In January I recieved a message enquiring as to if I would like to interview Gene Marks. Gene Marks….Gene Marks…hmmmm, it wasn’t a name I was familiar with, so I typed it into the trusty Google and the search engine exploded with results. I quickly replied to the message with a resounding ‘YESSSSS’ and frantically started researching.
regular blog slots in the New York Times, Forbes and The Huffington post, and has appeared on the TV and on the radio. His Quicker! Better! Wiser! events see him publically speaking to hundreds of companies on how they can embrace changes in politics and the economy.
When I started chatting with Gene, I found that despite all the media hype (and controversy), he’s a real down-to-earth guy; extremely chatty, friendly and a huge fan of Ireland. As we began our little interview, I also found that Gene is not your usual big business owner – he’s outspoken in the face of controversy, fails to comment on blogs and talks about underage smoking in his youth (and Jessica Alba’s finances)…..and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
So Gene, thanks so much for taking the time out, of what I’m sure must be an extremely hectic schedule to talk to me and all the Bloggertone fans today. It truely is a real pleasure.
You are a guy with a great many strings to your bow; there’s books, there’s speaker events, there’s radio and TV show features, and then there’s the Quicker ! Better! Wiser ! seminars. Tell me about these seminars – how you select your material, the atmosphere, etc ?
The actual seminars themselves….I get paid to speak, at least if it’s out of the local area and Philadelphia. It’s funny when you’re in your local area, people don’t appreciate that you need to get paid to speak, that you wanna speak for free, but I go out and about on the road, I get invited by associations and conferences and organisations, primarily for small business owners. Not very sexy at all, like…..last week I was in Orlando speaking to the Florida Association of Pest Control Companies.
I’ve spoken to the Composite Can Institute, the Association of Irrigated Corrugated Container Manufacturers. But you know what, this is what it is. We all can’t be in San Francisco and New York discovering the next new tech company. Small businesses are exactly what makes up those associations. So, I get invited to speak to those people.
When I speak to them the main themes are trends affecting business owners and it’s a constantly changing presentation, so I look at stuff that’s going on in the economy and the political environment, what’s going on with technology and I say ‘look, there are certain things that are going on now that that you need to pay attention to and think about, because they may affect you in the next few years.
Do the attendees get involved?
No. It’s not interactive at all. It’s just me yapping away. Usually if I ask questions, people will respond back, but when you’re speaking to a few hundred people, it’s kinda tough to get a back and forth.
And do you travel internationally? Can we hope to catch a seminar in Ireland any time soon?
No, not at all. We’ve been focusing on just speaking and working with business owners in the US, although the stuff I talk about would apply throughout and I’m still trying to get myself the opportunity to go to the UK so that I can stay with my Father-in-law for free! Both my presentations and writings have been pretty US-centric for right now, but I plan on changing and conquering the world some time soon, and Ireland’s on the list.
I’ve been reading your blog posts and profiles and they’re actually quite funny. In one you describe yourself as a short, balding and mediocre certified public accountant.
Yeah, I mean, believe it or not I’m not actually trying to be funny, I’m just kinda being myself. I’m sitting down right now, but I’m five foot six, I’m short, you can see that I am bald (haha), as accountant goes, I stopped practising even thought I’m still a CPA (Chartered Accountant), ermm, but for me if it was close enough, it was good enough. And that’s not really a good way to be if you’re an Accountant. So I’ve given up Accounting entirely. So that’s just all the truth.
How important do you feel the role of humour is in your posts?
When I write, my angle is – I like to write about how things affect me and my small business. It’s a very selfish approach. So when I talk or write about things, I really don’t care if it affects you or not. If it affects me then it’s of interest to me. But I’ll speak about it and I’ll write about it, in the hopes that if it’s affecting me in my ten-person company, it’s also gonna affect a lot of business owners aswell. So, having said that, as a person running a company for ten years – I make mistakes all the time, I watch the Kardashians, I’m a big fan of The Housewives of Beverly Hills – so there’s certain things that are just a part of my life that I like to include when I write.
But to answer your question directly – yeah, humour is good.
Talking of controversial posts – I especially love the post you wrote about Microsoft titled ‘Here’s Why I’m Grateful Microsoft Doesn’t Build Airplanes‘ which discussed the poor quality and amount of bugs in their software. It was outspoken and honest – do you write these posts as a form of media advocacy?
Are you hoping software companies will hang their heads in shame and try and improve after reading your controversial posts?
I mean I’ve written controversial posts – the most controversial post I wrote was back in December which was called ‘If I were a poor black kid’ which got like a million views around the world and created a LOT of fury. The Microsoft post is the same.
Your post titles are fantastic. To quote a few ‘Now I know why my kids are so dumb‘, ‘Why Most Women Will Never Become CEO‘ and ‘Steve Jobs Was A Jerk. Good For Him.’ Does this strategy work well for writing posts? Using personal stories and controversial titles? Or is there another reason behind them?
I wrote a post ‘Why I don’t think most women will become CEOs’. I wrote a post that was titled ‘Steve Jobs was a jerk. Good for him’. I try to be sure whatever I write is factually-based. It’s my opinion. The Steve Jobs post – I called him a jerk based on stuff that I’ve read about him and this was only a few days after he died. But the point of the blog was, he was a brilliant guy; he was an incredible guy, and yes, he was a jerk. And I got news for you – for him to do what he had to do, he had to be a jerk sometimes.
But sometimes people can’t get past the headline and they just get very angry about some of the stuff that I write. I write stuff like the Microsoft one to get people’s attention. I do think that I have something to say that’s of relevance and I want people to pay attention. I coach a Baseball team – a bunch of 6th, 7th and 8th graders. 99% of them are black and most of them are poor. And I had some thoughts on what I would do if I was speaking to a bunch of poor black kids in West Philidelphia. How to try and pull yourself out of this deep hole that you’re unfortunately in. If it causes conversation, then that’s a good thing.
Do you comment?
Sometimes I’ll write something for Forbes and it will generate a lot of comments and the Editors will come back to me and say we need you to go back and respond to some of these comments. When they first did that I was like dude, I’m like running a company all day. I get up early and write and then I go and I do my business. I don’t really have enough time to respond to people’s comments. What I wrote is what I wrote. Comment away and discuss.
Ok, I want to talk a little about your books.’In God We Trust, Everyone Else We Pay Cash‘. Again, fantastic title. Now I haven’t had the pleasure of reading the whole book, but the first section had me glued. You told the story of Mike and Sam selling you cigarettes and porn. Need I say more?!
The title itself is actually taken from Jean Shepard. He used to be Broadcaster in the New York area in the 50s and the 60s, and he came up with that phrase. I was always a big fan of his.
Mike and Sam – true story. Sam was our Drugstore guy and he used to sell me, as a twelve year old – cigarettes and porn, that I would buy with my friends. He’d just write it down as magazines and candy on the bill. My parents were oblivious to it at the time. That was a point about location, location, location, and how important that is for a small business.
You use names a lot ‘Mike, John, Jason and even Jessica Alba’ in your book and most of their stories are a bit ugly (Mike selling cigarettes to you under-age at the time, Jason hiring cheap labour) – Is there a reason? What’s your angle?
The Jessica Alba’s story a great example that I wrote – Jessica Alba…well she’s Jessica Alba right. And I remember I was reading on the internet – it was right after or around the recession. She was having trouble getting financing for one of her films. My angle was ‘O my god the recession must be unbelievably bad if Jessica Alba is having trouble getting financing for her films’. As it turned out, I went on to discuss getting financing and how good business owners get financing.
I used Paris Hilton aswell – have you ever seen Paris Hilton’s My BFF. The worst show ever. It was a bunch of people that wanted to be Paris Hilton’s BFF and the whole show was them having to do competitions. Terrible show. Man, if Paris Hilton can get financing for a show like this, there must be some hope in the economy for small businesses that are actually producing something of quality.
I told a story about Facebook in Forbes. A community called Jim Gaffigan, this Amercan Comedian. He’s been very successful on Facebook as a Comedian who runs a small business. I wrote about how, for a guy like that, yeah Facebook would be a good thing, whereas a guy in the composite can and tube industry – I’m not sure how many of his customers are on Facebook.
And lastly Gene, what new ventures are on the horizon?
Yeah, I’m actually at the very, very early stage – it’s not been approved. I’m working with an Editor, an entrepreneur. I’m putting together a book on start ups and I’m looking to find three start up companies in the US. Very early stage in their infancy – less than six months, and I wanna follow them for a year. Get to know them. Go and visit them a few times and talk on the phone – and tell their story.
In the business world, should you adopt a similar approach to Gene – don’t respond to comments, let them comment and discuss? Does personal story telling work for you in your blog posts? Are you a small business owner/start up – in the first six months of your business and would like to chat with Gene about being in his book?