The 3 D’s of Success

There I am, lying on my back, the ceiling spinning, sweat dripping from every pore and I’m having an out of body experience, willing my soul far from the oppressively hot room. The hot hatha yoga class is nearly over, the final Shivasna meditation pose supposed to one of relaxation, where the body absorbs all the pain and punishment it has endured in a room of 110 degrees and 60 percent humidity. It’s the hardest part for me, because all I can think about is getting out of the room, into the cool air and slurping down ice cold water–which of course, is  the worst thing I can do.

“The 5:30 a.m. class is my favorite,” says the teacher, her voice calm and sincere. “It’s because the students here embody the three D’s: decision, discipline and determination.” I snap back to the present, the mantra reminding me of a keynote speech on success and entrepreneurialism more than yoga.

I sucked my soul back from its hovering position above me and refocused on her words.

“The people in this room made the decision to be here. Then you had the discipline to get up at four or thereabouts, eat and come here. Once in the room, you had the determination to put your entire effort into every one of the twenty-six poses.”

She’s absolutely right, I thought, breathing shallow, telling myself I can last another few minutes. Her Three D’s can be applied to pretty much anyone who’s achieved success by any measure. “We” make the Decision to go to college/run a marathon/write a book etc. Then we have the Discipline to study/train for a year/fail for a few novels and through Determination do we get persevere through the downs and ups, blisters and callouses and rejections on the long, hard and oftentimes bumpy road to our goal—the decision we made in the first place.

As Mimi, the morning instructor talks through the last five minutes of meditation, I continue ruminating on the notion, considering the application of the three D’s, reflecting how I’ve defined much of my adult life by determination, but neither decision or discipline. In fact, my oft-repeated joke has always been that God didn’t give me any natural skills or talents except one: Determination. My husband lovingly calls me his goat, but not in the Michael Jordan-type greatest-of-all-time. Rog means it literally. He often says I will “chew my way through a wall to get what I want.”

I take that as a compliment by the way. I just simply say: that’s what I want and keep going until I get it. Of course I’m realistic, no WNBA or President of the United States for me. But I do tend to focus, ignoring every bit of distracting, external noise in my path. As my yoga instructor implied, it’s a personal decision, a personal level of discipline and personal determination that got each and every one of us to yoga in the first place. No one else got us up, dressed us, stood for us or wiped the sweat off our faces when it was all over.

The after effects of that wonderful morning yoga session was I have added the other two D’s to the one I’d always considered the absolute. Perhaps that’s also given a conference seeker another topic.

Getting to the CEO

Breaking through the email barrier

There has never been a better time for email outreach, the stay-at-home economy requiring workers to be tethered to their devices more than ever. A few weeks back, the CEO of Intel told NPR this was the first time he’s been home in 30 years, his email, video conferencing and phone becoming the life-blood of business. That means you, the business development, sales or PR person, are presented with the best opportunity to get in front of the right person for your pitch.

Yet you it’s not always as easy as connecting through Linked In, especially when you want to reach executive staff. Emails are switched up and around, purposefully confusing the outsider. Because I’ve spent several decades breaking through the email barrier, “cold-emailing” and getting responses from the executive levels at the largest retail, technology, banking and manufacturing companies in the world, I’m going to share a few tried and proven tricks.

Conventions

A convention is technology-industry-speak for a format used by the company. These are pretty simple and vary depending on the size of the company. When it was small, it was bill@microsoft.com – which of course, was for Bill Gates. It remained so until he formally left his position. All other bills had a convention using numbers. As the company grew, it modified the names in a combination of first and last names, letters and so on. A great example of this is Steve Ballmer. His email was steveb@microsoft.com. Because so many Steve’s had the last name b, he was referred to internally as steveb–when in conversation. “Steveb said this…” “that’s what Steveb wants.” For years, I was known as Sarahg within that same organization (thus proving we can morph into our email names).

Most commonly used conventions

  • First name, last initial: sarahg@
  • First name only: sarah@
  • First initial, last name: sgerdes@
  • First and last: sarahgerdes@

If the company is a mid-size (250 or above), you will have the same names. In this context, they usually modify the first or last only slightly, but adding the second, then third letter, or also adding a number.

  • First name, last initial: sarahge@
  • First name only: sarah1@ or sarah01@
  • First initial, last name: sagerdes@
  • First and last: sarahgerdes01

It’s rather amazing how uncreative those assigning names are, and how easy it is to penetrate a firm using a combination of the above.

Conventions aren’t limited to just the first and last names. It also applies to the company name. For instance, for Benjamin News Group, a Washington-based firm that’s presently being acquired by another entity, the address ends with @bngspkn.com. It was the first three letters of the company name, then the city where the firm is headquartered. Now, this is different than the URL designation on the main website, so how did I attain that email and correct ending? I called the main number, gave the pitch and was given the name of the general manager. He was out, and what I really wanted was his email. Trying the mail URL didn’t work. It was only later that I learned that the abbreviation his particular city was included in the address line. This shows two things: it is possible to get past the first line of defense (the receptionist and attain the name), the second is that I learned a new convention, even after all these years.

Getting creative

These aren’t always going to work, so you need to dig deeper. Looking up the CEOs name for the largest property holder in the country was done through a search on legal filings! It turns out that families get in spats, and when emails are filed with the court of law as a part of the proceedings, these documents are made public. Along with the full content, so are the emails. Can you believe that people don’t go back and change their emails? I’ve contacts who haven’t changed their emails for two decades, and in fact, I’ve not changed my BMG email in that long. That said, I have disabled it because I’m not taking on new clients at the moment, and if a person wants to get a hold of me, they can get creative themselves.

Another creative way…. social media

This isn’t perfect for a long pitch, but I’ve had executives, fans and parents track me down on Instagram and Facebook (see above comment on creativity). Several of these have been busines oriented, but most have been of a personal nature, seeking additional clarity on a topic I’ve written about. Because I don’t have a service or personal assistant, I eventually get to these items myself. It might take me a while, and I sometimes skip over or neglect my accounts for a while, but I do eventually get there.

Forwarding emails

This is another little trick that I’ve used myself. I’ve always wanted to make sure that variations of my name are taken, whether or not I use the various instantiations. To have one dashboard (or view) of all my accounts, I have them forwarded to my central account.

Executives do the same, using not just one, but multiple accounts, all being aggregated into a single view. My only caution to you, the sales/biz dev/executive, is to beware of hitting multiple accounts without waiting a reasonable period of time for a response (a week). Don’t hit all of them at once, as much as you want to get after it—the recipient will only become annoyed. It might take a month or so, but be patient.

The list of DON’Ts

On one hand, it’s wonderful to know that it is possible to reach the CEOs of the largest firms in the world. By the same token, your email MUST be free of a few things that will catch it up in spam.

No links. This is the first spam filter applied to any email. Don’t link to your website, home page, or product listing. You will never recover.

No links in your signature. My email signature (at the bottom, name/title/phone etc.) included the link from my name to my author page. This was causing my emails to go into junk. It was surprising for me to learn that even recipients who’d authorized me (my attorney in this case) had the filters set so high that all my correspondence was going in to junk. I had to remove the link from my signature in order for him to receive it, even though I was specifically authorized by him.

No attachments. This also gets caught in the first line of defense. When writing the first pitch email, it should be so inspiring it gets a response. Attachments can be sent thereafter.

Don’t copy another person. If you have the CEO and a VP, you need to make a choice. The rates of a non-response skyrocket when you have two or more copied. Why? First, no one is required to respond—the buck gets passed or the dropped entirely. Common thought is that the person on the To line will respond, and those CC’d will just observe.

That’s the wrong way to go about it. If you are confident in your pitch (and your product/service warrants it), make it to the CEO, who will in turn, provide it to the executive in charge of that area. Otherwise send it to the VP in the appropriate area. This strategy also provides you options in case you don’t receive a response (ergo, send to the CEO when the vp doesn’t respond or vice versa).

Bouncing or received?

How do you know if an email is incorrect? The email will immediately bounce as undeliverable. You know it’s working when the email doesn’t bounce, but you don’t receive a response. This indicates it’s likely gone into a “holding folder” where an assistant is assigned to look at it.

One such case was when I sent my first email to Steve Ballmer when he was at Microsoft. In that instance, I new I had the right email as I was a vendor. After three days, I received a response providing direction on the opportunity at hand, and when I inquired, learned that he had three assistants monitoring his email. He’d respond personally after a first review of the incoming mails were culled.

When to send

There’s an adage I heard a million years ago when I was starting out. My vice president of marketing told me “the higher the title, the earlier they will be up.” I’d been sending emails between the standard workday, thinking if I sent at 8 am (their time, not mine) I’d be the at the top of the in-box. Sure, I might have been, but by that time, the day was off and running, and the email wouldn’t even be opened until the afternoon. Conversely, if I sent the email in the afternoon (thinking people were winding down the day) I’d get more mindshare. Negative on that. Tired, grumpy and overwhelmed tended to be the emotions I’d experience when I placed a follow up call.

Sending early, as in 6 a.m. Yep, I wrote that. A CEO has thinking about the business 24×7, rising early to get a jump on the day. Delegation is one key to success, so the email is read and forwarded to the right person. If that means you are on the west coast, you get up at 3:30 a.m. and send that baby off (unless your system can schedule it for you), but beware. If you receive an immediate response and don’t answer, it’s clear that it’s a bot on your end.  

In a recent example, I sent an email to the CEO of a $26B firm last week. He responded in 1 hr 22 seconds, forwarding the inquiry pitch to two vice presidents, one being the primary contact.

Sending Sunday night. Until recently, this has been my favorite time to send an email, because I constantly found that CEOs weren’t/aren’t waiting until Monday morning. Many get online Sunday night to plan for the week ahead. Last month I sent off a pitch to a Canadian investor originally from Hong Kong on Sunday, because he’d specifically told me he likes to receive items Sunday night. Within an hour I had my response to the proposal and next steps.

I say “until recently” because I’m personally trying to not work on Sunday for any reason, not even cracking my computer open to write or work. As I’ve aged, I’ve gotten more focused on family than business, especially on Sunday. If you don’t share this perspective, then by all means use this as a tool—and sometimes, others will require it.

Now go forth, write and send—oh wait, it’s Thursday afternoon. Not yet!

Three men, three mantras and three very different lives

A tale of three men began with a former boss and continued as I interviewed two-dozen individuals for a book on success. In this time when we are all contemplating our lives, a few gems deserve to be shared.


“You want to guarantee a job gets done? Find the busiest person in the company and give it to him/her.”

As always, one must consider the source to determine if the wisdom is worth anything. You be the judge.

Mantra one is from a Duke engineering and accounting graduate (with honors and masters), pilot and also certified flight instructor who went to Microsoft for a stint as a technology architect (designing the systems). He jumped ship after a couple of years for a start-up, parting ways with the chief technology officer after eighteen months, eventually landed in the consulting world and found his calling. He was making a pittance at Microsoft compared to project consulting fees. Within the first two years, he was making a million a year. By year five, this had jumped three-fold. On average, he was personally taking home three-four million a year for about eight years.

He traded up from his 1,200 foot home in an old part of Seattle to a primary residence of 10,000 square feet in the affluent Seattle suburb of Woodenville. He added a second home in the San Juan islands where his wife installed not one, but seven, count them seven, Gaggenau ovens. His journey from his home in Seattle was made easy thanks to his twin-screw vessel which he insisted on piloting once he earned his credentials.

What isn’t sexy about this?

But why stop there? This busy man didn’t know how or when to stop either work or his personal expenditures. Ergo, he had not one, but three planes, all covered by the business. One, a twin-prop Piper Malibu, $2M King Air with seating for eight and a Mooney, a quarter million dollar aircraft built for speed.

All of this afforded by his work ethic and smarts. He believed in the mantra he espoused because it was in part what had made him successful. His over-busy manager or counterpart would give him a task in desperation which he’d take, complete and ultimately receive the accolades. Sometimes, he’d receive the promotion instead of the other person.


“Spend eight hours doing the job you were hired to do, and another two doing the job you want.”

This was said to me by the senior vice president of mergers and acquisitions who worked for the world’s largest consulting firm at the time. He attributed his success to applying this phrase to every job he’d taken since college, the phrase initially coming from one of his professors at BYU. This man had two undergraduate degrees and his masters in business administration, but said those credentials were insignificant compared to the working on the job.

“More knowledge comes from what you learn at your job than you will ever learn in the classroom,” he believed. Then he went on to give examples of how applying the concepts gets you fifty percent of the way. “The rest is what you learn and how you apply it.” But even then, he argued, that’s only enough to fulfill what’s expected of you. “You will never really stand out unless you put in more effort, more work and show more determination than the person sitting next to you.”

In other words, leadership is always looking for the next manager, the next stand out sales person. Not everyone needs a college degree, or two graduate degrees to be financially successful.

Live to work or work to live

This man chose a very different life path than the first. His primary (and only) residence was a 3,400 square foot home in a nice, but older neighborhood in less trendy part of Seattle. His wife drove a minivan and he had a Prius. No boats, planes or exotic cars. When he did spend money, it was on travel with his family. It was his one indulgence. When I interviewed him, he’d racked up nearly twenty African trips, Safari’s being his favorite, and he’d often take his grown children. Eventually, he retired to give of his time to an educational institution, desiring to spend his days with his family while he was in good health.

The first professional I mentioned, who is approximately the same age, has chosen to continue live to work. He used his home in the islands a handful of times a summer, his packed schedule not conducive for the long boat ride up. He used his planes not for weekend family getaways, because his wife has always hated small aircrafts. Instead, his flight time has been used to generate revenue, not deepen relationships. In fact, leisure travel and activities wasn’t a part of his life, because it took too much time out of his work schedule and billable hours.

What’s the point of having things when your life is empty of friends or loved ones?

Comparing the two men, the difference in lifestyle are stark. One had all the material possession attainable yet were rarely used because…well, he was working so much. (I forgot to mention man one also owned a Rolls, driven by his wife to and from Seattle Prep where their children attended, a Bentley which he drove and an Escalade). On the other hand, professional number two kept his life and lifestyle simple, investing his discretionary time on experiences, not things. What’s ironic is that this second man (who drove the Prius while having an executive title with one of the world’s foremost companies) earned multiples of millions of man number one who showed it all off. This proved one of my own mantras: “Those with the most don’t show it.”

“Those with the most don’t show it”

It’s now been six years since I’ve spoken with either man, but from what I’ve seen on-line and heard, the path of one has changed dramatically, the other hasn’t. The boat, planes, homes and children of the first have all but disappeared, the burnout as emotional as it was financial. Specifically, bad choices led to the collapse of the consulting firm, the personal overhead unsustainable. It’s all gone. Alternatively, the former SVP has lived his life as he constructed; spending his workdays with an academic institution and his free time with his family. He still drives his Prius but his wife finally upgraded to a used Lexus SUV to haul around the grandchildren.

One lived to work, his surroundings and lifestyle reflecting that, his own mantra serving him very well. The second worked to live, his close family and sound financial decisions evidence of his conviction. Having heard these experiences and witnessing the eventual outcome, I do wonder if there was a middle ground to be walked, perhaps the peaks wouldn’t have been so high but the valleys not so low.

A third mantra from a former boss

When I was twenty-four working at my second start-up outside Silicon Valley, the once-divorced CEO, a thirty-nine year-old who’d already taken one company public, often said he “lost” his first wife and children in the drive to accomplish his goals. He found and married a hot thirty-year old who was step-mother to his two sons, and during our press tours, he’d talk candidly about what he’d done wrong, taking full ownership of the demise of his marriage, vowing to change his ways. During the five years I spent at the company, we grew from eight to two hundred and went public. I continually observed this CEO, wondering if history would repeat itself.

It didn’t. He left work at five p.m. No. Matter. What. He took vacations, two times a year, without fail. He wouldn’t respond to emails on Saturday, but wait until Sunday night at seven p.m. when his boys were in bed. He was ruthless about his protected family time. Yes, the cynical will say: “Well, he already had a few million in the bank and was the CEO, he could afford to do that.” I agree. Yet he still had a choice, as many do, to carve out and maintain a semblance of balance, and it was his actions that gave the rest of us permission to have a life. We could leave at six or seven and the world wasn’t going to shut down, neither was the company. We didn’t have to be on email at eleven at night to impress the boss, because the boss was with his family.

Although I was a senior manager at the time, I felt compelled to work late and come in on the weekends. One morning, I’d arrived at 6 a.m. and he appeared, asking me why I was in the office. I responded it was to deal with the east coast press, who were up and alive at nine a.m.

“My boss told me something I never forgot,” he said, one hand on my cubicle wall. “Things are never as good or as bad as they seem. Remember that. It puts everything in perspective.”

It took another decade to really embed that philosophy in my DNA, but it’s a phrase I often repeat to Rog, my close circle and myself. It keeps the highs and lows in check, our emotions and efforts a bit more stable.



“Things are never as good or bad as they seem

Modesty doesn’t equal a lack of means

I still think and apply the two other phrases quite frequently. When a person complains or a tasks isn’t being done at the office, I ask who is busiest? The owner/manager invariably responds in an instant. “Give it to that person!” I suggest, telling them the mantra. When a person wants to get ahead, I offer up mantra number two; “Work eight hours at the existing job and another two at the job you want.” That works like a charm. And for the life/balance situations, which happen on a weekly (daily?) basis, we have mantra number three, perfect for not just times of staying at home during a pandemic, but at all times, because as Jeff said: “Things are never as good or bad as it seems.” Endurable words of wisdom for all of us to remember.