28 Nov Daymond John: How He Became A Leader And Built A Brand From Scratch
I spoke to Daymond John, who is the author of the new book The Power of Broke: How Empty Pockets, a Tight Budget, and a Hunger for Success Can Become Your Greatest Competitive Advantage. In the interview, John talked about the key leadership attributes he needed to build on while growing Fubu from an idea into a business, what his leadership style is, how great obstacles can be competitive advantages, and his best advice for future leaders.
John is the CEO and founder of FUBU, a much-celebrated global lifestyle brand, with over $6 billion in sales. He is also one of the country’s most visible and respected entrepreneurs as one of the stars of ABC series Shark Tank, and the recipient of over 35 awards including the Brandweek Marketer of the Year and Ernst & Young’s New York Entrepreneur of the Year Award. John stands on that same cutting edge as one of corporate America’s leading branding consultants as CEO of the marketing firm Shark Branding. He is also an author of two best-selling books, Display of Power and The Brand Within.
Dan Schawbel: Even though you started with nothing, you had certain key leadership traits that propelled you to the top. Can you explain what abilities you had that enabled you to persevere and eventually lead your company to success?
Daymond John: I assembled a core team of like-minded folks who encouraged me to not give up when things got tough — and I did the same for them. So two key traits that have played a role is the ability to pick good people and deal with failure, set-backs and tough times.
Schawbel: How would you describe your leadership style and what strategies have you used in order to influence others to act on your behalf throughout your career?
John: My leadership style is more about encouraging people than influencing them. I encourage my team to seek and discover new opportunities and then provide them the resources they might need to maximize them. The key ingredient is picking good people to work with and then allowing them to work in areas that they’re genuinely interested in, that makes sense for both of us.
Schawbel: Do you believe that great obstacles can be a source of competitive advantage for business leaders? Why or why not?
John: Obstacles are absolutely a competitive advantage. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. The old saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” applies in all walks of life, especially in business. Obstacles challenge you to be more resourceful, creative and dynamic in your business, which ultimately makes you stronger and more well-rounded. As a business leader, you should want to face as many obstacles as possible while your company is still small so you can learn from them and still survive whether you overcome them or not.
Schawbel: Can you share a story when you were growing FUBU when you had to manage difficult people and explain how you were able to effectively manage them?
John: Like many aspiring entrepreneurs, I was fixated on my early vision of the product, but I had to learn quickly that sometimes being a leader means getting out of your own way.
When building FUBU, the most difficult people I had to manage were the most important — my first strategic partners, my first customers, and as I would soon find out, myself. Sometimes you are the most difficult person you have to manage. Here’s a quick story: When starting out, I begged a rapper from my neighborhood — LL Cool J — to wear my t-shirts, but he was reluctant because he didn’t like my purple logo. It didn’t match his outfits. Coincidently, a big hip hop magazine at the time wanted to feature some of my first pieces in their magazine, but they also told me they didn’t like my purple logo. Well, eventually I stopped being hard-headed, made an all black t-shirt, LL allowed me to take a picture of him in it, the magazine(s) featured it, and the rest it history. Being able to adjust and adapt is key. If I didn’t do so early in my career, you might be asking someone else these questions.
Schawbel: What are your top three pieces of career advice for future leaders?
- People are more important than numbers, invest in people.
- Don’t build an echo chamber — hire smart people and create an environment for them to share their opinions, especially when it’s different than yours.
- Embrace technology.