Lawrence Creaghan


Aldo Papone elevated American Express advertising to world-class levels in the late 1980s. In 1994, Ogilvy & Mather honoured Papone with an award named for its founder – the first time it had ever been awarded to a client. In a letter to Papone, David Ogilvy wrote: “Dear Aldo…I hope you will understand the significance of this…I have never seen a client contribute so much to our work.” A popular speaker on marketing and leadership, Papone followed his first book, The Power of the Obvious: Notes from 50 Years in Corporate America (2005) with The Power of Reinvention: Leading with Courage and Conviction in Turbulent Times in 2012.
From THE POWER OF THE OBVIOUS (Chapter 2) by Aldo Papone

The meaning of winning is more sophisticated than it seems. When business leaders say “win,” it’s much more than a simple exhortation to work harder or better. People in good companies don’t really need to hear this because in good companies everyone works hard and everyone works well.

Winning requires a more objective measure and it comes from focusing passionately on competing in the external world, in the marketplace. Your business wins only when you win and keep customers. And to keep winning, businesses have to try to win every day, with every transaction, every encounter and on every level.

One of the things you see from the top floor is that most companies are under relentless assault by challengers who want more than some friendly competition. These challengers want to destroy their competitors’ businesses by taking their customers and their jobs. All of them. There’s no middle ground. In this environment, a company can win and increase its momentum upward. Or it can lose and start the slide downward. There are only two directions: Up and down.

Something else you see from the top floor: There is sometimes a tendency to confuse winning with being the best. It’s one of those obvious but elusive realities you can lose sight of in the heat of daily battle but quickly realize when you have a moment to think about it. Being the best doesn’t guarantee winning.

During the 2002 World Cup, I read a wonderful quotation from Antonio Oliveira, who was then coach of the Portuguese team. His team was being praised as the best in the world. His players were hearing this talk and starting to get the idea that, because they were the best, winning the Cup would come easily. The coach knew this was wrong. Finally he told the team, “Look, we must stop being the best and come in first instead.”

Despite Oliveira’s appeals, Portugal made a dismal showing in the World Cup and – to no one’s surprise – he lost his job shortly thereafter.

As I write these words in November 2004, South African golfer Retief Goosen has just come back from four shots behind Tiger Woods to win The Tour Championship. Woods may be the best in the world, but Goosen was the winner.

Often the winners are the ones who scramble the hardest and fight for every point, whether they’re the best or not. The actual margin of their victory might be very small, but the difference between winning and losing is like night and day. The losers go home, while the winners step into the spotlight and collect a very large prize.

I think the analogy between sports and business competition is instructive. You may be the best – but you won’t win unless you compete harder and better than your rivals.

The desire to win involves drives and emotions that are not always pretty or polite and thus, socially, we tend to cover them up. The desire to win can also be dangerously intoxicating – like playing with fire – and so we must keep it within an ethical framework.

Jeff Rodek, Chairman of Hyperion, on whose Board of Directors I serve, correctly captured the relationship between winning and ethics when he said, “How you win matters a lot. I want people around me who share my desire to win, who hurt when we lose. But I also want people around me who are ethically strong and can help us win the right way.”

A company well known for its desire to win is Intel. Andrew S. Grove, the former Chairman and CEO of Intel, described the company’s business philosophy in his 1996 book, Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company.

The suggestion of Grove’s title is that sportsmanlike competitiveness will not generate the heat and energy you need to survive in the face of ferocious competition. To find this energy, you’ve got to get into emotions to a degree that approaches a mental disorder like paranoia. To the ultimate competitor, the need to win is as desperate as the need to survive, while losing seems like death itself.

Winning can be complicated but there is also a brutally simple side to winning. Napoleon was once asked which armies were the best. He replied, “Those which are victorious.”

What more is there to say? We may talk about dozens of metrics but at the end of the day it’s obvious: Win or go home.