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Archive for October 21st, 2008

Aristotle Onassis, One of the World’s Richest Men

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

How He Recreated Himself

Makes a Great Success Study

 Aristotle Onassis was one of the most successful, publicized and examined people in the world during the middle of the 20th century. Today, years after his death, he is principally remembered as an ultra-rich shipping magnate, touring the world on his magnificent yacht and for his romance with the diva soprano Maria Callas and marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy. Before he attained business and social heights, however, he was a very rough, uncultured, non-work of art. His effort to change a dim future is worth a look: and is instructional as a teaching aid that anyone can utilize in pursuit of success.

Onassis was born in Turkey of Greek parents. At the end of World War l he, along with millions of others, was forced into refugee status and arrived in Argentina as a penniless immigrant. His Spanish was minimal, his education limited and his skills on offer were not highly prized. Nevertheless, he examined his circumstance realistically and with deep analysis. He recognized that out of post-war chaos would come opportunity for the agile and creative entrepreneur. Being broke was just an obstacle, not a closed door to Onassis.

As Onassis learned the ways of Argentine society and business he noticed that there were specific clubs, restaurants, hotels and theatres that were almost exclusively frequented by the successful business and political class. Always a keen observer of human nature, he realized that contacts and friendships of value to an ambitious fellow like himself could only be nurtured in this rarified realm. Onassis was determined to find a way in.

He worked mundane jobs, including a stint as a telephone operator. However, he was different from co-workers and other immigrants. He immersed himself in all things Argentine and he saved every cent he earned that was not needed for basic sustenance. Most importantly, he recognized the old saying; “the rich are different from you and me” was so true. He needed to emulate the rich in order to become rich. He never looked at successful people as the enemy. He had aspirations, not jealousy in his heart.

Onassis became addicted to quality in all areas of life. While still poor, he saved every peso until he could afford a Saville Row hand cut suit. He only had one suit, but it was elegant. He also observed that the rich seemed to appear healthier, happier. They seemed to sport suntan skin as a badge of their fortunate lifestyle. Onassis developed a lifetime addiction to pursuit of the perfect suntan. His tan was internationally famous long before the actor George Hamilton gained similar fame. To this day, a suntan is an emblem of the good life for the successful class.

A Saville Row suit, quality personal furnishings and a suntan that reeked of idle leisure and success were only a start. Onassis was still a rough cob. Nevertheless, he believed in his ultimate destiny. He would have a drink every night at the bar of the Intercontinental Hotel in Buenos Aires, the cities finest. Only one drink, because that was all he could afford. He still worked as a telephone operator, but he kept his parallel lives as a blue-collar worker and social status seeker firmly differentiated.

His nightly visits to the Intercontinental Hotel bar gradually lead to his building a network of business and social contacts. The famous Argentine soprano Claudia Musa frequently visited the hotel. She was an adored opera star and a cultured beauty. Onassis was basically nobody and a poseur. And yet, he pursued the beautiful singer, and with his usual tenacity he won her heart. This drive to win would be displayed in every area of his long and exciting life.

Onassis recognized that Argentine women preferred a type of sweet Turkish tobacco that was not widely available in South America. Utilizing his newly found relationships; he brokered an import deal for an inventory of the tobacco. He assembled the capital necessary to organize a small factory and began to market several brands of Turkish cigarettes. This small, but successful deal was the basis for his later international business prominence.

Onassis recognized that World War II was imminent. The movement of war materiel was going to become crucial to the Allies winning the war. Shipping would be highly profitable, if he could find an inventory of ships to purchase. With customary elan, he found a small fleet of sturdy but well used freighters on the St. Lawrence Waterway and arranged a tight line of credit to purchase the motley flotilla. He was on his way to becoming the most famous shipping magnate in history.

Entrepreneurs, in order to succeed, often must change elements of their personal lifestyle. We have all heard the old adage, “success breeds success”. No one practiced this truism more fully and instructively than Aristotle Onassis. He bought one high quality suit. He squired beautiful women. He went to the finest clubs, even though he could not afford much more than one drink. He used his new environment, new contacts and network to benefit his single-minded pursuit of success. Why did Willy Sutton rob banks: because that was where the money was! Onassis also made the elemental decision to hang out where the money was.

I work with entrepreneurs from all walks of life: no two are alike. One of the most difficult aspects of the entrepreneurial process that must be overcome is the need to adjust lifestyle. Sacrifice today will pay dividends tomorrow. Venture capital usually will not be found in a pool hall. The necessity to improve one’s self-presentation and to network continually is paramount. You must be constantly closing the sale, improving your skills and totally focus on achieving your goal.

Aristotle Onassis worked blue-collar jobs, spoke Spanish as a third language, was a displaced immigrant on a strange continent and had zero personal assets. Nevertheless, he organized a personal plan to overcome his obstacles and lead a life of legendary accomplishment.

I spend a great deal of time in my marketing and funding consulting work coaching inventors and entrepreneurs to overcome self-imposed hurdles. Some easily recognize the need to change habits and to utilize pieces of the Onassis template. They often have the ability to succeed. Many more unfortunately, decide that they know best, markets will adapt to their wants and a shortcut to success can be taken. They always fail. This is an absolute observation.

Contact me to discuss this article, other topics related to entrepreneurial pursuits or a specific project. Geoff Ficke, 859-567-1609,

Occam’s Razor Offers a 700 Year Old Rule of Great Import to Modern Inventors

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

KISS Is Just A New Turn

On An Ancient Theorem

Most of us are familiar with the colloquial term “keep it simple stupid” or KISS. The phrase, often used derisively to pan a complex over-analysis of a problem, is part of the current idiom. The assumption that simplicity is the preferred route to successfully discovering the answer to a particularly complex problem is actually grounded on a 700-year old philosophical theorem: Occam’s Razor.

William of Occam was a 14th century Franciscan friar from England. His postulation, after intense study of the complex questions pertaining to religion, philosophy and science, was that the route to answering difficult problems lay in shaving away the complicated, dense alternative propositions and staying with the simplest, most obvious answer. The simplest choice amongst a menu of options was usually the best route to understanding and deciding a proper course to take in addressing a problem.

Occam’s Razor, or as we moderns say, “keep it simple stupid” is a rule that has proven timeless in the pursuit of answers to the great open questions of commerce, science and philosophy.

The great American designer, Raymond Loewe, was once asked: what was the perfect shape for design enhancement? Mr. Loewe, the designer of the Wurlitzer juke box, the Studebaker Avanti and dozens of other trend making consumer products thought for a moment and answered, “the egg”. He noted, “the egg is round, oval, oblong, is spherically variable from one end to the other, remarkably strong and yet fragile”. The simple shape of the egg had been invaluable to his creativity when addressing novel design ideas.

Note the lines in the world’s most classic automobiles. The 1963 Jaguar XKE is the only automobile included in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Collectors still marvel at the stunning profile of this car, the beauty of the low slung coach, and the simple, almost minimalist lines of its bonnet. Bugatti, Packard, Rolls Royce and Cord are just a few examples of rolling works of art that utilized an understated, simple but elegant approach to presenting timeless beauty in the form of the automobile.

The world is so full of simple solutions to problems that had been previously thought of as difficult that we now take them for granted. The zipper is an excellent example. The ability to quickly dress and undress, construct garments with utility and thrift and style cloth fabrics into more functional clothing designs was impeded for most of history by the question of closures. Bits of leather, strings, crude buttons, stays and various other primitive devices were used to close a jacket coat or pantaloons. Various closures were invented over the centuries, but the perfection and invention of the simple zipper revolutionized the art, and commerce of clothing production.

The Post-It Note, the paper clip, the staple gun, the Bic pen, fire, the wheel, nylon, champagne, chocolate, the printing press and myriad other inventions that seem so simple and logical today were conceived by “keeping it simple stupid”. Many a millionaire is rich not because of a new algorithm, or advanced spectrometer design, but because they have found a way to improve everyday life.

Occram’s Razor does apply equally to advanced scientific and industrial problems. It is utilized, usually unknowingly, to this day in the high tech world. However, for inventors and entrepreneurs seeking to market their idea, the simple assumption contained in this 700-year old postulation provides invaluable guidance. The answer you seek is probably near, almost certainly contained in your life’s experience.

My consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, reviewed over 600 products, services and inventions last year. I remain amazed at the creativity extant today. Very few of the 600 will succeed commercially. Many variables effect potential product success in the market place. Nevertheless, fully a third of these reviews contained exciting creative and marketable elements. Invariably these strong candidates for market acceptance included the tenets of Occam’s Razor. They provided simple, needed features and/or benefits that address needs.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss the article or a project of interest to you. I am a serial-entrepreneur and love to share creative juices with like- minded inventors. Geoff Ficke, 859-567-1609, , .

The Sad Case of Humans Not Learning The Lessons of History

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

For the past several years I have been amazed at the continual bombardment of radio, television and print advertisements offering people the supposed opportunity to work, profit, succeed and be independent with little pain or effort required. Every night there are numerous 30 minute long form infomercials touting real estate, multi-level marketing, foreclosure, stock trading schemes, warehouse purchasing, and more, all aimed at inducing the viewer to take part, make an investment, buy a course and sit back as success falls into their laps. I wish that it could be so!

Obviously these shameless pitches are working. Commercial time and print advertising are very expensive, even at 3:00 in the morning on the Home and Garden Channel. Gullible people have always found the con irresistible, and con artists are only too happy to grease the inevitable human hope that riches can be easily attained.

The Italian immigrant Charles Ponzi created the scam for which his name is so nefariously linked: the Ponzi Scheme. Mr. Ponzi was not the first, just the first to be caught and publicized, as a seller of goods he did not own. The first purchasers of these products seem to realize an excellent return on their investment. The Ponzists’s then proceed to tout this return to many other investors creating a feeding frenzy, greed being the principal motivator, with the last sets of participants owning deeds, warrants or contracts worth nothing. Money gone, hope shattered, trust gone, the losers in these schemes would seem to be a cautionary trial horse for everyone seeking to become involved in the chimera of something great to be gained for very little risk. Nevertheless, human nature being what it is, many of us will suspend our disbelief and good judgement and join the frenzy.

The Dutch experienced an infamous spin of the Ponzi Scheme in the 1700’s: The Tulip Craze. A tulip mania was created by promoters that lured thousands of unsuspecting of Dutch families into converting their savings and land into tulip farms. The theory was that worldwide demand for tulips was so great and commercial farming capacity so limited, that planting the crop would yield huge profits. Bulb stocks became hot commodity investment vehicles. As prices soared the mania quickened. Alas, the reality was that hugely inflated, mature tulip crops had no greater market outlets than in prior years. The winners were the fad promoters. Well, at least the tulip is a beautiful flower, and Holland must have been very fragrant and colorful during the craze.

A more contemporary example of a whole society losing their minds over what now seems to be lunacy was the 1980’s craze over Cleopatra’s Secret. A South African promoter created the myth that a milk culture was the miracle ingredient in a skin cream called Cleopatra’s Secret. The cream was supposedly uniquely formulated with a key ingredient derived from aging milk cultures in petree dishes placed in strategically determined climactic conditions. This was the reputed secret of the legendary Egyptian queen’s beauty.

During periods of the 1980’s virtually every house in South Africa seemed to have milk cultures sitting in sunny windows, smelling up the dwelling. The South African Stock Exchange had a booming listing for the company that was purportedly selling the milk culture kits that were ultimately to be harvested: on a regular basis to produce the miracle cream.

Oops, a funny thing happened on the way to thousands of housewives cashing in on the Cleo mania: the promoter shut down, there was no after-market for milk culture. Unfortunately for South Africa, the country was not as fragrant or lovely as Holland awash in tulips. Milk cultures stink!

Today the scam artists pitches are smoother, more believable and so tantalizing to so many people hoping to take a shortcut to comfort, profit and freedom from boring toil. The opportunity to work from home, at your pace and leisure and profit based on your needs is intoxicating to millions. No money down, just follow the time-tested template lesson plan, we have eliminated all of the pitfalls from the fool proof program, and so many similar spiels are targeted to make the consumer feel almost foolish if they are not participating in the game.

I have a rhetorical question we should consider when presented these get rich quick pitches: “If this is so profitable, why aren’t you (the marketer) spending 100% of your time capitalizing on this gold mine formula, rather than selling a video course, or a how-to book for a few dollars”? “Would you altruistically share a multi-million dollar secret with strangers when there are piles of money left to be made”? We all know the answer?

There is no get rich quick scheme that I have ever discovered, and believe me I have looked. Unless there is illegality involved, you will have to settle for getting rich slow. The prudent investor, inventor and businessperson will always win out over the reckless dreamer.

My firm views hundreds of new product submissions each year. Many have real commercial merit and potential. Most do not. The products that have real success opportunities offer user benefits of real value. A product that helps improve an experience or need always can find a home. The key point to consider when pursuing an economic opportunity is the markets need for that particular product, service or invention. If that niche need can be identified and filled, then chances increase exponentially for a successful placement.

Millions of people cultivating tulips, or tending smelly milk cultures, seeking foreclosure opportunities, or chasing the latest get rich fad will always lead to disappointment. Even worse than the money lost investing in these scams is the loss of trust.

The next time you are exposed to an advertisement promising to change your life, add to your income, enable you to buy a McMansion or a helicopter, and obtain riches painlessly, be very cynical, very careful. There are no shortcuts to success. If there were, we would all be very rich and probably have our own infomercials.

The author, Geoff Ficke is an international marketing consultant and small business expert. A frequent radio and television guest, Mr. Ficke is also a university lecturer, mentor and coach. He can be reached at gficke@msn.com – 859 567 1609.

Why First World Entrepreneurs Are the Third Worlds Best Friend

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

Many years ago I watched a television news interviewer allow Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, the de-facto dictator of Ghana at that time, to rant about the absolute rape of his tiny, poverty stricken west African nation, by multi-national companies like Nestle. Ghana’s major export product was the cocoa bean. Nestle, Hershey and other major chocolate purveyors were Ghana’s major customers for the cocoa bean. Rawling’s gripe: commodity prices were unfair to Ghanian growers based on the high retail prices enjoyed by the manufacturers as reflected in their finished products.

A bit of perspective is important as regards cocoa beans, and, indeed, all commodities. The cocoa bean, as grown and harvested, is inedible. It is tough, dry, bitter and rock hard. Native Ghanian’s historically had no use for the beans and considered them a nuisance.

That is, until the 19th century when Europeans perfected the process of converting the cocoa bean into refined lusciously tasty, highly desired chocolate food products. For centuries, chocolate was a dilettante’s delight, the food of royalty. Chocolate was rare, expensive and difficult to distill. Nestle, Cadbury and Hershey were among the many businesses that perfected the mass manufacturing processes essential to bringing the delights of chocolate to the masses, and as a result, created the market for the formerly unwanted Ghanian cocoa beans.

The pricing of the raw cocoa beans that Flight Lt. Rawlings was so agitated about are controlled by market forces. A socialist dictator, of course, does not understand market forces. Supply and demand, drought, market conditions and competitive forces determine what any commodity is worth on any given day. Without an industrial process capable of converting a commodity into a finished product, a system to distribute that finished product and an organized marketplace for the sale and consumption of finished goods, there would be virtually zero value in most of the world’s raw materials.

For centuries the Middle East camel caravans and traders were confronted with a constant nuisance: trade routes were often submerged in a bog of oil seeping uncontrolled from beneath the earth. The resulting need to chart and create new routes was time consuming and expensive. Oil was considered the “devils drink”. Camels could not drink oil. The Bedouin could not sleep or wear the oil.

The dawn of industrialization, mechanization, steam engines, the internal combustion engine and mobile transit created a need for significant stocks of oil. Initially, oil was plentiful and affordable in the United States. Petroleum engineers, anticipating the coming worldwide demand for petroleum distillate products, visited the Middle East in the 1920’s. The first oil concessions were negotiated with the House of Saud, and thus began the rise of omnipotent Middle East oil principalities. This is but another example of an unwanted, valueless commodity suddenly gaining remarkable currency as a result of industrial, really entrepreneurial success.

Bauxite, plutonium, titanium, cobalt, magnesium, and dozens more raw materials and minerals are of immense value in our contemporary world because, and solely because, modern economies have created products and industries that have need of these elements. The final products we see on our store shelves, personally consume or utilize to perform our work usually consist of a perfected blending of the world’s commodities that alone, have little use or value.

Have peoples and countries been exploited of their indigenous raw materials? Absolutely, and forever and a day this has occurred. Long before the industrial revolution people were robbed, enslaved and exploited by stronger groups in order to exploit water, salt, cattle or some perceived benefit that was not readily available to them. The modern industrial craving for raw materials to propel industrialization has been a real fact.

My point and perspective is to simply state the obvious: raw materials often have no intrinsic value as stand alone products or consumables. Without a marketplace that creates demand and valuations for minerals as product components, native peoples would enjoy even lower standards of living than Jerry Rawlings and so many current third world leaders, continually complain about.

The discussion of the appropriate use of mineral revenues by third world countries is for another article and another day. Suffice it to say that rarely does a specific nations mineral wealth benefit the native population. Vast amounts of revenues that could be applied to indigenous poverty, lack of education and economic development seems to wind up in off-shore accounts, yachts and Parisian shopping sprees.

The third world peasant unknowingly has a great benefactor in every entrepreneur. Because so much of the second and third world lacks basic property rights and rule of law, there is a resulting lack of entrepreneurial activity in these poor countries. Patent protection, intellectual property rights and transparent legal systems are essential for entrepreneurial endeavor to thrive.

Innovation that utilizes the raw materials so prevalent in many poor countries is the engine that can, and should be instrumental in eliminating poverty and ignorance. Demagogue’s ranting about the abuses of capitalism inevitably are key to keeping their populations poor. The entrepreneur, with a better mousetrap and a plan to market the device, is far more beneficial to the peasant living in darkness than the charismatic blowhard with a bushel full of rhetorical claptrap and a Swiss bank account.

Since the dawn of capitalism and the industrial revolution, entrepreneurs have created products, services and whole industries that have improved the human condition. The poorest amongst us, living in the most remote third world villages, have enjoyed at least some indirect benefits of this flood of inventiveness. The real shame is that demagogues, charlatans and political poseurs keep so many people in the dark and removed from the full benefits of participating in capitalist, profit seeking, entrepreneurial enterprise.

Inventions such as polio vaccine, the telephone, the laser, freeze-drying and flight are of amazing benefit to the poor. The capacity of the inter-net and electronic media to enlighten, and thus embolden formerly untouched villagers with hope, education, and ambition to improve their lot is on display in many areas of the third world. This march will not be stopped. Once people are exposed to modern comforts, opportunities and methods to peacefully improve their lot, well, as the old saying goes: “It is hard to keep them down on the farm”.

The drive to be entrepreneurial is deeply imbedded in human nature. The opportunity to use natural resources productively and profitably is just as possible in the third world as anywhere else, if transparent legal systems are in place. Creating jobs, profits and new products is what successful entrepreneurs do best. It is unfortunate that third world poverty is wrongly blamed on productive uses of indigenous resources that would be of no value to anyone if left in the ground. The real misfortune for the worlds forgotten poor is their exclusion from full economic participation in so many economies based on the willful, spiteful complicity of their leaders.

As a counselor and consultant to many entrepreneurs I am always amazed at the spirit and drive they exhibit. As I have become an inter-net user over the years, I am really encouraged by the contacts I receive on a daily basis from prospective entrepreneurs living in countries and continents that are not normally associated with creativity and free markets. In most situations, these hopeful entrepreneurs will not have the ability to commercialize their ideas. However, the mere fact that they have ideas, ambition and courage, despite the circumstance of their geography should be of great solace to all of us. A better world can happen and freedom, personal and commercial, will be the first rail of such a world.

The genius of capitalist markets is reflected in the sweep of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand”. As entrepreneurs have pursued opportunities to commercialize their ideas they have unwittingly created sub-markets for commodities that were once considered useless. The cocoa bean, without the modern creation of a manufacturing system, distribution channel and consumer desire for refined chocolate products, is only one obvious example of markets turning something of no value into a marketable commodity with real value.

An Exclusivity Strategy Can Be Crucial To Successful Brand Marketing

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

Many of the inventors and entrepreneurs we deal with in our consumer product marketing business approach us with dreams of selling product to the masses. This can be lucrative and a proper launch strategy in cases where all of the stars in the galaxy line up properly. How often does that happen?

Mass marketing success is contingent on economies of scale, production advantages and large budgets for penetrating a clamorous commercial environment. Large, established companies, think Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Rubbermaid, have all of the tools needed to launch products into this maelstrom. Most small entities and individuals do not.

Our preferred strategy is often to create a branding strategy based on exclusivity. When a product is sold in a limited distribution basis, available in select stores, and usually at a higher price than similar products, consumers tend to attach a higher perceived value to these items.

There are numerous examples of exclusivity that can be used as a template when considering the proper strategy to utilize for a new consumer product launch. Retailers that sell high-end limited distribution products are very profitable and enjoy exceedingly high profiles. Bloomingdales, Tourneau, Neiman Marcus, Harvery Nichols, Harrod’s, and Ralph Lauren are just a few of the stores that appeal to the “carriage trade”. These stores seek goods of high quality, that can be priced at a premium, and that are not available from competitive outlets. This creates a loyal customer for the types of merchandise that can only be found in these doors.

Automobiles, jewelry, ready-to-wear, cosmetics, watches and home décor are only a few product categories where exclusivity is validated as a marketing and branding strategy.

Ferrarri, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Jaguar are world famous automobiles franchises. Ferrarri has created a worldwide thirst for these sleek, super fast, super priced sports cars with the “Prancing Horse” on the hood. There are only a handful of authorized Ferrarri dealers in the United States. Production is kept very small and all cars are typically sold two years before they are produced. This insures that value for used vehicles remains very high. Indeed, many old Ferrarri’s appreciate in value, something that can be said of very automobile brands.

Rolex, Baume Mercier, Audemars Piguet, Chopard and Patek Phillippe are a smattering of the very expensive watch brands that are considered to be prized for their exclusivity, beauty, artisan craftsmanship and perceived value. They are sold in very few retail stores. The very fact that they are hard to find, expensive to buy and limited production makes each of these watches highly desirable.

Cosmetics houses at the highest end of the market differentiate themselves by limiting distribution to a select few stores in any given trading area. Clarins, La Prarie, Guerlain, Crème de la Mer, and Estee Lauder are very choosy about where their products are placed. This insures that consumers recognize that by their very lack of availability these products are special, and therefore, justify higher retail price points.

We look at hundreds of new products each year. A select few offer that unique blend of novel consumer features and performance benefits that insure success. A strategy we often use to launch such products is built on exclusivity, at least initially. It is very easy to “knock yourself off” and replicate high-end success with less expensive mass-market versions of your product. If you do not secure this space, competitors certainly will.

Alfred Sloan, the business and organizational genius that created General Motors in the 1920’s, crafted the multi-price point strategy of offering something for everyone. Cadillac was exclusively for the rich. Buick and Oldsmobile were positioned for the middle class, older customers, seeking unobtrusive styling and soft rides. Pontiac was sportier and Chevrolet was the mass market, entry level brand. Sloan recognized that today’s Chevy driver, as they prospered and aged, would move up the GM food chain.

Charles Revson adapted this multi-level channel distribution strategy with Revlon cosmetics. Etherea was his very exclusive carriage trade brand. Ultima II was for fine department stores. For broader distribution in general department stores and boutiques Revson sold his Revlon brand. These Revlon corporate lines were each differentiated by price point, packaging, product claims and performance. He offered something for every range of consumer.

There are a number of advantages to an exclusivity strategy. Typically initial inventory build out is mitigated, freeing up capital for sales promotion. Limited distribution means that the entrepreneur can be more attentive to each individual door carrying their items. Fewer doors can mean that product features and benefits can be demonstrated to individual consumers. This creates word of mouth and referrals. It minimizes the need for expensive media advertising. In-store merchandising is more manageable when distribution is limited. The opportunity to grow organically, the turtle approach; often enables the new company to establish a much more stable foundation from which to expand.

A type of exclusivity strategy can be constructed for products in virtually any category. From liquor, to beer, to hardware, to foodstuff, to lingerie, to pet products, the list goes on endlessly, there are opportunities to successfully commercialize ideas and make them successful using limited distribution techniques. This tried and true methodology is under-utilized, but often the best way to penetrate a very tough marketplace.