How Pride Can Undo the Best and Brightest

Fran Duskiewicz

Duskiewicz_Fran_72dpiJust when a company thinks it’s on top, that’s when it should take inventory of the basics.

By Fran Duskiewicz

Peter Tamburro, with whom I worked at Nice N Easy for almost 20 years, and I still get together now and then at Nice N Easy’s former executive meeting lounge, Graziano’s, in Canastota, N.Y. We catch up on what we’re up to, share a few beers and then the conversation usually turns to company founder John MacDougall.

- Advertisement -

The last time we met, we discussed what a tough leader John could be at times, especially when he was afraid his vision of where the company needed to go was threatened, or if he thought our staff was becoming a bit too self-impressed. He never, ever, took anything for granted.

One of those times was after Nice N Easy was named CSD’s 2009 Chain of the Year. John was convinced that many of us were getting a tad chesty about our success and this was putting our team concept to the test. Also, some of our ops people had attended a Disney seminar and had become convinced we needed to be “Disney-fied.” That was a no-go for John, too. Being “MacDougall-ized” was enough for him.

We were heading into our annual goal setting session for 2010, when Mr. MacDougall put the hammer down and had me send out the following email:


Jim Collins has written some great business books, but it is his latest, “How the Mighty Fall” that caught Mr. MacDougall’s attention.


Because it is after you think you’re really good that it is possible to make major mistakes that ruin your company. There is a tendency to think you’re bulletproof and cannot make mistakes; to overstate your particular contribution to the company’s success and downplay that of others; to make excuses for poor performance rather than face the facts and deal with them.

In short, you start believing your own press clippings. The possibility that this could happen among our operations team is scary to contemplate, yet we believe we see evidence of it and we need to short circuit it quickly. Start by learning the five stages of a falling company:

  1. Hubris (pride, folks—as in “Pride goeth before a fall”);
  2. Undisciplined pursuit of more (overreaching, getting away from the “basics,” taking your eye off the ball);
  3. Denial of risk and peril (trying to explain away problems, blaming external forces or attempting to put a positive spin on things);
  4. Grasping for salvation (trying short-term fixes instead of implementing long-term solutions); and
  5. Capitulation to irrelevance or death (financial strength and spirit are eroded and you close the doors or sell-out).

The key to stop the falling is to catch it and reverse it early, which I sense was Mr. MacDougall’s aim. We have a few important meetings coming up and we need to think of goals to avoid all of the above. They should include:

  1. Getting back to basics: Selling the right things for the right amount of margin while controlling costs (labor and shrink). How will you plan to do that?
  2. Enforcing excellence: Requiring your people to improve and providing the ways to get that done. However, poor performers MUST be replaced.
  3. Mutual Respect: It is important that everyone on a management team is on the same page and understands the company’s goals and objectives.
  4. Face-to-face training: The key to our success through the years has been working with people in groups, training them on the key basics of how we run our business. We need to have at least one manager training class scheduled a month. This helps us understand our people better and helps them understand us better.
  5. Accountability—where are you going today: What are you planning to review? How does the store look? Who knows your agenda for the day? Have you documented your visits? Are visits from district managers and food operations in sync?

We must be focused and on point in 2010. We are a retail operation that sells things for a profit. None of the other good things that we’ve come to take for granted—bonuses, parties, store dinners, awards and higher wages happen unless we sell things for a profit. THAT is our mission for 2010.

How will you help?

I just thought I’d share the mindset we held at the time, It wasn’t mission statements or goals or any particular business activities. It was a vision—John’s vision.