Mr. Wonderful on Women Entrepreneurs
21 years ago, Kevin O’Leary, better known today as “Mr. Wonderful” of Shark Tank, contacted me in Minneapolis saying I was to appear in Boston the next morning. I asked my boss if he was serious, and she emphatically replied “Yes.” So I asked our travel agency to make arrangements and found out Boston was completely booked. As we were in pre-Airbnb and online booking era, I simply told them we needed to get creative. They were proud to come back with a solution – a magnificent conference room in downtown Boston that just happened to have a pull out Murphy bed, and I could shower the next morning at a nearby gym before heading to my meeting.
Two years earlier, I had been recruited to MECC (Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation) after cutting my brand chops at General Mills and Clorox. Shortly after their transition from a state run agency to a publicly traded company, I was hired to grow their consumer channel and manage treasured educational software titles including The Oregon Trail. Then, after a very intense and amazing couple of years, Kevin and his co-founders at Softkey International, announced their $1B acquisition of my company, MECC, along with The Learning Company. I felt kinship with Kevin, as his foundational business experience was also in consumer packaged goods brand management.
Our meeting was the shortest I’ve ever traveled to take part. And definitely the only one I had flown in the night before to sleep in a huge conference room. O’Leary and his partner had only one question, “Are you going to stay on post-acquisition? Write down on this napkin the number you need to do so.” A slow learner, I knew this second time to write a number down. 7 years earlier, I had told my boss’s boss, “Thank you so much, but I’m going to Harvard Business School.”
Fast forward nearly two decades, I noticed a familiar looking face on the cover of Inc.Magazine, and realized it was Kevin O’Leary. I read and learned he was now on Shark Tank and known as “Mr. Wonderful.” Again, I was bit of a slow learner. Since I had such fond memories of MECC, my first entrepreneurial tech experience, I decided to watch for the first time and quickly became a Shark Tank fan.
It was a special treat to spend time with Kevin last night as he was in town to keynote a reception for Fifth Third Bank. He shared key learnings from his decade on Shark Tank as well as analysis of his 44 portfolio companies on why almost all of his returns are from companies run or owned by women:
- Women have better time management skills. He cited the saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy mother.” His analytics show that women managers organize their time and those of their people well resulting in superlative outcomes.
- Women achieve their goals more often. Women reach their goals 95% of the time while men achieve only 65%. Women set lower, more achievable goals and therefore meet them more of the time.
- Women maintain cultures that have less employee turnover. People want to be in cultures where goals are met, where they feel like winners. Healthy cultures result in lower employee turnover. Turnover is 30% higher when goals are achieved only 65% of the time.
- Women successfully assimilate feedback. Women are better listeners – to employees, to customers, to shareholders – and pivot, rather than argue, after careful assimilation of what they hear.
In addition to his thoughts on why women provide a better return on his money, O’Leary also shared his philosophy of transfer of wealth to children. Like me, he hates entitled children.
A few years after he bought my company, he and his partners sold their rolled up entity, The Learning Company, to Mattel for $4B, his big liquidity event, allowing him his personal freedom. Even though his children were only 4 and 6, he wisely set up a generation skipping trust. Just like his mother had told him, he told his children, when they were old enough to understand, that the last check they will ever receive will be to pay for their senior year of college.
He believes young people must have drive, fear, and the desire for the pursuit of personal freedom, not money. Another thing Mr. Wonderful and I have in common. I am a fan and my experience with MECC, the start of my entrepreneurial journey, is just one reason why I am calling a chapter of my book “Mr. Wonderful.”
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Elon Commencement: Climbing Mountains of Life: Business and Beyond
My TED Talk: Climbing Mountain Entrepreneurship – 10 Steps to Top