Home / Management / Lessons from a successful dictator/CEO.

Lessons from a successful dictator/CEO.

“If you don’t ask, you’ll never get ”
and 39 other tips.

There’s one very positive trend in the economy right now. The number of small business bankruptcy filings has been dropping an average of 19 percent* year-over-year since the floor fell out from beneath us in 2008. Sure, there are fewer startups but I have a hunch that we’re getting smarter if not more careful about how we run our industrial businesses. How are we getting smarter you ask? Well, there’s so much more information at our disposal that it seems all you have to do is keep your eyes on the wheel, take note of what’s NOT working for someone else and the fortunes of success will be yours. But not so fast, no one’s giving handouts anytime soon, at least not in the industrial sector. Leaders still have to plod each step and earn every cent the product deserves. Still there’s hope. The Benevolent Dictator is new business book released this month—a memoir from a now famous CEO. Call it a handbook for how to be successful with your business; and how to create ridiculous, beyond your wildest dreams, financial return. The curious title is your cue to be prepared for a dauntless trip. It offers so much “information” in exhaustive detail with sharpened insight that it will leave you seriously questioning your own management style.

Please know I wouldn’t waste your time.

I believe The Benevolent Dictator, written by Michael Feuer with Dustin S. Klein, will blow your mind with gentle audacity from a CEO that is as focused as a laser beam. His story is an eye opener to how an average guy found ways to outwit enormous competition and build a business beyond anyone’s imagination. Personally I cannot relate to the size of his appetite for shear growth but I was certainly intrigued with his charismatic skill, yet autocratic, style. In the end, Feuer would net tens of millions of dollars and other significant fringe benefits during a time when he the author/CEO’s “most fervent hope was sheer survival.”  The Benevolent Dictator book

Important caveat: Michael Feuer built OfficeMax, a retail office supply chain (of all things). I realize that “retail” seems about as far from manufacturing as health care but it doesn’t matter. The Benevolent Dictator is more about a leadership style, tenacity, people, and even cunning negotiation tactics than it is about retail merchandising. It’s information that could help any leader or entrepreneur sharpen his/her chops.

The brief facts.

OfficeMax (NYSE: OMX)(currently number 330 in the Fortune 500) grew from a single store in Mayfield, Ohio (and $20,000 in OPM (other people’s money)) into the nation’s third-largest office supply chain with 970 stores and $5 billion in sales in 16 short years. Boise Cascade Corp. bought OfficeMax in 2003 for nearly $1.5 billion in cash and stock.

Forty, some odd, lessons.

The Benevolent Dictator offers 40 lessons in four phases; here are some interesting highlights from the first three:

Phase One: Start-UpFeuer believes people spend way too much time dreaming “and not enough doing.”

  • A benevolent dictator gathers information, makes decisions and then acts on those decisions.
  • Building consensus is a waste of time because you invariably take your eye off the ball in the process.
  • Less than fond of business plans Feuer laments “how much wasted time, energy and money goes into analyzing stuff about which any reasonable person would say “Who cares?”
  • And, this is because businesses are “[no] better off from the effort expended if they don’t accrue tangible benefits for the customer, investors or employees.”

Sounds like he’s reading from the hymnal of the Industrious Bastard!

Phase Two: Build Out and Put the Idea to the Test—Feuer insists that everybody on the team must be “tuned in and turned on.”

  • Change the odds by changing the positioning of the company, the brand, and the offering in order to differentiate it from the others.
  • Begin with a salient positioning statement that “includes the who, what, where, and how to fit customer’s needs.”
  • With limited resources, aim your positioning where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck.
  • The upshot: this gives the customer a real choice instead of a [mind numbing] “me, too” alternative.
  • Competitively, a benevolent dictator always tries to move the odds in his favor.
  • Conquer the competition by picking your battles and “fighting them at the time and place that you—not they—choose.”

Once again, from my own hymnal:

  • An organization must deliver-on-the-promise-it-makes if it intends to be successful.
  • A benevolent dictator believes every person in your organization needs hear the message directly from the top, understand the message, buy into it and live by it.

Phase Three: Constant Reinvention—Feuer is unconventional. His hair stands on end when he hears executive leaders describe their most important role as “building a team” or “increasing shareholders’ value.” He firmly believes leader’s job is to “stir the pot.”

  • Using “same old” in a comment about your business is a sure sign you’re headed for obscurity.
  • No single area of a business is exempt from change (more Industrious Bastard hymnal stuff).
  • Zero defects are for your plane not your business. Avoid the high cost of being perfect. Improve your product only enough to insure gains in market share.
  • “One of the most factors in business today is the ability to move from mind to market in hours and days instead of the usual weeks, months, and years.”
  • Examine new ideas through your customer’s eyes.
  • The word “no” is just a synonym for “maybe.”


  • Understand why a benevolent dictator runs the best start-ups.

I would bet you’re feeling smarter already. Mr. Feuer, how did I do?

HIT Solutions believes the more your business keeps up with important trends, the more you will improve your product, and improve your bottom line.

Leave me your comments below; share your thoughts.

*Source: Equifax data as published in INC magazine, June 2011