Mark Leslie On Entrepreneurship, Leading, and Selling

I have had the pleasure of sitting on a few higher education boards with Mark Leslie. He’s a very accomplished and wise person. I respect him a lot.

In this talk with Peter Levine, Mark talks about some of the most important concepts in starting, leading, and building companies. Listen to him. He’s knows what he’s talking about.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Andrew Cashion

    Life long process of curing oneself.

  2. Tom Labus

    Did you break your streak?

  3. Adam Sher

    Approx 18:50 “Culture in a company has nothing to with the values that are published. Culture is what happens to a company when things get bad and people have to make decisions and how do they react.”Yup

  4. Adam Sher

    Thanks for sharing a talk focused on sales. The tech team loves to hate the sales team. I often mediated “conflict” between the dev team and the sales team in product roadmap meetings. The head of sales often provided feedback that conflicted with the roadmap the head of engineering wanted to follow. We tried our hardest to follow the money.

  5. TeddyBeingTeddy

    Good listen. Confirms that perseverance is most of the battle for sales. Lot of smart people, lot of great products out there. Not a lot of professionals willing to pan handle to execs.

  6. VincentWright

    Thanks for yet another great share, Fred. Highly informative. Highly enjoyable.(Shared to Twitter and a few communities within Linkedin.)

  7. JLM

    .Nobody really knows their values until they are tested. Everybody writes them up and they are grand. Then, something happens and you find out if they are real. You find out if you can pay the tab.I was running a very highly regulated public business and somebody reported to me that we had violated a regulation the penalty for which was the loss of our license — forever. Everybody involved could be banned from the industry forever.Serious.While the person was standing in front of me, I called the regulator and reported us for the violation. It was a very weird conversation.The regulators gave us a slap on the wrist and I had to testify under oath as to why I had reported the company.For the next five years every time I would see the top regulator in that state, he would bring up the subject. He was incredulous that I would have done what I did.It solved a lot of problems for a lot of people.I learned that the price tag on my honor was a lot higher. The team learned I was a straight shooter. The regulators were unable to understand it, but I think they finally got it. Our competitors were aghast.Eventually, the regulators would send violators to my acquisitions guys to sell their businesses when they were in the throes of a regulatory squabble. I never saw this coming.You can write all the values you want, but the only ones that count are the ones you actually live.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. BillMcNeely

      If the somebody was an employee that took a lot of courage to tell the owner there was a huge problem with dire consequences

      1. JLM

        .The person who told me was telling me in order to explain how we were supposed to cover up the transgression. It was not a noble utterance. They mistakenly believed I would cheat.It all got worked out.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. BillMcNeely

          I get it now

  8. JLM

    .Perseverance. If you can only have either IQ or I Don’t Quit.Take the folks who don’t quit.A lot of good things happen in the last ten minutes of any battle. Most of the huge defeats also happen in the same ten minutes.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. sigmaalgebra

      Nothing wrong with having both!

  9. JH

    This was really good. I’m having to learn how to sell for the first time in my career, and my appreciation for it has change dramatically. Engineers like to bitch about salespeople making all the bucks but don’t realize the only reason they have a job is because the salespeople get into the octagon every day. Unless you’ve done sales, you have no idea how hard it is to generate revenue regardless of how good your product or service is.As it relates to leadership, I thought the banking analogy for human capital was great. You can make withdrawals, but people don’t give loans so you better make regular deposits so there’s money in the bank when you need it.

    1. JamesHRH

      Everyone should do a stint in sales.

  10. sigmaalgebra

    Okay, okay, I remember the movie Glengarry Glen Ross and the famous motivational sales pitch…Yes, I have the movie Boiler Room and remember its similar scene…Being nasty? I’ve seen some of that! Working hard? Lose sleep? Work weekends? Totally out compete everyone else? Come up with great solutions for big problems, while being the only one around who could have done that, e.g., save FedEx twice? Compete with a big company famous for great selling and go against their famous world class super-salesman and win 100%? Be motivated by money? Been there; done that.But on what to do, beyond being nasty and losing sleep, most important, be effective!The important difference between Grizzly bears and humans isn’t loud growls, hostility, physical strength, speed, or endurance but brains.Okay. For the first video clip, at one point they are struggling with how to determine sales quotas and the problems if the quota is set too low or too high. So, how to do that? The people in that scene clearly didn’t have a clue. I solved that one once, mostly just some regression analysis that today would be called ML/AI.Another selling issue, for all the houses in a large city, was what techniques to use — sheets stuffed in the envelopes, ads hung on doorknobs, phone calls, etc. I outlined how to discover that — mostly just cross tabulation.Another selling issue was how to allocate limited selling resources to the existing leads. Did really well on that one — derived an algorithm in non-linear duality and wrote some code to solve a 0-1 integer linear programming, 600,000 variables, 40,000 constraints (not mine — the challenge was solving it) within 0.025% of optimality.Another selling issue was which customers should be visited and what free samples should be left. Solution via the W. Cunningham strongly feasible basis version of the network simplex algorithm.Another selling issue was a competitive bid on some software for the US Navy. For that in a week I did some math, wrote some software, showed it to the Navy, and got our company “sole source”. So, I “closed the sale”.Another case was to do some teaching to the computer group of a large company on some of my expertise. I wrote the sales proposal, and it closed the sale.One issue was making sales projections for the FedEx BoD. My solution was the differential equationy'(t) = k y(t) (b – y(t))which got our two representatives from BoD member General Dynamics to stay after all; thus, saved FedEx. Could say I “closed the sale”. It turns out that is a famous differential equation, really good for the challenge, and I’d reinvented it.Some big time selling, and no nasty stuff, gold watches, etc.I was a new prof in the B-school at Ohio State. The school needed some better computing. I made a proposal based on some computing I’d done in grad school. My Dean asked for details, and I went shopping and wrote my recommendation. I was visited by two junior people from the local IBM branch office. They left feeling they’d had an unanesthetized root canal procedure. Daily the Branch office was eating lunch with big shots in the faculty dining room — they didn’t invite me! Soon about a dozen from the Branch office showed up, and I met with them solo. They left unhappy. The campus CIO, a big IBM fan, did all he could to stop me: We had a shoot out in front of my Dean. The CIO lost, and, later, I served on a committee to pick another campus CIO. The CIO said I needed $80,000 in air conditioning. The university department for such things wanted $15,000. I called a local company, and got a bid for $5000. Got plenty of BTUs and the special valve to permit cooling the computer even when cold outside. IBM sent in their famous, world class super salesman Buck Rodgers. He and I had a public shoot out. He lost. Twelve months after I first made my proposal, exactly what I proposed, with the $5000 A/C, was running. The machine lasted 15 years. Could say I “closed the sale”.FedEx was in trouble: Some on the BoD feared that there would be no way to schedule the fleet for the planned size of the company. In six weeks I wrote some software, and one evening I and another guy printed out a schedule for the whole planned fleet. Our guys from General Dynamics told the BoD that it was “flyable”. The BoD was happy, and a big chunk of crucial funding was enabled. Could say I “closed the sale” with the BoD.The US Navy wanted an evaluation of the SSBN fleet under a special scenario of global nuclear war limited to sea, in two weeks. Two separate projects were started. I derived some math, wrote some code, and had a nice solution on time. The other project was forgotten about! The Navy was happy. Could say that I “closed the sale”.NASA had two satellites with several signals and needed to assign signals to the satellites to minimize the interference between the two. In a few minutes I re-invented the bottleneck assignment problem and found a nice solution. Another guy took what I’d done and used an linear integer programming package to get a solution, and NASA liked the results. I had to tell the guy that his integer programming package never did integer programming since on that problem the ordinary simplex algorithm would terminate integer right away. But at least I had the math that “closed the sale”.Beyond small potatoes selling efforts like those, much more can be done! E.g., have something that pleases a lot of people! Say, makes 90% of the people in the world with any access to the Internet happy for on average 30 minutes a week!One of my best selling efforts was in K-12. The teachers thought I was a dunce. In 10th grade English, for a term paper, for weeks I spent each evening in a downtown periodicals library reading books and articles about Hemingway and then wrote a review, awash with references, of his career. The teacher refused to believe I wrote it and laughed at the idea I would go to college. My eighth grade arithmetic teacher one on one informed me that all I needed for the rest of high school was 9th grade arithmetic, fervently advised me never to take anymore math, and gave me a D. I was just fine with the math, thank you, effortlessly, but as is common for boys of that age my manual dexterity and handwriting were awful. For the next four years at least three of the math teachers saw me as a good student and sent me to a summer NSF program in math/physics and a math tournament.The big day was when my SAT scores came back and my former 6th grade teacher was handing out the results, one on one. She read the Verbal score and was pleased, saying, “very good”. It was a lot better than she expected but was not very good. Then she tried to read my Math score. She stopped. “There must be something wrong.” Right, there had been for 12 long, painful, wasteful years, wrong with the teachers and their unstoppable propensity to gossip. Finally she said, haltingly, confused, reluctantly, even afraid — I can still remember her voice and manner — “That’s, uh, uh, very good”. Well, of 1-2-3 on the Math SAT I was #2. #3 was voted Most Intellectual and went to MIT. #1 was a good student and went to Purdue. I took it again later and did a little better and 100 or so points better on the Verbal part. So, finally, on being a good math student, I “closed the sale”.For my math Ph.D., the real way I “closed the sale” was to take a little reading course. I’d picked a problem, with apparently no solution known, and was supposed just to write about it. No, I wanted to SOLVE it. Two weeks later I had a terrific solution to that problem and more, obviously publishable. So I completed the reading course in the two weeks. I got famous around the department. The three keys to a Ph.D. are research, research, and research that is publishable, and I’d just done that, in two weeks. So, I had a halo and a bullet proof suit of armor against any doubt. I deserved a Ph.D. For the dissertation I did something else, in stochastic optimal control, that I’d already done before the reading course. That’s much of how I “closed the sale” on my Ph.D.

    1. jason wright

      I remember as a teenager (18 or 19) being on a train. Opposite me was sitting an old man. He must have been 85. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a watch, and he showed it to me. It was a gold pocket watch bought as his retirement present by the company he’d worked for for over fifty years. It was a moment filled with a heavy sense of poignancy. It was difficult.

  11. PhilipSugar

    Thank you for that as everyone knows sales is near and dear to my heart. My favorite quotes are:Admit mistakesBe who you areYou put trust into a bank you can make a withdraw, but never a loan. (applies to many things)Set things up so 75% of salespeople make their numbers, not stretch and have it 30%

  12. jason wright

    “Veritas Software” – software as truth? Software reflects values, but will it work as ‘governance’ in decentralised protocols? I’m doubting it.

  13. jason wright

    is the sales gene a mutation?

  14. Mike

    Really good conversation. Takeaway, a successful business is not built on a good product alone.

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