Tag Archives: Forbes Magazine

PR Lesson from the Lolo Jones / New York Times Controversy

Did Jere Kill Lolo’s Mojo?

On August 4th, New York Times sportswriter Jére Longman – who has been covering the Olympics under an “Inside the Rings” column – wrote an article on American hurdler Lolo Jones that was considered by many readers to be overly harsh and entirely unnecessary. In his piece, Longman characterized Jones as a self-promoter who is more flash than substance, and he appeared to go out of his way to discredit Jones’ athletic credentials; ignoring her long list of athletic achievements, as well as the fact that Jones had qualified for the Olympics in spite of spinal cord surgery a year ago.

Four days following Longman’s hatchet job, after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the 100-meter hurdles, in a tearful interview on the TODAY Show, Jones expressed her frustration, telling Savannah Guthrie: “They should be supporting our U.S. Olympic athletes and instead they just ripped me to shreds. I just thought that that was crazy because I worked six days a week, every day, for four years for a 12-second race and the fact that they just tore me apart, which is heartbreaking.”

The public appears to agree with Lolo regarding Longman’s attack. In a highly unusual column entitled, “Lolo Jones Article is Too Harsh,” the New York Times public editor Art Brisbane acknowledged the volume of reader pushback the Longman piece has created, and noted that, “In this particular case, I think the writer was particularly harsh, even unnecessarily so.”

Putting aside Longman’s opinion or Jones’ reaction, and discounting speculation that Jones’ spokesperson made a serious tactical error in declining to participate in the story, there is a simple but valuable PR lesson in the New York Times coverage of Lolo Jones, which is:

MEDIA RELATIONS 101

It is not a journalist’s job to make you look good. In fact, journalists are always more likely to make you look bad…because it suits their temperaments, pleases their editors and attracts more attention.

We’ll never know Longman’s motivation for trashing Jones. He might have eaten a bad hot dog that day. He might have placed a small wager against Lolo, and was hoping to kill her mojo. Or perhaps his rant was based on moral grounds, exposing the hypocrisy of self-proclaimed virgins who appear nude in sports magazines.

Several years ago I brought a Forbes magazine reporter to meet with the CEO of a major grocery chain. The interview went very well. Or so I thought…until the story was published, which turned out to be a devastating attack on my client. After being summarily fired by the CEO for arranging the public debacle, I called the reporter to ask why she had written such a damaging piece. Her response was simple: “I didn’t like the way he treated his secretary, and he needed to be taught a lesson.”

The CEO and I learned very different lessons that day. He is unlikely to have changed the way he treated his secretary. But I changed the way I treated journalists.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

5 Secrets to Ray Dalio’s Hedge Fund Success

Hedge Fund Craftsmanship

By most measures, Ray Dalio has achieved great success during his 65 years on earth. Unlike Donald Trump, Dalio didn’t inherit wealth. As a middle-class kid, he delivered newspapers, shoveled snow and was a caddy during the summer. The company Dalio established in his apartment in 1975, Bridgewater Associates, is currently the world’s largest and most successful hedge fund manager, with more than $87 billion in assets under management. Recently, Dalio was ranked by FORBES as the 30th wealthiest person in America, and the 69th wealthiest person on the planet, with a personal net worth of $15.2 billion.

So in a highly competitive landscape populated with nearly 10,000 hedge funds, how has Bridgewater been able to rise to the top of the investment management world and remain there? It’s unlikely that Dalio and his team know more about the markets, across every asset class, than all other hedge fund managers. It’s unlikely that Dalio simply has had a luckier hand in the bets he’s placed over the past 4 decades. And it’s also unlikely that Dalio has sold his soul to the devil.

In fact, Dalio makes no secret about Bridgewater’s success, and it’s articulated in great detail on his firm’s website. Dalio even provides a “Principles” playbook that you can download.

Briefly, here are 5 “secrets” to Dalio’s success:

He’s built a values-based organization – Dalio understands that Bridgewater’s ability to get 1,200 smart people to sing from the same songsheet requires clarity and consistency on what his company stands for, what it’s trying to achieve, and how it intends to get there. His belief system is based on the concept of “radical transparency,” which encourages employees to question everything, to think for themselves and to speak up.

He works ON his business, not AT his business – Dalio understands that intellectual capital, enterprise experience and operational systems & processes must be captured, documented and integrated into the day-to-day decision-making of a firm. Like Ray Kroc, Dalio has invested great thought and effort to create an organization with intrinsic value that does not rely on him, or on any individual, for its continued success. In Bridgewater, he has created the McDonald’s of investment management.

He has no patience for ego or emotion – Dalio understands how personal agendas and corporate politics can destroy any organization. He has been relentless in his efforts to remove ego barriers and emotional reactions in Bridgewater’s decision-making process. Institutional and personal transparency is the cornerstone of Bridgewater’s corporate culture. Some employees who’ve found it difficult to survive under such a high level of scrutiny either drop out or are invited to leave, providing the firm with a very effective natural selection process.

He’s focused on the importance of mistakes – Dalio understands that corporate arrogance is the most significant potential liability for successful companies. Because he believes anyone can be wrong, the Bridgewater culture views mistakes as opportunities to learn, rather than something to be avoided. FBI Director James Comey, who once served as Bridgewater’s general counsel, described the firm’s “obsession over doubt” as an asset that drives constant improvement and reduces the chances of bad decisions being made.

He’s not motivated by money – Dalio has been wealthy for a long time, but being wealthy was never his primary goal. In his own words, “I started Bridgewater from scratch, and now it’s a uniquely successful company and I am on the Forbes 400 list. But these results were never my goals—they were just residual outcomes—so my getting them can’t be indications of my success.  And, quite frankly, I never found them very rewarding. What I wanted was to have an interesting, diverse life filled with lots of learning—and especially meaningful work and meaningful relationships. I feel that I have gotten these in abundance and I am happy.”

The corporate tag line describing Bridgewater Associates is aptly titled “A Different Kind of Company.” And Dalio is a different kind of American businessman. Unlike Apple’s Steve Jobs, who managed by arrogance, fiat and intimidation, Dalio has created a meritocracy that’s based on honesty, clear thinking and humility.

Bridgewater doesn’t produce clever electronic gadgets or software apps designed to entertain us or make our lives easier. Dalio’s greatest achievement is unrelated to the wealth he’s created for himself or for his institutional investor clients. Dalio’s most valuable and enduring accomplishment is based on his role as the architect of an organizational management model that can radically improve the world of work, as well as the lives of people who seek personal meaning through their work.

Unfortunately, most companies – regardless of industry – don’t have the courage or the desire to adopt Dalio’s brutally honest management approach. That’s why Bridgewater is likely to be the most world’s successful hedge fund manager for a very long time.  True hedge fund craftsmanship.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hot Air Balloon Craftsmanship

Denny Fleck -- Hot Air Balloon Craftsman

When he was 21 years-old, Denny Fleck took his first hot air balloon ride. He was hooked for life.

Nearly forty years later, on most days from May to October, Denny can be found piloting one of his hot air balloons; ferrying adventurous passengers on an hour-long airborne trek across Northern New Jersey, complete with dogs barking, friendly locals waving and balloon chase vehicle in pursuit below.

Depending on the wind, Denny will purposely brush tree-tops and occasionally pull off a touch-and-go landing in a harvested corn field. Combined with the ear-piercing blast of flame that seems close enough to melt your scalp, sharing a hot air balloon basket with Denny Fleck is guaranteed to get the adrenalin pumping for most first-time riders.

When asked about his ballooning credentials – often timidly presented by a novice rider immediately following initial contact with a tree-top – Denny might disclose with a smile that he was, among other things, the former head of the Forbes Magazine Balloon Ascension Division. He might even tell you that the late Malcolm S. Forbes’ insurance policy stipulated that Fleck serve as his balloon pilot. This information provides some comfort for most nervous riders.

As the story goes, Denny had been serving as the Forbes Magazine publisher’s chauffer in June 1972 when Malcolm instructed him one morning to change their daily route into Manhattan, and head to a small airport in Princeton, New Jersey. That’s where Denny and his boss took their first balloon ride together.

That was also the start of a high-profile and sometimes reckless series of adventures, combining ballooning with motorcycling, that Malcolm sponsored and hosted for nearly 20 years as a means to promote Forbes Magazine and capitalism around the world. And on many of those trips to exotic locations in Egypt, Thailand, France, China and the Soviet Union, Denny Fleck was at Malcolm’s side…on a bike or in a hot air balloon.

Malcolm S. Forbes died in his sleep of a heart attack in 1990.  But Denny Fleck, his soft-spoken, New Jersey sidekick (who knows more than he’s willing to tell regarding Malcolm’s flamboyant private life) is still flying high, running his Tewksbury Balloon Adventures, located about an hour outside of Manhattan.

If you’d like to rub shoulders in a woven cane basket with this local legend – a true hot air balloon craftsman – give Denny a call at (908) 439-3320. He might even bring along his 24 year-old son Jonathon, who earned his balloon pilot license last year. Here’s a video clip of Jonathon piloting a balloon in New Mexico.

Balloon craftsmanship is in the Fleck blood lines.

Ballooning Over New Jersey

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized