Corporate Canaries, Certainly Worth a Read

Those of you who have been involved the tech scene in San Diego have certainly have run into Gary Sutton. Sutton has been referred to as a “serial entrepreneur” and more accurately a “serial turnaround artist”. I just finished his new book, Corporate Canaries and believe it was time well spent. The book is short, 140 pages, and has the potential to be one of those classics like “One Minute Manager, or Who Moved My Cheese” that are considered a “must read”.

I first saw Gary when he did a presentation at a High Tech Marketing Alliance luncheon, and from the beginning, I knew he was a different individual; no power point presentation and an almost stream of conscious, hour long conversation. He just shared his experiences and captivated the audience.

What made him different from most presenters is that he admits to his failures as he talks about his successes; a combination that adds to his presentation. After all, we all know that we learn much more from our mistakes. Gary has no problem talking about his “learnings”.

You might get the impression that he doesn’t take himself seriously until you get to know him a bit. He is serious, dead serious, about the take-aways that he shares. Any business person would be smart listen to him and incorporate his recommendations into their own processes. 

With Corporate Canaries, he doesn’t need 600 pages with charts and graphs, and  lots of references to others’ work to prove his tenets. He very effectively weaves his learnings into a story about his grandfather’s experiences while working in a Kentucky coal mine where live canaries were a prime indicator of safety to the miners; Canary dies, get out of the mine!!!

He sums up each of the first five chapters with his top three or four take aways. These pearls are the things that you should look for as an indication that your business canary might be in trouble and could jeopardize your future.

It’s not like there is one big “aha! insight”. He describes key indicators that he has used in the past. These are things we have heard before, and know we should follow. Unfortunately, knowing something and using it, are two different things. Although the entrepreneur/leader might be aware of the issue, they often rationalize why their specific business is different. 

Are all his thoughts applicable to all businesses? Probably not, it’s a good bet that if you run into a successful, growing business that the owner or manager already has these principles incorporated into their processes.

Along the way, you gain some insight into Sutton and the experiences that helped shape his skills, knowledge and capabilities. For example, he mentions participating in a 1983 small business seminar at Harvard whose classmates included Craig McCaw of McCaw cellular fame and Paul Orfalea the founder of Kinkos.

Bottom line, this is a quick read and great reminder of the indicators we should be looking at and following to ensure that we don’t wake up one day and find our Canary died and we have to figure out what we are going to do for a living.



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