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Know Your Business, and Know Who's Really an Expert in It

When Howard Schultz met the folks at Starbucks — then sellers of coffee machines and beans — and spun his vision of the coffeehouses that we now know as Starbucks, they told Howard that he was dead wrong. They even sent him to San Francisco, to meet with the largest importer of coffee beans, who also told him he was nuts.

When Elmer Winter took a train to Minneapolis to explore making that city the second site for his then-new business, Manpower, he consulted with the biggest talent-search experts in Minneapolis. Everyone told him that it wouldn’t work there, that its success in Milwaukee was a fluke.

Both Howard and Elmer did not follow the naysayers’ admonitions. To some this may seem like hubris, and let me assure you that many entrepreneurs develop a form of hubris — even arrogance in some cases — that causes them to ignore good advice. However, that was not the case with Howard and Elmer.

They understood the true nature of their businesses, and that their businesses did not fit the existing models and parameters upon which the experts were basing their decisions. The true expert in the vision of coffeehouses wasn’t a guy selling beans and machines, and the true expert in renting temporary help wasn’t a guy who brokered permanent employees.

Knowing that enabled Howard and Elmer to apply their genius to conceiving and building truly new and great businesses.

Lloyd E. Shefsky

Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship and Co-Director, Center for Family Enterprises

Kellogg School of Management

Evanston, Ill.

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