Saturday, May 18, 2024

Success and Leadership


Steven J Manning

Don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth.  

How has that phenomenally dumb concept endured since John Heywood uttered those thoughtless words in 1546! 

Well, don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth unless you want a very large, feed-guzzling-aged- pet. And likely good sized veterinarian bills.  

More elsewhere for you city-folks, who may not relate much to horses and their teeth. 

My take: of course you look a gift-horse in the mouth! 

And never ignore a horse coming your way! May in fact be a heck of a gift-horse!

Two more things on horses and then even I will have grown tired of allusions of the equine variety. 

First, on “horse-sense” or the modern version of that, “common sense”. Here is a Manning-ism: 

Common sense is that what tells us the earth is flat!

Now. Here is the most often uttered nonsense, actually, screamed at us from fortune cookies to nose-bleed high-paid inspirational gurus (read that as self-righteous talking heads): 

Opportunities are just around the corner. They are knocking at your door. 

I am all over that! I just want to know what corner and what door so I can immediately go there!

If you believe the fortune cookie stuff and the 20,000 titles in print that assert all the aforewritten balderdash, try standing in your yard, close your eyes very tightly and wish yourself to be taller, better looking and richer. While you are at that, might as well wish for your lawn to mow itself. 

In re fortune cookie inserts, I always read those with interest. Even anticipation. There was a time, perhaps still, those pearls of wisdom were written by fine salespeople who worked at the print shops who had the right presses and paper that would withstand baking inside the cookies. Confucius eat your heart out. 

Opportunities are right in front of you. But: you only find those when you actively seek them!

To the meat of this column…

Some of the stuff I sold, more than most less than few, makes me think of that great lyric made famous by Ray, Goodman & Brown, perhaps even more so years later by the BeeGees:  “How Can Love So Right Be So Wrong.” Seems I turned that upside down often: How Can Love So Wrong Turn Out To Be So Right!

Some years ago, I was invited to speak at an international symposium on developing markets. Some 1,300 senior level marketing executives and other “C” suite folks. Eleven speakers. Ten from multi-nationals. And me. I was invited because they had to have one speaker who spent his or her own money developing a new market. No massive research funds, no team in country, no time to develop the model in a year or two or three. And no need to produce a terrific report for upper biz. dev. management. 

Some readers of this column in CEOWORLD Magazine are public speakers. Many will agree that when doing a speaking gig, you never follow children, or cute animals, men who cry, never talk right after lunch in a dark room, never be the last speaker on the last day of many days of the event. I was the eleventh, the last, on the last day. In other words, the designated victim. 

So they thought. Then I imparted my move into an unexploited and largely undeveloped — from a marketing perspective — bunch of countries in central and eastern Europe. Just weeks after the “Iron Curtain” fell.

By most accounts, I was already a relevant marketer, with a billion or two or more in my rear view mirror. Busy as the proverbial one-armed paper hanger, doing the things that I knew well in the US, including much in every aspect and vertical in the direct response industry. 

Interjecting something relevant here: I hope that many of the readers of this opus have seen or read or heard of the movie and play, The Producers. A Mel Brooks masterpiece. 

About my “Producers”: The Megaforce Digigraph. My big enterprise borne out of entirely  unintended circumstances, with zero masterplan, and with an entirely non-financial goal… Perfect to give birth to an industry. 

“Honey. Can you help? They are such a nice family.” 

The call from my mother re a family of Hungarians, [turned out to be] illegal immigrants in LA. Mother kinda knew a mother-in-law, from pre-war Hungary. She asked that I give a job to the guy with the wife and three kids. Got complicated when I was the last one to find out they were illegal.

Skipping the really cool year of work wanting to please my mother, I finally realized that to make the feds buy into my absolute need to hire THAT Hungarian guy, I had to at least make a show of trying to do something in Hungary, something that smacked of my core competencies. Thought to create a “deal”, absolutely destined to go nowhere! Absolutely not beyond get me scorn for being a well-intended but clearly the dumbest businessman ever — by the feds. Thus, had to spend some of my hard-earned money to please my mom.

One late night, I had just watched Megaforce, a Chuck Norris movie. The third time, although the movie remains enduringly simple and ends the same way. Right then, I created a product: The Megaforce Digigraph. I had no idea what if anything “digigraph” meant; it just sounded uber-tech to me in the middle of the night. A massive military watch, with too many functions to count. Not just a watch: an “indispensable survival system”. I proffered that the US Navy Seals and Green Berets wore THAT on all their critical missions. That ad took an hour to design and write.

The natural and perversely welcome problems I created to ensure failure, as well as some institutional help from the government there, follow…

Problem number one.

The product did not exist other than an amateurish image I created on my 13-inch MacBook. 

Problem number two.

I wrote a one-page ad for my [non-existent] new immense, awesome, and indispensable “survival system”. Replete with all the sub-heads, bolds, ripped-off official stamps, and more. The ad was befitting the hour I spent designing and writing it.

Problem number three.

I wrote it in English, intended for Hungarians, in Hungary. The problem was quickly solved by having a Hungarian chemistry professor translate – not adopt – that. Who best to do that, if not a non-native English speaker, a chemistry professor, living in Northridge, California? A generous $200 well spent.

Problem number four.

Keeping on with The Producers model, I priced The Megaforce Digigraph at the average monthly take-home pay for people in Hungary! I thought three people might spend the money, strictly on a goof.

Problem number five.

I asked, “my guy” here, to ask “his guy” there, to buy the cheapest page in the worst daily throw-away paper in Hungary for my ad. His “guy”? Who best to make our media buy than an essentially failing lawyer?

Then I forgot about all that for a couple of weeks. $1,500 total, well spent toward my mother’s happiness.

That was one late September. By the following June, we had buildings in Budapest and several neighboring countries. Lots of employees. None of the many successful products I marketed right after the awesome revenue storm that The Megaforce Digigraph created, made much sense in those countries. Certainly not my advertising model that every major ad agency in the region thought would be abject failure. Heck: why mess with the now-successful Brooks formula.

Ohhhh. Problem six.

Took a couple months to open bank accounts. That would be the first time I was challenged to put a large Samsonite case filled with Citibank travelers’ checks (their requirement) INTO a bank. Taking money out, well, different story occasionally over the years. 

And then the whole thing about credit cards (there were virtually none in native hands) and checking accounts (nope – just bank transfers) and all those many telephone lines we got in sixty  days that would normally take two years (that was at a time when small stacks of $100 bills still “spoke”), buying up all the post office approved shipping bags in the entire country (just a few more stacks of $100 bills), doing Hungarian Post Office work in LA (made large stacks of $100 bills for us) … I will elaborate next we speak…

Back to Problem one.

Two weeks after that silly ad broke, after the first two thousand orders rolled in – two thousand – I thought about the imperative to actually create and “make” that watch, although at that time, in that world, there was no such thing as a refund or money-back-guarantee, no questions asked. Another “failure” of mine to introduce that in a couple countries… Hence, humbly, the entirely unwelcome big article about The One White Dove In A Sea Of Black Crows in their version of the NYT. And THE one-hour radio show on at Sunday “dinner” hour, that just about the entire country tuned into every week. There went the whole “under the radar” thing.

Four weeks after the ad broke, I was the proud owner of 11,000 awesome Megaforce Digigraph watches. And rather annoyed that those cost me a whopping US$3.90 landed in Budapest. 

That $1,500 gift-to-mom, brought in $400,000.

Some unintended consequences, backed up by one of My Pillars Of Success. The “YES” part. You can read all about it or listen to me carry on and on about My Pillars Of Success, the most frequently requested interview and talk I give. 

That is how that industry was born.

Written by Steven J. Manning.
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Steven J. Manning
Steven J. Manning is an internationally-known business leader, author, public speaker and advisor. He a founder, CEO, principal, General Manager and Board Member of a number of enterprises in the US and Europe. He is credited with the origination of prominent creative and empirical concepts, targeting data base concepts, media strategies, promotional concepts, incentive devices and channels, and decision-making predictive techniques. All those are widely used in the marketing world. He has generated $47 billion in revenue of consumer products, services, and consultative endeavors.

In addition to successful owned and operated enterprises, he has generated revenue for and advised on a broad spectrum of matters over 70 major brands, including: CBS, Disney, DirectTV, Guthy Renker, IKEA, Provide Commerce, Kimberly-Clark, NBC, Netflix, WebMD, SONY, Telebrands, Time Warner, Toyota, LG, UMG, Milton Friedman University.

His professional and business relationships span the world. Those include captains of industry, world-renown educators, authors and thought-leaders, sports personalities. Steven J. Manning is an astute observer of people, society, business, and all matter of trends that effect all those. He writes and speaks extensively on pillars of entrepreneurial success, politics, economics, advertising, marketing, conflict resolution, writing, leadership and more, to various audiences including professional groups and institutes of higher learning.

His new book, Pimps Whores And Patrons Of Virtue is highly acclaimed around the world. His next books, Explaining Bitcoin To Buddhist Monks: So many things, events, served up in all media ways, are just incomprehensible. Might as well try explaining Bitcoin to Buddhist monks. And Thanks Oscar (Wilde) are in the works.

Steven J. Manning is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him on email at or on LinkedIn.