Brand Matters: A Frank Talk
I have been blessed by many mentors in my life, beginning with my dad. I still remember him asking me one winter day, at age five, what my goals were. While I was thinking about finishing kindergarten and summer beach plans, he was encouraging me to think bigger. Despite being slightly perplexed at the time, his counsel has guided my life both in and out of the office ever since.
Many years later, in the early days of my advertising career, I had my own (and even better!) version of Don Draper, whose tough love and on-the-job, meticulous, client-centered training still resonates with me 20-plus years later. I am grateful to these mentors and others for caring, for connecting and for investing in me. I have learned much from them.
It isn’t often I get to meet or spend time with my clients’ mentors. I had that honor recently when Paal Gisholt, CEO of SmartPak Equine, introduced me to his longtime mentor and now board member, Frank Zenie. His credentials include spending 25-plus years as an entrepreneur and chief executive, building innovative, market-leading and profitable companies (Waters Corporation and Zymark Corporation to name two), as well as writing a book called “StreetSmart Entrepreneuring.”
What impressed me most about Frank Zenie was his humble, “roll-up his sleeves,” no nonsense approach to business. I told him he had me at the term he coined: “entrepreneuring.” I loved that he sees this activity as a verb, as a practice that always evolves, and sees himself as a continual creative learner.
Gisholt, one of Zenie’s many mentees, had a hard time summarizing all the wisdom Zenie shared with him over the years. But here are two of his most important Frank-isms: “Most entrepreneurs focus way too much energy on their competitors. Be aware of your competitors, but OBSESS about your customers.”