In my recent book “Whatever it Takes… How We Went from The Back Patio to the New York Stock Exchange in Five Years,” I write about what I believe are the five essential ingredients to building an exceptional organization. The good news is that this isn’t theory or guesswork. It is what I’ve done. It is based on what my team and I have successfully created, and what others who came before us have done too. Tried and true principles that have worked for me and will also work for you.
Over the course of the coming months you will find in this space a brief essay on each of these five ingredients. Whether you are working to build an exceptional organization, or working to build an exceptional You, these five ingredients can take you there. Trust me. I’ve been there. Most likely, I’ve been right where you are today.
So, let’s get started…
Everything begins with a Vision. Who have been the great visionaries of our time? Steve Jobs of Apple, Bill Gates with Microsoft, Jeff Bezos of Amazon. Perhaps we will leave out Elon Musk, as he seems to have his hands full now. Suffice it to say that the list could go on and on: Google, Uber, and others. These are people who had a very clear vision of what they wanted to create. In most cases it was something that did not yet exist. Or did it?
Before something can exist, isn’t it first created in someone’s mind? Even the chair you are sitting in now was created first in someone’s mind, then in reality. Everything is created twice! First in the mind, then in reality. That’s what Vision is all about. Plain and simple. Do you have to be a “Visionary” to have a vision of something? Absolutely not. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to create for American Residential Properties (ARP) before we even started. Five years later that vision had become a reality!
Back in the day, Walt Disney had a vision for the creation of Epcot Center. He visualized it, designed it, raised the capital, and started construction. Then he died unexpectedly. When Epcot Center opened to huge crowds the press interviewed his widow. “Isn’t it too bad that Walt isn’t here to see this,” the reporter asked her. She smiled and said: “Oh, Walt saw it before any of us.” Vision. It’s what we see in our mind’s eye.
For most of my career I had a goal to be CEO of my own company. What is the difference between a goal and a vision? A goal is a vision with a deadline. If you have a goal, and you can visualize it being accomplished, isn’t that a vision?
When we started ARP on my back patio toward the end of 2008, my vision was threefold: As to our tenants (we later changed that name to customers) my vision was to provide nice, clean, freshly painted housing in good areas with decent schools, for families who had been hit by the housing crisis. As to our investors and shareholders, my vision was to provide a high rate of return on their capital, on a risk-adjusted basis. I wanted to be a good steward of other people’s capital. Finally, as to our Team I wanted to build a unique and special company with an exceptional culture where people could learn, grow, develop and become more tomorrow than they were yesterday. A culture where people felt part of a winning team where they could make a real contribution and their success would be celebrated.
Suffice it to say that it worked. I was able to take that vision and as we grew Team ARP I watched my vision become their vision. It was no longer just my vision, it was the entire Team’s vision, ultimately reaching 160 people, purchasing and managing over 9,000 single-family rental homes in twelve states.
What have others said about the importance of Vision?
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” King Solomon
“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” Helen Keller
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Michelangelo
“When I saw it working that day in 1954, I felt like some latter-day Newton who’d just had an Idaho potato caromed off his skull. That night in my motel room I did a lot of heavy thinking about what I’d seen during the day. Visions of McDonald’s restaurants dotting crossroads all over the country paraded through my brain.” Ray Kroc
So, what about you? What is your vision? For the company where you work? For your own career? Or for the business you want to start and build? What is your vision for your life? Your Family? It has been said that if you don’t know where you want to go, any road will take you there. To create a vision, you don’t need to know exactly how you are going to accomplish it at that moment. In 2008 when I hit that launch button on my back patio I had a vision. Yet I had no idea where we were going to raise the money, no idea where we were going to buy the houses, no idea how we were going to fix them up and lease them out, and no idea of how we were going to manage them. These were all things we needed to learn, and we did, but I didn’t need those answers all at once. And I surely didn’t need to know them to create my vision. You go as far as you can see, and when you get there you can always see farther.
In his famous book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” Stephen Covey taught me Habit #2: “Begin with the End in Mind.” Sounds like Vision? Now it’s up to you.
What is your vision?