The Power of Being a "Contrarian" Business Owner.

Does it seem like more business people are acting like lemmings these days? They gladly follow the herd ANYWHERE, even if it means heading blindly off a cliff in pursuit of outdated business approaches.

It does make sense to follow others blindly. It’s comforting to stick with the familiar and there’s safety in numbers. Plus, we all have a fear of the unknown. It requires a TREMENDOUS amount of creativity, courage and energy to buck conventional “wisdom” in the pursuit of non-conformity. That explains why many business owners and professionals alike cling to outdated (and often harmful) ways of doing things, when confronted with a turbulent business climate like we find ourselves in now.

If we all sit around waiting for business to improve, who is going to lead us forward? Conformists can’t. Conducting business from a conformist approach at Lehman Brothers, General Motors, AIG, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc. has led to widespread failures.

Our Nation requires contrarian leadership now more than ever. From Arizona to New Jersey, our states are becoming bankrupt. One in four Americans work in freelance, contract, and consulting jobs and the number will only climb higher. More than ten percent of Americans are unemployed (and many think the actual number is much higher.) The average American will be forced to change jobs 8-9 times in their career. Our cities are crumbling, and we’ve outsourced nearly all core competencies overseas. Entire industries like printing, advertising, publishing, retail, insurance, banking and financial services are imploding. Our two-party political system is dying. Now is NOT the time to accept the mediocrity that results from conformity.


Contrarians understand that the paradigm of work and the American enterprise itself has changed completely. We have seen the deterioration in the employer/employee contract. Businesses are faced with an extremely difficult lending environment, competition bombards us globally, and employees are accepted as disposable assets. It is times like these in which contrarian business owners LEAD with greatness.

Central to the contrarian business owner belief system is the fact that employees are critical to the success of an organization. They are not “disposable assets.” Contrarians NEVER subscribe to the myopic, short-term panacea of layoffs. While conformist business owners institute layoffs, contrarian employers invest even more in their EMPLOYEES in times like these. They throw away their job descriptions and find GREAT talent, without regard to positions. Contrarian business owners understand that you can ALWAYS find a place for truly talented people.

They don’t demand their people possess specific degrees or matriculate from certain academic institutions. Contrarians seek people who love to find solutions to problems, esp. problems that don’t even exist…yet. They thrive on teaching others, excel in chaotic environments that change constantly, don’t need constant hand-holding, and enjoy taking calculated risks when the potential reward is high.

You can spot a contrarian in an instant. They do crazy things like make all the Departments in their organization work together. Teamwork is most certainly NOT lip service to them, and it’s NOT relegated to a fancy picture in a frame in their lobby. Their organizations flourish with teamwork imbedded in everything they do. Managers of each Department have their objectives tied to other Departments. In the contrarian-run enterprise, the annual budgets of the Sales, Marketing, Product Development / R&D and Customer Care Teams are all developed and approved by each other. Heck, their budgets are tied to each other’s.

A contrarian is just as likely to hire circus folk, ex-convicts, military, High School drop-outs, retirees, and the physically/mentally challenged as they are an Ivy Leaguer. They pay more willingly, in order to recruit and hire the very best talent. They will even freeze the pay of their owners and senior management (or reduce it) in order to be able to afford to hire top talent at all ranks of the organization.

They go out of their way to make their employees feel special when they join their organization. They believe wholeheartedly in coaching/mentoring, training, recognizing, rewarding and promoting their people. A Contrarian does everything in their power to solicit ideas and feedback from their people ALL of the time. They even reward (and promote) their people for great ideas.

Contrarians understand deep down to the core of their Leader DNA that the PEOPLE closest to the work and their customers are in the BEST position to come up with new products and services. Their front-line employees know how to fix things and be more efficient. Contrarians seek ideas, input and direction from these employees constantly. Even better, they give their employees the tools, training, resources and AUTHORITY they need to succeed. Contrarians know how to get out of their people’s way, and WATCH THE MAGIC HAPPEN.

They “encourage” their people to fail GREATLY by taking huge calculated risks, and reward them with parties, gifts and raises for their “failures.” They cut back on their trade show expenses and take their employees on trips with those savings. Contrarians are crazy enough to set aside money to fund their people who are looking to start up their own businesses. The contrarian will go to great lengths to keep their talent, rather than let them leave to pursue their own business. They know it’s a great way to grow their own business by in effect acquiring a start up by staying “in-house.”

Being contrarian means increasing your marketing and advertising investments NOW. While competitors bury their heads in the sand, a contrarian boldly leverage these tools to achieve their goals. In a depressed market like we’re in now, they negotiate more favorable terms with advertisers, and KNOW their message will resonate more strongly when their competitors cut back their advertising. They march forward boldly in their contrarian confidence and send a message to clients, prospects, and markets that they are “in it” for the long haul.

In these turbulent times, only the business leaders that throw away the old ways will thrive. Contrarians understand that these times DEMAND we make emotional connections to employees, clients, partners, suppliers, and the media. For example, the Pareto Principal tells us all clients are not created equally. Your top 20% of your customers generate 80% of your revenue. Conversely, a relatively small number of customers demand a disproportionately large amount of your support team’s time and effort. A contrarian understands this, and cuts loose all those unprofitable clients who take time away from converting customers into repeat customers and repeat customers into apostles.

Contrarians don’t subscribe to today’s prevailing business “logic” that you need to take a wait and see approach. Contrarians relish the myriad challenges facing business owners today. Bold visionaries (contrarians) thrive on upheaval, and know how to tur
n chaos into opportunities and business profits.