By Mark Overbye
Contemplating the death of a close friend recently has me wondering whether I’m investing my time properly. Am I exercising my talents in ways that add value, increase joy and elevate my life beyond the generic? This metric could be a good measure of our business success as well.
We all experience selfish businesses more interested in their financial success without considering whether they’re escalating the lives of their customers. The distinguishing factor for businesses with a solid long term survival rate is their customer focus.
In business, as in life, poet Maya Angelou brilliantly sums it up, “…people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Imagine a memorial conducted like a quarterly report. A pastor could start out with, “Although our brother is not with us today, Jim’s current cash balance is X, his receivables are Y and his payables are Z. Over the past 12 months his margin trajectory has been generally positive, being buoyed by market conditions. Supply chain issues and manpower constraints continue to plague Jim, negatively impacting his long term expectations.”
Nope, not exactly what I had in mind either.
A business reputation is nothing more than an amalgamation of opinions widely held. Your business model either grips or gives. It either strives to enrich customers' lives or concentrates on financial calculations that multiply the return.
The joy we cast into the universe is a meaningful metric of success if ambitions are properly in alignment. That means leveraging our talents to the best of our abilities to benefit others.
A musical journey
Take the case of João Carlos Martins. Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1940, he became one of the world’s most acclaimed classical pianists. A celebrated interpreter of Bach, Martins performed for decades as the leading pianist for the Boston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and other fine orchestras in Brazil, Europe and the United States.
Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Harold Schonberg praised Martins saying, “His technique sends fireworks in all directions…He does everything with extraordinary élan.” NPR’s review paints a similar picture, “The pianist has placed such a vivid stamp on the material that it is no longer the composer’s alone…It’s literally breathtaking.” In 1981 he was appointed Brazil’s Secretary of Culture.
But it wasn’t all roses for Martins. The child prodigy suffered from Focal Dystonia, involuntary muscle spasms, which threatened to derail his career at age 18 before it ever started. In his 20s he was already playing Carnegie Hall in New York City. While playing soccer in Central Park to relax, Martins fell, slicing his ulnar nerve permanently injuring his right arm. Then thugs beat him in a robbery attempt in 1995, at age 54, while visiting Bulgaria to record the complete works of Bach. In 2000 his right hand was further debilitated in a botched surgery attempting to restore functionality. Soon after, a tumor was found in his left hand. His playing deteriorated, scorching reviews hammered his confidence and with no emotion left to play, he sold his pianos then returned to Brazil where he became a stockbroker and boxing promoter.
Inspired by a comeback prize fighter, Martins returned to music as a conductor. Although a surgeon in Miami rejuvenated some fine motor functions later in 2000, Martins still struggled with simple ordinary gestures like pouring a cup of coffee. Actually playing music remained elusive.
Brazilian industrial designer Ubiratan Bizarro Costa designs gloves for stroke victims and people suffering from Focal Dystonia featuring a spring system modeled after a Formula One car suspension. The custom gloves are 3D printed with an exoskelton of springs that return a finger to its normal position after a downward pressure is applied. They cost about $300.
After Costa saw Martins play on a Brazilian TV show in 2019 he made a prototype pair of gloves for Martins believing they could help. Costa reached out to Martins who never responded. Later that year while Martins was performing in Costa’s town, their paths crossed. By Christmas 2019, Martins could finger the ivories again for the first time in over 20 years using Costa’s gloves. According to Martins, “It’s a palliative solution that makes small miracles happen,” reviving flawless play for a few minutes at time. Today, Martins is using the seventh version of the gloves, giving him the ability to shine a light on his once brilliant playing capacity.
Continuing to delight audiences and bring joy, concertgoers across the globe have since enjoyed him leading acclaimed performances including those at Carnegie Hall. Further spreading the joy, Martins’ foundation supports two orchestras, the Bachiana Philharmonic Orchestra and the Youth Bachiana Orchestra.
Martins’ story of stellar highs coupled with tragic challenges is a relevant business analogy. Despite dark periods he remained true to his purpose of making people feel good and found rewards in creating a legacy with a global following.
Analyze your business today; do your customers see you gripping or giving?
Mark Overbye is the CEO of Anthem Marine, as well as the chairman of USA Waterski and Wake Sports Foundation. He is also the founder of Montara Boats and Gekko Sports.