Sunday, January 18, 2009

What are the characteristics of a successful leader?

What are the characteristics of a successful leader?

On January 2nd, Luis Fortuno became Puerto Rico’s new governor. It is no secret that he will be facing challenges that no other governor in history has ever faced. He will definitely be put to a tough test, very early on if I may say, and we will see if he can rise up to meet it.

I will never forget Abraham’s Lincoln quote, one of the best presidents the United States ever had, “Any man can withstand adversity, but if you want to test that man’s character, give him power”

I planned to cover his inauguration but my flight got delayed a few hours and I missed it. I have however, thought about this subject for quite a while, I have thought about what leadership characteristics should a leader of a country, company or organization have in order to be successful at his job.

Well, there are actually many but space limits me to cover only the most important ones, in fact, we could say, the ones that are essential for a leader to have.

I must start with leadership and vision. The person that occupies the most important job in a company or country must have vision and be a leader or he or she will certainly fail. He must be able to analyze the urgent and important problems the country faces, (they are not the same) and he must know what available resources there are or what resources he can get. He then must have a keen eye to pick the best people for the job and be able to persuade them to take the job. The way things stand today, not every capable person wants to jump into the fire and accept the available positions.

A good leader needs capable managers, honest public servants that can defeat the great enemies of every administration, bureaucracy and corruption. Bureaucracy helps no one except the bureaucrats, delays everything and demotivates everyone. To attack this problem, a leader must get the right people on the bus, get out the wrong people off the bus, sit the right people in the right seats and then decide where they need to go.

In every study about leadership and management, there is one quality that is always ranked in the first three places: Honesty. A leader must reject corruption, it doesn’t matter where it comes from and not only that, and he must make sure that it is forcefully prosecuted whether the people are in his political party or not. Corruption is equivalent to cancer and if it is caught early on, the probabilities of saving the patient are greater.

Another important characteristic is integrity. A leader is consistent in what he believes, what he says and what he does. In other words, he behaves in private the same way he demands others behave in public. I was watching the other day a couple of interviews of some of the leaders down south and it was pathetic how they lie to everyone. That is why they must retain power by force and they don’t like elections.

Another quality I would like to mention, not always associated with leadership but in my opinion, it should, is humility.
A leader that can say “I don’t know” when truthfully he doesn’t know, or that can say “I made a mistake” when a mistake is made is a good, honest leader.
This type of leader usually recognizes the talent of his friends, collaborators and even his political adversaries and takes with a grain of salt the compliments he gets from the manipulators that surround him. This is difficult for a leader to do since we all like people that compliment us. It takes a special person for someone with power to behave like this.
Benjamin Franklin the famous American patriot, whose picture we can see in the one hundred dollar bills, in his memoirs confessed that humility was the most difficult virtue to practice. In fact, when he wrote down the list of virtues he thought he needed to be a man of good, he left out humility, only to add it later on when his personal advisor recommended it.

Another characteristic not mentioned when discussing leadership and yet is the big rock in Buddhism, is compassion. I define compassion as feeling the suffering of others. Today, more than ever, the leader must feel compassion.
We must accept that there is poverty in Puerto Rico and many people are having a tough time. There is a big difference in our society between the haves and the haves not.
This applies to the whole world, of course, in fact, out of 6 billion citizens of the world, 3 billion live with less than 2 dollars per day. This is unacceptable and the developed world must take action before things get much worse.
There are entrepreneurs in this world, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett that have given over 30 billion dollars to help fix this problem, but it is not nearly enough.
In Puerto Rico, we need more charity and compassion towards the needy and we must make sure that new industry and new jobs are attracted to our island. This is one of Governor Fortuno’s biggest challenges.
I only have space to mention two more: You need to be a good communicator and you must be able to work with a team.
An effective leader must be able to connect, transmit information persuasively and rationally to all segments of society. This leader must be effective in communicating what he is doing, why is he doing it and what consequences or results can be expected.
To be able to work as a team is essential for a leader to be able to govern effectively. A leader must understand that people must follow him because if they don’t, he is not a leader. He must know that the work of a leader is not to micromanage a bunch of bureaucrats but to inspire his team, communicate clearly the expectations, assign responsibilities and then get out of the way so that the team can do the work. This doesn’t mean that he will disconnect from the team, absolutely not, all members of the team must assume their responsibility and report periodically on their progress.
I firmly believe that a good leader can transform a country, provide the conditions for society to progress and to raise the standard of living for all. That is Governor Fortuno’s challenge, and we should all hope that he will be able to do it, for our own sake.

2009: Danger or Opportunity

2009: Danger or Opportunity?

I must confess that for me, 2008 went very fast. Almost like a blink of an eye. I bet that is true for you too. Well, the older you are, the faster it goes. I certainly don’t consider myself old but I must admit that every year the previous year goes faster.
A friend of mine showed me something he created on a piece of paper. It was actually a napkin and it had a bunch of squares. He said each square represented one year in a person’s life. There were 76 squares drawn on that piece of paper because 76 years is the lifetime of a person living in the United States as well as in Puerto Rico, I think.
The squares with an “x” in them represented the years he had already lived. The squares without an “x” represented the years he had remaining if he lived the average lifetime.
What that piece of paper did for him, he said, was give him a graphic and somewhat depressing view of the exact spot he is in life.
Don’t despair my dear reader. Lots of people make it to their eighties, nineties and even hundreds. I heard an statistic that there are over 200,000 people over a hundred years old in the world. Maybe even more. There are also 89 people over 110 en the world, 79 women and 10 men. You can see who has the advantage. A dear friend and fellow Rotarian, Chuck Hitt is still playing tennis and he is in his late eighties. He is to me, an inspiration and I am honored with his friendship and the opportunity to play with him sometimes. Yes, if we really think about it, being old has a lot to do with your own mind-your attitude-your paradigm-your interpretation of reality.
In 1980 I attended the New York Marathon and there was a runner with a number pasted on his back. So, I correctly assumed he was going to run the marathon. He certainly did run it and finished it too. There were 14,000 runners and he came in around 4,900. So he in effect beat over 9,000 runners many in their twenties, thirties, forties and so on. He was 83. The fellow who came in 11th was 47 years old.
Yet on the other side of the coin, we should always remember that the future is promised to no one.
We live in strange times. Life gets more perilous every day. The crime rate in PR is the highest it has been in the last 30 years.
What to do? Well, I know of one thing that we shouldn’t do. We can’t give the whole responsibility to the police department or the government. We have to take action as citizens and assume responsibility because we are members of society.
Yes, I have thought about this and I do have many ideas to impact crime in society. I know many of you do also. But that is not the theme of this article.
The point of this article is that nobody really knows how many years they have left. The truth is none of us have very long from the day we are born. Life is short at best and it can end for any of us in a New York second. So, I have a very important question for you:
How many more X’s are you going to accumulate in your life until you decide to start pursuing your dreams? Your dreams are definitely different than mine and they are different than your friends or loved ones. But even though our dreams may be different, there is one element universally common to everybody’s dreams and that one element is:
The search for happiness.
So, what makes you happy. What makes you really, really, happy?
Now go to your planner or agenda and open it up. (If you don’t have one, minus 10 points) Look at activities you have planned for today, for tomorrow, for next week, even for next month. Are those activities going to lead you to achieve that which makes you happy?
You might say, “Well, no, in reality the activities I have planned are not leading me to that which I want in life, but SOMEDAY I will reach my goals.”
Do you know what “SOMEDAY” really means? It means NEVER. That is right. It means it will never happen.
It took me years to write my first book, How to Survive Among Piranhas. I kept putting it off because some day I was going to do it. It wasn’t until I really decided to get it done that I planned it on my daily planner. I made it a weekly obligation, day by day.
One day, after a speech I did, when I went to my car I found my car vandalized and my planner gone. It was quite a shock. That was December 12, 1998. I offered a $500.00 reward to anyone that would return my planner. It had really no value for anyone with the exception of some pictures I had with Los Angeles Lakers players and other athletes and personalities. It had lots of value to me because two years of writing my book were in that planner and I had no duplicates.
I stopped writing and said to myself that SOMEDAY I would write the book again. Well, two years later I hadn’t even started to write the book again. Remember, SOMEDAY means NEVER.
I started writing again when I met a Japanese teenager who had no feet and no hands and he had already written a book and graduated from college. I felt like a mouse. That jolted me out of my lethargy and I wrote the book. It was published in 2003, finally I then wrote Don’t Eat the Marshmallow Yet which became an international best seller with sales of over 2 million copies and just recently Don’t Gobble the Marshmallow Ever. Let’s see how that one does in 2009.
So, the real lesson.
For you to get anything you want in life, you must make a commitment. You must decide to do it. You must plan for it, decide on how you are going to get it and if you are willing to pay the price in sweat, in blood or in tears. Then you have to put your plan into action. In other words, DO IT. Last but not least, you have to persist until you get it. As Winston Churchill once said: Never, never, never, never give up.

Change and the year 2008

Change and the year 2008

My last column of 2008 must be dedicated to Change. This is probably the year that has seen the most change in history, or at least in recent history.

A few years ago I had a very interesting conversation with a futurologist (people that study the future, not charlatans that say they can predict it) in a San Antonio convention and he said to me that knowledge was doubling every three years more or less. If that is true, then by the end of this year, the world would know twice what it knew since we had the conversation. He also said that within 5 years, knowledge was going to double every eleven hours. Did you get that? Knowledge doubling by the end of the day and doubling again the following morning. I can’t even grasp that concept. I can’t conceive that happening. What if he is wrong and knowledge will never double so fast. What if it doubles every 11 days or every 11 months? Even so, it is really mind boggling.
What are we to do?
To begin with, we must understand that even though there is tremendous change, some things don’t change much. The Sacred Heart church in Santurce where I graduated from High School is still there even though the school without the nuns has changed quite a bit. Central High school, close by, is still there although Gonzalez Padin, right across, is not. I wonder if bus 8A still goes from the old Ferreteria Merino in Todd Street to the Borinquen Towers where I used to live.
We still have the beautiful beaches, the San Juan Hotel, the Intercontinental which used to be called the Americana Hotel, the Caribe Hilton, still the same name although it has been remodeled and the La Concha Hotel, rebuilt 100%, although Las Nereidas right in front of it is history. I get nostalgic writing about this stuff.
Anyway, 2008 was a very difficult year for most and lots of people really want it to go away the sooner the better.
Not everything was bad, fortunately, there were some important medical breakthroughs and those are always good.
For the first time, man made neurons were created from ALS patients’ stem cells
A study confirmed that reducing inflammation is just as important as reducing cholesterol when it comes to the treatment of heart disease.
California surgeons removed a woman’s appendix via her vagina, making only a few internal incisions. Scar less surgery we may call it.
A commercially available test makes it possible for all of us to map our entire genome so that we can find out some potentially useful stuff or simply interesting secrets we may know nothing about. It can be done for less than four hundred bucks.
Four genes may help explain why nerve cells die in Alzheimer’s, a brain degenerative disorder.
We have now a five in one vaccine. Kids are going to love this! Pentacel combines five shots in one and it cuts recommended injections by 30%.
There is now a way to predict which women will respond to Herceptin a cancer drug that has worked for some women but not for others.
There is now an alternative test to detect Down syndrome which requires no needles. It is a genetic test which uses a blood sample from the future mother.
Cancer patients that require chemotherapy hate it not only because it has many side effects but because it causes nausea. There is now a patch that calms the stomach for up to five days.
There are many others but let me give you one more: Stem cell Trachea Transplant. Doctors from Spain gave a woman a windpipe made from donor trachea and her own stem cells. This is awesome

In the world of finance, what is happening world wide can be catalogued as a disaster. We are still in the middle of it and even though I always look for positives (there are some) I do believe that it will get worse before it gets better.
Looking at some of the big companies that failed in the US, I came across some of their slogans. For example, Lehman Brothers who had more assets than the Mexican economy had a very interesting slogan: “Where vision gets built”. They obviously had the wrong vision but we never found out until it was too late.
AIG the insurance company’s slogan was”The strength to be there”, and we all know what happened to that strength.
Indy Mac, “you can count on us”. Really?
Morgan Stanley, “world wise”, Security Pacific Bank, “Smarter Money” and T.Rowe Price, “invest with confidence”. You can’t make this stuff up.

And to make matters worst, a guy is caught in a Ponzi scheme swindling fifty billion dollars. As I write this, a French banker in New York has just killed himself and you know what I really can’t understand? The guy is doing house arrest in his multi million dollar apartment in New York. Where is justice?

Well, it isn’t the end of the world and we must face 2009 one way or the other.

I think we have to really be well informed from now on. Read your local newspapers and with the internet, US and foreign newspapers and magazines. Never before in history, human beings have had the ability to connect to a laptop and have all the information in the world in that laptop. If you have no computer, and more than half of Puerto Rico doesn’t own one, go to a library and use theirs. They are free and you pay for them with your taxes.
Slow readers should take a speed reading course. When I was with Xerox Learning Systems, we developed one which could double and triple an employees reading speed in twelve hours of instruction, two hours a day, six days.
Time management is now more important than ever. This is so important that I came out with a DVD entitled “El tiempo y los 40 ladrones”, sorry, I don’t have it in English. You can see some snippets for free in; just type my name in the search box.
Finally, there is quite a lot of pessimism out there in the street. Don’t let it affect you. You must remain positive and instead of worrying for things you have no control of, worry for the things that you can control and how you manage the events in your life is one of the things you can control.
Be creative and innovative, solve problems people have and market the solutions to the potential clients. When you get a client, service them to death; don’t lose clients because you didn’t offer them good service. Things will get tough alright but remember when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.

What are you afraid of?

What are you afraid of?

This past weekend I spoke at a Chamber of /Commerce event in South Florida. I had the honor to share the platform with a good friend and magnificent speaker, Lisa Jimenez. She doesn’t speak Spanish, but she has a Spanish last name since she was married to a Mexican American for a few years. She was already well known in the speaking world, so she decided to keep her last name. Even if she gets married again, the new husband will have to listen to that last name for his whole life. Poor guy if he is jealous.

I don’t know in how many countries the woman surrenders her last name, her father’s, to adopt the new last name of the husband. In the United States is fairly common, and although in PR it is a little bit less common, it still happens often.
To tell you the truth, I find it horrible that a woman will scratch the last name of her father, especially if he has been a good father. Think about it. A man comes into the woman’s life and boom, they get married and the father’s last name disappears. Is that fair?
These last few years, lots of women have kept their own last names or have added the husbands name with a hyphen. This is the case with my daughter, she kept Posada but tacked on Rodriguez with a hyphen. Oh, well, life goes on.

Anyway, speaking about Lisa, she spoke about a very interesting subject: Fear.
She started by telling all participants that we all have an internal battle. Everyone has negative and non productive thoughts that invade the subconscious. She asked the audience to ask themselves some questions: What is my internal battle? What limits me?
Why haven’t I been more successful in spite of all that I have going for me?
These are valid questions that we all have to ask ourselves once in a while so as not to fall in the dreaded comfort zone.
She is of the opinion that there are three main fears that limits us:

Fear of failure
Fear of rejection
Fear of success.

She asked another interesting question: What is your relationship with fear? Do you have an empowered or a destructive relationship?
These are not questions that we ask ourselves often.
Whatever the answer to the question, it has been taught to you. You have learned to have that relationship and what was learned, can be unlearned, so it can be changed if you really want to.
The reality of fear is that it is not going away. It will always be there and it is up to you how you deal with it. You may feel afraid but you can act as if you are not afraid. And by doing that, you slowly but surely will diminish your fear and sometimes make it disappear.
The problem is not being afraid of a problem but allowing fear to paralyze you and prevent you to act and we all know that the key to success is not wishing that you are successful but behaving as if you are and doing what you need to do in order to achieve it.

What do you think about when you think about fear? What comes to your mind when you think about fear? Have no money? Feeling embarrassed? Feeling rejected by those you love? Fear of dying? Fear of getting old? Fear of public speaking?

These are only thoughts and if you have the power to choose your thoughts, you have the power to eliminate them. Remember that the thoughts you choose will determine the results you will have in your life, it is as simple as that.

Failure has to be reframed, looked at differently. You have to think about failure as a step in the ladder to success.
If you know that it will take ten no’s to be able to get a prospect to say yes, then each no, theoretically brings you closer to the final yes. If you focus on the goal and you don’t allow anything to distract you, you will feel closer to success with every failure you have. Failing is a learning experience and it has to be viewed as such and also as temporary. The same with success by the way, it is only temporary.

Fear of success, what an interesting concept. The speaker asked all of us to think about three people that in our minds are successful people.
You can even do this exercise right now. Think about three people you think are successful.
Participants thought about Bill Gates, Jack Welch, Carlos Slim, Warren Buffett and others that coincidentally or not, were very rich people.
Then she asked a very interesting question:
Who thought about yourself as being successful?

Only one person raised her hand. I consider myself fairly successful and I didn’t raise my hand. I did think about my Dad who was a hard working man and very talented but it didn’t even occur to me to think about me.

Success is first created in our own minds so it is important to see yourself as a successful person. In fact, if we really analyze it, we are all already very successful.
During my speech in the afternoon I spoke about Michael Phelps the best athlete in the world and a very successful human being. I then said to the participants that they all started the same way that Michael did, by winning the first race ever. I then showed a spermatozoid beating every single spermatozoid in the race and it had the name Michael Phelps.
Everybody laughed, but it is the truth. Think about it. In all of us, we were the ones that beat the millions of other spermatozoids that were racing towards the egg and we won. We all started with a miraculous win.
Write your goals for 2009 and analyze if your daily behavior is congruent with your goal or objective. If your belief system is not congruent with your goals, your belief system will always win. If you fear that you are not worth it, you don’t deserve it or you will never make it, it doesn’t matter what your goal is, you will not achieve it and many times you will sabotage it, right when you are on the verge of getting what you want. This sounds strange but believe me, it is the truth.
You become what you think about, you get what you believe you should get and your behavior will follow your thoughts. It is as simple as that.
Start retraining your mind by forcing it to eliminate those negative thoughts and substituting them for positive ones.
You practice this often enough and you will see very positive results in a short time.

Fighting, Brains and a legend

Fighting, brains and a legend.

I am in Hawaii, a beautiful island about 5 hours from California by plane. I am here working but I will definitely try to do some rest and relaxation somehow.

On Saturday, one of the most important and successful figures in sports took a beating in the hands of Manny Pacquiao, the Pac Man, from the Philippines.

I have followed Oscar’s boxing career ever since he won the gold medal in the 1992 Olympics held in Barcelona. I will never forget his face when he stood at the podium and the Star Spangled Banner was played. To him, this medal was very special since he dedicated it to his mother who had passed away and was not present to see his son win the medal. In that particular Olympics, he was the only fighter from the US to win a gold medal.

Sixteen years have gone by and this phenomenal athlete has won ten world titles in six different weight divisions. His life has been like a roller coaster, winning most fights, but losing some very important ones, five to be exact and now we add his last loss and it is six.
When he fought Bernard Hopkins, he lost by knockout. He fought Shane Mosley and he lost twice, however, at least in one of those fights, Mosley accepted having taken a steroid, EPO and if that had been known at the time, he would have been disqualified. Said in other words, Mosley cheated and got away with it. They interviewed Oscar and he said to let it go, it was a long time ago and besides, he has a partnership with Mosley now and he doesn’t want to stir things up. Maybe that fight will have an asterisk next to it, just like the baseball players that have records but that took steroids to help them get the records.
He lost with Floyd Mayweather and he wanted to fight him again but Floyd decided to call it quits and Oscar wasn’t able to avenge his loss.
He loses against our own Tito Trinidad even though most people saw him win the fight. It seems that following the strategy dictated by his corner, when he was way ahead in the fight, the last four rounds to be exact, he coasted, in fact, sometimes ran, and Tito was chasing him all over the ring. Even though he really had won the fight, the judges penalized him and awarded the fight to Tito. This could have been a way to send a message to every boxer that even though you are ahead, you can’t run at the end and still win the fight. You have to slug it out until the end or you lose.
Tito Trinidad deserves a lot of credit because he never gave up and chased him all over the ring trying to fight the guy.
This last fight against the Philippine, at 35 years of age, clearly with declining faculties, he steps into the ring with the best fighter, pound for pound, in the whole world.
I told some friends before the fight that watching him being interviewed; I could tell he knew he was going to lose. He just didn’t have the fire in his eyes and he wasn’t aggressive or persuasive enough during the interviews. He knew what was coming, but business is business. There were many millions of dollars involved and to take a beating for eight rounds, it isn’t too bad at all.
This fight was not a balanced fight. Oscar simply was not a match for the speed and stamina of this young fighter. Oscar at 29 might have been a different story, who knows, but not at 35. When his trainer, Nacho Beristain, who has a very similar name to my second last name, Beguiristain, threw the towel right before starting the ninth round, it was over for Oscar de la Hoya, possibly the last fight of his illustrious career.

A legend has come to an end in the world of boxing but the legend continues in the world of business. If he is not already, he will soon become the most financially successful fighter in the history of boxing.

The man is money making machine. He reinvented himself and turned himself into a shrewd, smart businessman. He had good fortune of marrying a beautiful, Puerto Rican actress, Millie Corretger, and they have had a very successful marriage, at least until now.
Last week I visited a beautiful project west of San Juan and I was shown the lots he and his wife bought to build a beautiful house.

His company, Golden Boy Promotions, is now representing a bunch of very promising prospects with the hope that they will become world champions and make a lot of money for themselves and for Oscar.

He established the Oscar de la Hoya Foundation which maintains a high school in Los Angeles, a Children’s Hospital and a Cancer treatment center build in honor of his mother who died of cancer when Oscar was only 16 years old.

By all standards, except for some sports, Oscar is still a young man and he will have the opportunity in the future to be of great help to others in the sports and business world. It is obvious that he has a golden heart and that he will use at least part of his money to help others.

A great writer once said that to be a total man, you had to write a book, plant a tree and have a son. Oscar has kids and he has written a book, I don’t know if he has planted a tree yet.

I haven’t read his book, but I am sure that it has lots of good advice from someone that has been at the highest echelon of a sport and who has lost the position several times. In life, defeat is what really forms our character and depending on how you handle defeat, it will destroy you or make you stronger. In Oscar’s case it has made him stronger and he will certainly retire with a business, lots of money and a plan for the future.

How many boxers, not only here in Puerto Rico, but all over the world, have won championships, made a lot of money, and those still alive are broke, and those that already died, died very poor? There is not enough space in this article to enumerate them all. They ate all their marshmallows and saved none. Very sad indeed

With the World recession we are going through right now, who are the ones in the best position to not weather the storm, but to come out ahead?
The people that have prepared for it and have money saved up, in other words, they are liquid and they don’t owe a lot of money. Cash is king in today’s economic environment.

Bad times and good times are a part of history, it can’t be avoided. Things can’t possibly be always good. What you do have, is the choice of how to face hardship and what to do about it. That my friend is the biggest blessing of all.

When there is a crises: Should you be an optimist or a pessimist

When there is a crisis: Should you be an optimist or a pessimist?

I have just given a speech in the city of Cartagena in one of my favorite countries in Latin America, Colombia.

It’s been a few years that I hadn’t visited that beautiful city, so similar to old San Juan. My client took me on a ride in one of those horse carts where the guide explains the interesting sites throughout the city, while people with guitars approach you and others have dinner in one of their excellent restaurants.

My speech was given to a large travel agency with a presence in over 100 cities and 18 countries in Latin America; I believe they have one agency here in San Juan.

Like every other intelligent company, they are preparing for the year 2009 which looks like it will be a tough year for almost every country in the world.

When you are facing a negative economic outlook, should you be a pessimist or an optimist? This is a very interesting question, and I believe the answer is nor one or the other. The correct answer is: You should be a realist.

A long time ago an officer in the US Navy, if I correctly recall, named Stockwell was shot down in Vietnam and put in jail. Since he had nothing better to do, he decided to study other prisoners to see who survived and who didn’t. He came to the conclusion that the pessimists died because they never saw anything positive in their circumstances and they always thought that the worst was going to happen, so the worst always happened.
The optimists also died because they thought they would be freed next week, or next month, or next year, year after year, until they got discouraged and died. The realists were the ones that understood that they were in a tough situation but never lost their faith in themselves and they just aimed at surviving one more day, one day a time, until they were finally freed.
In this meeting in Cartagena, I had travel agencies from all of Colombia and a couple of other countries, Mexico and Costa Rica. They spoke about the economic situation of the world, and of Colombia specifically. Even though Colombia is one of the countries in better shape in all of Latin America, they are already feeling a downturn in their economy. They also had a financial scandal, related to a pyramid scheme which cost them millions of dollars.
There I was in front of a group of entrepreneurs that insisted in looking at the opportunities that this situation presents instead of crying and blaming everybody else for their problems. They analyzed the situation of the country, looked at the financial indicators and they communicated some of the actions that have to be taken to be able to survive and progress in the future.

Let me tell you, the travel industry is a tough industry, especially for travel agents. They are right in the middle between airlines and clients, and the airlines want to deal with the clients direct and they advertise so as to do so.

The only way that they can get business is if they prove to clients that they add value to the equation. If they simply wait for the phone to ring they are dead in the water. Many, many agencies will go down the tubes because they are not proactive in offering products that people want.

When the airlines stopped paying commissions to travel agents, many of them complained, cried and thought that it would take them out of business. Many had to close their doors. But you know what? Many agencies took it as a challenge and looked at other ways to serve the client and they are now doing better than before. Three of those agencies spoke at the conference and they all told their success story. They said that the airlines taking away the commissions were the best thing that could have happened to them. They were forced to look at other ways to bring in revenue and they found it.

The message is clear. Entrepreneurs that accept change, alter the way they do business, look for opportunities and ways to satisfy what clients need, will be successful. This applies to all of us in the business world.

When times are tough, there will be opportunities for those that innovate, that market intelligently, that take advantage of those that give up or are so negative that they will freeze their advertising or their training.
Blessed are the losers since they will determine who the winners are.

I started my session with a question: Why are you all here?
To learn ways to be more effective? Some raised their hands.
To network with other agents? A few more raised their hands.
To get away from the office and have some fun? Only one raised his hand.
To take a break from a tough boss? No one raised their hand, probably because they were there with their boss.
I then told them that those reasons were ok, but in reality, it wasn’t the real reason they were there. A blank look in their faces! The real reason, you are all here today is TO BETTER SERVE YOUR CLIENTS. That is the real reason why you should do anything in your business. To look for ways to better serve you clients. In tough times, this is more important than ever.
Some other ideas I gave them which could be of value to those of you in business.
Diversify. Don’t place all your eggs in one basket. (This travel Group just bought a hotel in Cartagena)
Be a smart marketer. Take advantage of public relation opportunities and advertising and try to grab market share from companies that are scared and pull back on their marketing efforts.
When you advertise, target a specific niche you can more effectively and more economically reach.
Make effective use of technology in order to reach clients. Look at electronic newsletters, social sites such as face book, LinkedIn, my space, twitter, etc. Have a web 2.0 site, one that is interactive and sells for you. It is amazing how you can get your message out without spending one cent.
Work as a team. Now more than ever, everyone in the company must understand that there is a need to work together, to help each other, to cover everyone’s back. It is tough enough to find clients, in fighting needs to stop.

As Helen Keller, that courageous, wonderful lady once said: Security is superstition. It doesn’t exist in nature. Life is an adventure or it is nothing”
There is a heck of an adventure awaiting us in 2009, be ready for the ride.