10 Lessons For Fargo Leaders

Written by: Jennifer Gades

Forbes Publisher, Rich Karlgaard, lends Fargo business leaders 10 lessons he’s learned along the way.

Last month, the FMWF Chamber of Commerce hosted the 2019 Annual Economic Outlook Forum at the Delta by Marriott, here in Fargo. Rich Karlgaard, keynote speaker and publisher of Forbes, sat down with me and talked about his journey, the local economy, future outlook and the advice for local business owners.

About Karlgaard
Karlgaard grew up in Bismarck and would have never pictured himself where he is today. After all, he says, he had no concept of business at all. “I didn’t know anybody in business except here or there, maybe a parent of a friend. I didn’t really become aware of business until my 20s or late 20s. And then it became really interesting to me because I have always been interested in sports and I saw so many similarities between sports and business. The competitive nature of it, how you position yourself differently in the marketplace, how you go to market, the strategy, all of that,” Karlgaard explained.

Lesson #1 Don’t be afraid to stand out
Three years into their new business magazine, Karlgaard and his partner were receiving calls that no other publications were getting. Companies were offering four hours with high pro le names such as Bill Gates if they could avoid being targeted in the magazine’s illustrations and unbiased stories when all the other publications were running flattering profiles. “I realized it was a really good lesson that you don’t get people’s attention by sucking up to them. You get people’s attention by standing up to them as a peer. And writing the story that needs to be told, whether that’s good or bad. That proved to be correct.”

This attention led to a life-changing call. Microsoft’s public relations department called and offered them two back- to-back two-hour interviews on successive days with Gates. This got the attention of Steve Forbes who flew out to Silicone Valley with the intention of purchasing the magazine. Instead, they hired Karlgaard to join their team at Forbes.

Lesson #2: Skip the ladder and create a demand for yourself
Being able to join the team at Forbes instead of selling the publication to them propelled Karlgaard’s career forward quickly as he was reporting directly to Steve Forbes. “If you want to, if you can pull it off, rather than working up a career ladder, it’s much better to create a company that somebody has to buy, feels that they have to buy or have to hire you because you could become a competitive threat.”

Fargo Rich Karlgard
Karlgard with Fargo INC! Associate Publisher Jennifer Gades

Lesson #3: Know your market and keep your integrity
North Dakota is based off of strong, small business owners. Things are simply different on Main Street than they are on Wall Street. “When you are community-based like Fargo- Moorhead, you can’t run fast and loose with your reputation or you will lose it all. You are here. You are rooted here. People will find out. You don’t honor your warranties at a car dealership
or you don’t honor an insurance contract somebody thought they had or you provide a crappy retail experience, that will come back and bite you.”

One of the challenges that faces Main Street small-town business today is the battle against the cyber economy. Karlgaard talked about this at the Economic Outlook Forum. The physical economy, our local businesses, have a hard time getting capital for expansion due to regulations whereas the cyber economy has virtually no problems. The digital space has been largely untouched by regulation, which has created a mismatch and a challenging outlook for the physical economy. Although there are talks of antitrust regulations and breaking up companies such as Amazon, we can’t rely on things changing.

Lesson #4: Don’t wait for the change
“You can’t sit around and wait. If that’s your great hope, that may happen in a year, it may happen in five years, it may not happen at all. Meanwhile, you have a business to run.” Take advantage of the differences you hold here in small-town America. The retail experience in Fargo- Moorhead, Karlgaard explained, and like-sized cities like Sioux Falls and Billings is more of a social experience. We tend to run into people we know at the mall or local shops whereas traffic and commutes in larger cities prevent citizens of larger cities from indulging in the social aspect of shopping in a physical space.

The social aspect of our local retail economy isn’t the only thing we have going for us. “Fargo is in a great position. It’s historical and is at such a geographical advantage being at the cornerstone of I-29 and I-94 and an agricultural hub. But really it’s the science and the talent coming out of the universities here that give Fargo a credible edge,” he applauded.

Lesson #5: Follow your mission, not your passion
Karlgaard warns people against the commonly heard “Follow Your Dreams” mentality. “Be careful when people say to follow your passion. Just because you are passionate about coffee or music, doesn’t mean you should open a co ee shop or start a rock band.”

He urges us to follow our missions instead of our passions. “Rather than pushing yourself, respond to when you feel like you’re being pulled to something. Because when you’re being pulled to something, generally you’re being pulled in the direction of your God-given gifts combined with the sense of mission that you will sacrifice for. That is what you will work hard for.”

Lesson #6: Make the Big Quit
From a young age, we are told not to quit and that quitters never win. Karlgaard references entrepreneurial greats such as Richard Branson who have quit more businesses than they have stuck to. Redefine your view of the word quit.

“Don’t be afraid to quit. You, of course, have to make a distinction between quitting at the first sign of adversity or becoming a habitual quitter. But don’t be afraid to make the big quit. Every entrepreneur is a pretty good quitter. They have a lot of grit and perseverance but they know when to fold them too. There is always an optimal use of your time, treasure and talent and I think the job of any business person or of any entrepreneur is figuring out where I am going to get the optimal return for my time, my treasure and my talent and the collective talent of my organization. And it could be over here rather than over there.”

Making a big quit, as he references, can take a lot of guts. But you don’t have to have confidence to be successful. Just don’t fake it. Just as in sports, golfers who are con dent tend to do worse than those who are more prepared for the match, the same is true in business.

Lesson #7: Don’t fake confidence
“The problem with faking confidence or thinking I am going to act con dent and all that is that the minute adversity comes. It just destroys the myth of your confidence and then you’re left in a worse place. What people really need to do is learn how to proceed despite not having confidence, which can be done. It’s figuring out where you can get the win, even if it’s
a small win and beginning to develop the sense that you can get things done, no matter how you feel.” Self-doubt, he explains, is simply information that you may need more information or you may be misunderstanding the facts. Simply use the information that self-doubt has revealed to you and move on.

Lesson #8: Find your other half
This doesn’t mean that you need to get married and fall in love to be successful. No, Karlgaard is referring to finding someone who complements and challenges you in business. He credits much of his success to having a business partner who was nearly his opposite. “You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. In fact, if you’re a good entrepreneur and a good manager, you shouldn’t be the smartest person in the room. You should surround yourself by the smartest people in the room. And people who are differently gifted. People who bring a different point of view to a problem so you can debate it out.” He says that having people who think differently allows you to look at customer service and business opportunities in a different light and remain customer focused. This deeper thinking requires a “whole brain” team approach.

Lesson #9: Find your model
“You just sit and kind of deconstruct, well what did they do to scale? And you look at it.” He points to Doug Burgum and Scheel as being great models to watch. Also, find your values and your goals and stick to them. “I think that zone that you talk about going from startup to 50 people is really critical. It is really critical because if you have nay-sayers, sabotagers or people like that at that level, it’s over. You may be around as a company but you have blown your opportunity.”

Lesson #10: Be the model
As a leader and CEO of your company, you can’t afford to not follow your own requests. “I think the worst thing you can do for your culture is for a CEO or a founder to be hypocritical about it. To say we are going to stand for this, but I’m not going to stand for it. All you pee-ons must operate like this. People will see through that. Hypocrisy at the management level is an absolute killer.”

Late Bloomers Rich Karlgard
Karlgaard’s “Late Bloomers” book is available for pre-sale on Amazon.com and will be on stands April 16.

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Jennifer is a University of Minnesota journalism graduate. She has worked in publishing industry as well as in sales and management for over 10 years. Jennifer is currently the Associate Publisher of Fargo Inc!.