How to be a Human Swiss Army Knife

February 9, 2021

Thomas Magnuson – co-founder and CEO Magnuson Hotels.

Pepperdine Graziago Professor John Mooney, Academic Director, Executive Doctorate of Business Administration and Associate Professor at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School in conversation with Thomas Magnuson (MBA ‘89) at January 2021’s “Graziadio Day Around the World: Europe .”

08 February, 2021

When you start a business you often only have one or two people so you have to fill every role, even though it’s only a company of one. You may have taken classes, you may not. If you can, take a step back and ask yourself, “What business functions are needed to achieve a profit?” Then, create a simple and lean org chart, not of people, but of the functional roles needed.

When our kids were young Melissa and I told them that they couldn’t count on a 50-year career with the gold watch and the company car. You can’t rely on the idea that the company town will protect you, that’s a romantic ideal of the past.

I grew up in Wallace, Idaho, a Western silver-mining town with cradle to grave company people going back four or five generations. The company took complete care of them; they paid for the school, the town hospital, police force, community swimming pool, the cars, but you can’t expect that any more.

In the 1980s globalisation rose, followed by NAFTA.  We started to see the nature of the US and its industry towns change from the cocoon of protectionism to the open field of globalism. Seeing this, we told our kids; you’ve got to be as well rounded as possible. Be a one-person SWAT team, be a business commando or a human Swiss army knife. The learning will come from being independent. By making mistakes you become hard wired not to do that again. It’s living and learning, and sometimes things smack you sideways.

Someone may have the greatest idea in the world but will often launch only to get hit by a lawsuit from someone who has your brand name and is on the other side of the world. Maybe you’ve built a small business using a small SAAS vendor, because it’s affordable and agile. And then a few hundred customers later, you see your vendor partner set up a copycat of your idea. In hindsight, you should have trademarked, and you should have built in a non-compete clause to your agreements. The good news is, if you make these hardscrabble mistakes early on, you will never make them again, and the knowledge will become Gospel within your growing organisation.

There will be thousands of nights sitting alone at the kitchen table with only you to figure out a solution, so you have to know everything. IT, accounting, PR, negotiation, all of it.

Learn every aspect of your business hands-on so that you become a  human Swiss army knife. Because when everything’s got upended, when every sector is upside down, those that are well equipped and can do everything will survive and outperform.