The Top Five Things I’ve Learned in Business

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After fifty years working with a range of companies—as well as founding and running my own company, J.D. Power and Associates—I have observed a good deal, and come away with a few thoughts about how to have the best shot at success in business.

The businesses I’ve seen grow, adapt, and thrive are the ones that keep a focus on satisfying customers by listening to them, anticipate their needs and desires, and maintain their organizations’ prioritizing of these principles.

Whether I’m speaking with business school students or seasoned executives, I find that my advice incorporates these five basic lessons I’ve learned throughout my career.

Listen—to your customers, your employees, and your stakeholders.

I have witnessed too many companies move further away from achieving satisfied customers by refusing to listen to them. Back in the 1980s, Peugeot was trying to expand their share of the American car market but were unwilling to listen to customer complaints about difficulties starting their advanced fuel-injected cars. Customers saw this as a quality issue, but they held fast, confident that fuel injection was superior from an engineering standpoint. No doubt Peugeot was right, but by not listening and adapting to customers they lost them, and by the early 1990s they had to abandon the American market.

Remember who the client is.

In a B2B world it is the organization or business you serve, not just the guy or gal sitting across from you. This is important from two perspectives. It is critical that you not serve the desires of the representative assigned to work with you to the disservice of the organization. On the flipside, you must feel empowered to not let that person become an obstacle to the organization receiving the information necessary to take full advantage of your services.

Relationships matter, but they need to be built on a bedrock of respect and trust, not just friendships.

I never approached business relationships as requiring glad-handing or wining and dining. In the beginning, I simply couldn’t afford it, but as J.D. Power’s success widened, I found that true relationships with executives came from providing them with the clear, actionable information they needed to do their jobs, not time on the golf course.

Be willing to look at situations from unusual directions to seek the “truth.”

Don’t be afraid to take a counter-intuitive position in order to generate better ideas. The Jesuit education I received at the College of the Holy Cross provided a basis in questioning the status quo, a trait that has served me well.

Don’t “torture the data till it confesses.”

Don’t be blind to all but the good news you may want to hear. Consciously or unconsciously interpreting information that comes across your desk in a way that supports past decisions rather than illuminates needed improvements is short-sighted and won’t bring you closer to the satisfied customers who will ultimately dictate your success.

Dave Power is the founder of J.D. Power and Associates, a global market research company based in Westlake Village, California. The book about his fifty years in the auto industry, Power: How J.D. Power III Became the Auto Industry’s Adviser, Confessor, and Eyewitness to History, is in bookstores now.

Michael Bowen


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