canned faster. But if you are good at them, your employer has to put up with your eccentricities because he or she likes the profit too much.

A person over quota who is standing on his or her head, naked, singing the national anthem in front of the office is eccentric. A person under quota doing the same thing is fired.

Move swiftly with reversible decisions, move slowly with irreversible decisions

There are certain bells you cannot unring. Once you cross a threshold, it’s done; there is no pressing the rewind button. Know what they are. On the other side, stop pondering things that can be undone and move on. Either way, just do us all a favor and make a decision, for goodness’ sake.

Never waste time on low-impact matters

Yes, I know there are a variety of paper clips you could order, but they are paper clips. The difference in price is 10 cents. Order one.

How about buying office equipment? Do you wonder sometimes when a person is trying to lower a lease payment by $10 a month? It takes them hours, days, even weeks of effort, and you have to wonder how much they value their time.

Be effective first, then devise ways to be efficient

I’ve witnessed organizations build an entire infrastructure around a new product that they’ve never sold only to find out that sales can’t sell it. Better to figure out if you can actually sell it first and muscle the support. Then, once you begin to develop outputs, start installing efficiencies.

Manage an organization as nature would: show neither malice nor pity and abhor a vacuum, whether of power or action

Nature is efficient, and it already rules business. It’s the people who add variables that either stall or accelerate the natural forces that cash flow and profit/loss take. Be organic and do what you have to do. A lack of leadership is known, is felt and will be taken advantage of.

Your true adversary is time —  not competition, not legislation, not the economy, but time

The smartest, most natural employees I’ve met had one separator between good and great: time management. Those who controlled it were great; those who didn’t were inconsistent.

Management planning is not complicated, it’s tedious; that’s why the temptation is so strong to avoid it

Another profound separator between good and great managers are those who actually engage their brain and ponder the reports, the impact of the data and what to do next. They plan for meetings and have something relevant to say. They are considerate because they consider.

Forget titles; get as close as you can to the power source

I don’t care if your title is “Head Bottle Washer” or “Waste Can Emptier.” If you report to the CEO, then you are in good shape. On the other hand, if you are the “Senior Super Duper Executive Vice President of Worldwide Corporate Things” and report to the packing clerk in the warehouse, you are not connected. Of course, being close to the power source is bad if you can’t get the job done. That’s when you become a sacrificial lamb.

These are just some of the rules, ideas and philosophies I’ve learned throughout the years, and I hope for all those reading that they impact your life and careers positively.

Kevin DeYoung started at Burroughs Corporation (now Unisys) selling fax machines after graduating from Florida State University. In 1986 he founded Ameritrend Corporation, an Inc. 500 Company operating in the IT space. From there he moved on to become president of Kodak’s Latin America division. In 2001 he started another company, Qualpath, which focuses on and succeeds because of MPS. Qualpath has been recognized as one of the leading organizations in managed print services. DeYoung also serves as the vice president of the Managed Print Services Association, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the MPS business model. Contact him at kevin.deyoung@qualpath.com.