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John Assaraf sat down with Steven Cox, CEO of TakeLessons.com, to discuss what it means to create and maintain a thriving corporate culture. In this interview, Cox defines corporate culture, outlines steps entrepreneurs can take to define their company’s culture and shows how a strong culture can translate into other great gains for any organization.
Cox: A lot of times what we hear is talk about, how do we go about designing culture? I want to walk you through it a little bit. This is an interesting concept that came over me about two or three months ago when I was looking at it. Today, a lot of culture has been created by actually caring about people. If you take a look at what’s happened in corporate America… Where I come from, we have about 300, 350 employees within the organization, about 100 here based in San Diego. Our big focus is on the people. That is the core of what we do. There is a fundamental change that I think is happening today in corporate America and I want to walk you through to how we got here.
Assaraf: Absolutely. Probably 75% of the people watching have a small business and the rest want to be entrepreneurs so this is critical stuff for you to know, because not knowing this is detrimental to your growth and to having people who are champions of your cause and your values. This is brilliant, brilliant stuff. Trust me on that one.
C: Back in the ‘80’s, we all are familiar with the movie Wall Street, and the line, “Greed is good”. That’s a certain type of culture, but basically what happened is no matter if you have a giant company or you are a five man or two man operation, the idea was just get as greedy as you can. We saw it happen in the stock market with irrational exuberance but what comes up must come down. Then everyone started feeding into the internet craze. Things were going nuts. People thought they could make money by doing nothing and raise funding like crazy. And you were in that phase as well.
A: But we have a real business!
C: And that’s the key. Folks focused not necessarily on building a real business. What they focused on was developing sock puppets, like Pets.com. What happened at that point, is people became emotionally bankrupt. Corporations, businesses in general became bankrupt. You had everything from MCI Worldcom to Enron that not only stole from investors, but they stole from their own people. These sorts of things left companies emotionally bankrupt and people got a really nasty taste of business; if you’re in “business”, you’re a bad dude. That was a horrible thing that happened. Tack along with that the perils of 9/11 and now you have corporations that starting waking up, saying wait a second, this is not the type of company that we want to run. And you had folks who were 16, 18, 20, 25 years old then, who looked at this and said, I don’t want to run a company like that. I want to build a company that’s focused on people, that’s focused on making a difference, that is focused on making a lot of money as well as making a difference. You can do both. At first this seemed antithetical, but the idea that corporations make a difference that’s focused on not just you making money, but it’s also, what can you contribute. Very simply, even what you’re doing right here, right now. We were talking a little bit earlier, it’s not only do I want to run a business, but you want to contribute to people’s lives.
A: That’s one of my highest values.
C: We see that sea change happening. What will happen, and why it’s important for your business, as your business continues to grow, I believe over the next ten, fifteen years this new generation of people who are currently in high school and college, they’re going to get out of high school and college and they’re going to look for a great company to work for. The greed, the old way of doing business is going to go out of style. They are going to be looking for people who run companies that focus on people and that actually add value to people’s lives. That’s why it’s directly applicable to every single person in the audience today. Understand as you grow your business, the next generation of people coming up will be looking at you as leaders and saying, do I want to work for this person or not? Do I want to build a business with this person? Do they share the same values as me?
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