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Dr. Thomas Giacobbi interviews Howard Farran for his new book, Uncomplicate Business.
For more information or to purchase Uncomplicate Business, visit www.howardfarran.com
Thomas Giacobbi: I'm happy to be here today with Doctor Howard Farran, the author of Uncomplicate Business, All it Takes is People, Time and Money. Howard, welcome. Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me today. I'd like to start with why did you write this book? Whose your intended audience?
Howard Farran: When I turned fifty years old, my oldest boy, I have four boys, the oldest boy made me a granddaughter and I was looking at little Taylor and I realized that my dad and both grandfathers, they all died at age sixty and I was fifty and here I had little Taylor. I thought, "You know, statistically, it's a great chance that if she ever grows up and goes into her own business that I won't be here." My other books have been dentist to dentist so I wanted to write a book of dentist to just business owners because I firmly believe that business is business. You only manage three things, people, time and money. Business only has three functions. You make something, sell something, watch the numbers and it's so obvious that it doesn't matter if you're a dentist or selling donuts. It doesn't matter if you're a farmer, own a restaurant, a tanning salon. Business is just business.
Thomas Giacobbi: When you visit businesses in your own personal life, you're out running errands and things like that and you see a business that's clearly struggling, which of those three legs, people, time or money do you think businesses have the most difficulty with?
Howard Farran: I will go to the grave saying it's just people.
Thomas Giacobbi: Yeah.
Howard Farran: In fact, it's funny. I was talking to a Vet the other day. I said, "Why didn't you go into dentistry? You have great teeth." I was examining his teeth. I said, "With teeth like that, you should have gone into dentistry." He goes, "You know, I was so dumb." He goes, "I didn't want to deal with people. I'd rather deal with animals but who brings in all the animals? People."
Thomas Giacobbi: People.
Howard Farran: With your people, it's just how do you get your people on board to try to do any business faster, easier, higher quality, lowering cost. You know, just do what you're doing better, faster, more simple, lower cost, it's so easy.
Thomas Giacobbi: Do you identify today more still as an entrepreneur or as a CEO?
Howard Farran: I never identify myself as a CEO ...
Thomas Giacobbi: Okay.
Howard Farran: ... because my management style is you just find the best people and get out of their way. I have fifty employees which is the same size as an NFL football roster, like Arizona Cardinals have fifty players. The fifty best players I might add. It's just, how do you manage fifty people?
Thomas Giacobbi: Do you have any morning rituals? Do you have any particular habits that you like to do every day to start a day right?
Howard Farran: My morning ritual is that when I wake up, I'm still like a kid. I just want to play. I'm addicted to my product. I have to check Dental Town the first minute I wake up. I probably check it five times a day and it doesn't matter if it's Christmas, Easter. I just love to see those people and their posts and I feel like they're family. I just don't trade time for money. Then when I go to work, it's like my four boys when they were growing up. I mean, they would always play and when I go to work, I have to get there ten minutes early just because I want to walk around and say hi to Jane and hi to Christina and hi to Ioan. I mean, I just love the people I play with. I love what I'm doing.
Thomas Giacobbi: Do you have any tips for hiring great people? Do you have certain qualities or things that you look for when you're trying to fill a position?
Howard Farran: I think that what I see with CEO's is they never want to hire anyone smarter than them, better than them, faster than them. Here's an interesting thing about being humble. I still think that the greatest attribute any human can have in any aspect of life is humility. You just got to be humble because if you're not humble, your friends and loved ones aren't going to tell you what's wrong. If you're arrogant, they're not going to tell you that you're about to walk off a cliff. When everybody acts humble and you create an atmosphere where it's safe, now you can listen to your employees so now they stay with you long periods of time. I still think if I could name one criteria that a CEO should have, it's humility.
Thomas Giacobbi: Yeah.
Howard Farran: Be humble.
Thomas Giacobbi: What was your thought as you set out to create DentalTown.com?
Howard Farran: The reason I saw Dental Town is because when I would go home from work and I would try to disengage from dentistry, root canals and engage my four kids, so many times they wanted me to play with them in the sandbox and I'm just sitting there and thinking, "My God, I did a root canal. It swelled up, should I have not finished it in one appointment? Should I have put them on antibiotics? Was it the right antibiotics? Should I put them on two antibiotics? You know, blah, blah, blah."
Everybody who loved me, if I called my dad, he would say, "Tomorrow, I'll offer mass for this." My mom would say, "I'll go say a rosary right now." My two older sisters are Catholic nuns. Everybody would want to say a prayer and I just wanted to talk to another dentist and I just thought that, back to humility, I could totally see myself sharing my mistakes. Not that trophy, not the deer head above the fireplace trophy, like, look at the big animal I shot or something but be able to sit there and say, "Look at the shot I missed. Can you help me? I'm humble."
Thomas Giacobbi: Do you have any other business heroes of yours that you see from the outside as them also being very risk tolerant?
Howard Farran: The funniest statement is, all my best friends, they're all dead. I met them all in a book. I met them all in an autobiography. I will always go to the grave saying all readers are leaders and now what's really interesting is, you know, it's hard to sit down in a chair and read a book forever and it's a lot easier to multitask and so I see books coming back now because monkeys can listen to a book while they're on a treadmill, while they're doing laundry, while they're cleaning the dishes, washing their car. I just think it is just so magical that Thomas Watson Junior is dead but I had a conversation with him inside my brain for six hours reading his book.
Thomas Giacobbi: Through a book?
Howard Farran: I mean, Rockefeller, the book Titan. Carnegie, JP Morgan, all these great people.
Thomas Giacobbi: Finish the following sentence. If I didn't go to dental school, I would have ...
Howard Farran: Probably opened up a restaurant with my dad. We were so darn poor. We were so poor we didn't know we were poor. My mom and dad were Catholic, they had seven kids in about a week. We just lived in the poorest part of town. In the summers, I didn't even know what an air conditioners was. I thought, in the summer, everyone lived in their underwear for the whole summer. He saved up his money and he bought a Sonic drive in franchise and that was like hitting the lottery.
Watching the love of that and then in our area was another Pizza Hut founder, Dan Carney was born there. The Shaw family of Godfather, so there was a lot of restaurateurs, there was a lot of big action. It was fun, it was eating french fries and onion rings and cheeseburgers and car hops, it was just a blast. The only problem I had with that is I would go to work with my dad and he was my hero and my idol and I had a blast but I didn't really find satisfaction in making a cheeseburger.
Thomas Giacobbi: What are some of the business lessons you learned through your father?
Howard Farran: That's another great question because a lot of people, they say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. A lot of people sit there and they whine about their childhood because all these things their mom or dad might have done wrong. It's like, aren't those like the greatest lessons you learn? I would say the biggest lesson that I learned from my father was obviously his mistakes. I mean, I learned create your own destiny, own your own business. I learned all the great things from dad but where he had heartache is he had partners and some of them, over the years, stole and embezzled and got caught and convicted and went to jail and that was a real ugly deal. I learned the biggest thing of my dad is love many, trust few, paddle your own canoe. I would rather own a hundred percent of one restaurant than twenty percent of five restaurants around town with four other partners.
Thomas Giacobbi: On the topic of partners, business partners, many people go into business with a partner. They want to start a business with a friend, a family member, etcetera. For the people that are approaching small business with partners, what advice would you give them as they start down that road?
Howard Farran: Number one is, there's got to be complete trust, complete transparency. You can't lie. If you lie to someone, they don't trust you. If they don't trust you, they don't like you. They're not going to love you, they're not going to be honest. I would go back to everything you learned in the Ten Commandments or everything you learned in preschool. You got to be transparent. Again, success is counter intuitive. A social animal wants everyone to like them so you'll help feed me, raise my kids, we all work together. You know, it takes a village to raise a child. I completely agree with that. But a lot of success is counter intuitive and the counter intuitive is, success is how many uncomfortable conversations are you willing to have?
Thomas Giacobbi: Right.
Howard Farran: I mean, there's a four thousand pound elephant in the room and we're all programmed to be nice to each other and to have a humble environment and always keep talking about the uncomfortable situations.
Thomas Giacobbi: Right. Can you think of any major business decisions you've made over your career where you'd like a do over?
Howard Farran: I would say yes. I would say when I sat there and grumbled about an employee under my breath for years and years and years and always justified all these reasons why it was the best person and then when I finally pulled the trigger and switched out that wide receiver, that running back, that quarterback with a different person, I just sat there saying, "Why didn't I do that a year ago?"
Thomas Giacobbi: Yeah, yeah.
Howard Farran: Yeah, I would say the biggest regrets are the employees. Other big regrets I had was a real estate move. One of my first real estate moves. I got here in 87', we had Black Monday back then and real estate collapsed. I've been through a lot of booms and busts and at 48th and Warner, there were three pads and they used to be worth a lot of money and then they were massively marked down. The corner pad was three hundred and I thought, "You know what?"
But down the street, half a block there's only one for a hundred and twenty five. I'm going to get that one for one twenty because I'm going to save some money when real estate's location, location, location. The person who bought the pad for three hundred sold it like six months later for six hundred to Dairy Queen and my little one twenty five since it wasn't on 48th and Warner, since it wasn't the premium, it took me three years to dump it. I still doubled my money but I wasn't going for it.
Thomas Giacobbi: What's your recommendation to get them more engaged and watching their numbers? How should they go about that?
Howard Farran: I would go back to, you know, you have to have uncomfortable conversations with people. You have to have the most uncomfortable conversations with yourself. So many people throughout history said, "It's easy to conquer another country's army. It's hardest to conquer your own self," and you have to be honest with yourself. A lot of people just aren't honest. If you don't like accounting, if you hate that, you're probably not going to get good at you. You're probably going to spend all day long doing what you have fun.
You want to play all day and just happen to get paid for it. That's where a business owner's partner or spouse comes in handy. I see two business partners working the most when this person's like, "I want to sell," and the other one's like, "I want to do accounting and HR," so they compliment each other. Most businesses in America are family own businesses and the husband and wife are excelling because the dad wants to farm and the mom wants to pay all the bills and see if she needs to hedge fund her corn crop or milo or whatever. I would say bring it in house, that's the most important. Bridge between you as the owner and your CPA. Hire a bookkeeper.
Thomas Giacobbi: Yeah. You have a passion that you've expressed in the book around mission statements. For a small business that's just getting off the ground, what do you think comes first? The mission statement for the business or the owner starting to form his team and then developing a mission statement?
Howard Farran: I still think the best mission statements- I mean, if you look at the Ritz Carlton, if you look at the greatest countries, they're all just a few words. Just create an amazing customer experience.
Thomas Giacobbi: Yeah.
Howard Farran: Find amazing people to create amazing experiences.
Thomas Giacobbi: Looking ahead, do you see a point in time where you'll retire?
Howard Farran: No. I absolutely don't and I find that interesting on Shark Tank. I love Shark Tank.
Thomas Giacobbi: Yeah, me too.
Howard Farran: I have to admit, I'm addicted and they're all good. They're all different, they're all good and I don't know how much that is fun and drama, them bantering back and forth but this guy, a couple times, when someone's talking about their idea and then they mention their exit strategy and he's like, "Dude. You're already talking about your exit strategy? I'm out." Look at the great ones, Sam Woolton found dead at his desk.
He used to fly from Bentonville in his own plane to Houston to get his Interferon treatment for multiple myoloma as cancer and then he would fly back and they would say, "No, you're going to be sick and rest." He's like, "If I'm going to be sick, I'm going to be at my desk. I love what I do." They found him dead at his desk. Politics, Francis, President of [inaudible 00:14:04], found dead at his desk. Herb Keller, he's so old that he got a CEO and everything but he still goes to the office everyday and he doesn't want to confuse anybody. He won't go to the board meetings, he won't go to the company picnics, he doesn't want to be sitting there while the CEO's trying to be the leader but God, he's eighty years old. He wants to be there because he loves it, it's his whole life.
Thomas Giacobbi: In your book, you ask the rhetorical question, "How will you be remembered by your community when you retire or die?" I ask you, how would you like to be remembered? What would you like your legacy to be?
Howard Farran: You know, it was leave the playground better than you found it and I remember going back to dental school. One of the first instruments they ever taught us was a Hollenback instrument and Doctor Hollenback went to University of Missouri in Kansas City.
Thomas Giacobbi: Right.
Howard Farran: The teacher rhetorically said, "When you're dead, do you think they'll be an instrument named after you?" I remember going back to the house where five of us dental students lived for four years and thinking, "Do you think we'll touch dentistry? Do you think we'll leave dentistry better than we found it?" I think I've touched dentistry. I think I've lowered the decay rate in Phoenix with water fluoridation and then the clinical practice, you know, fixing people up as the years. Dentistry, I feel extremely proud of the fact that I was able, when I saw the internet, to see it and take the great internet technology that Al Gore gave us all and applied it to dentistry, say, "Hey guys."
Thomas Giacobbi: Yeah.
Howard Farran: The whole motto was with the internet and Dental Town, we don't have to be alone anymore so let's all start talking and trying to do dentistry better, faster, easier.
Thomas Giacobbi: With that Howard, I want to say thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today and share your insights on business.
Howard Farran: Thank you for fifteen years, Tom.
Thomas Giacobbi: My pleasure.
Howard Farran: You're an amazing man.
Thomas Giacobbi: Thank you.
Howard Farran: We're like Batman and Robin and I think I'm Robin in this relationship.
Thomas Giacobbi: You're very kind.
Howard Farran: All right, thank you.
Thomas Giacobbi: Thanks Howard.
Howard Farran: Just create an amazing experience, find amazing employees and create an amazing experience. That's what every mission statement should be. We have amazing employees and we create amazing stuff.
Thomas Giacobbi: Awesome.
Howard Farran: I should have named this, "An Amazing Book by an Amazing Person." I'm very excited. I mean, this is something that if you had a two hour plane flight and then a dental course and a two hour flight back home, you could read the whole book.