Shut Up and Listen by Tilman Fertitta

If you haven’t heard of Tilman Fertitta before…well, it was always only a matter of time. If you work in the business sphere, you probably know him as the owner of Landry’s Inc. If you’re a popular culture buff, you might have seen him on CNBC on Billion Dollar Buyer. If you prefer sports and fitness, you might know him as the owner of the Houston Rockets and as chairman of the Board of Regents at the University of Houston. He’s the 153rd richest person in America.

This bookOpens in a new tab., then, is his contribution to the crowded market of business advice books, but there’s plenty here to make it stand out and to make it a must-read in a field of must-reads. And as you can probably tell from the title, Fertitta takes no prisoners. His no-BS approach is a breath of fresh air and a genuine delight to read, especially if you’re like us and you’ve read dozens if not hundreds of business-related non-fiction books.

Fertitta definitely knows what he’s talking about, and indeed the list of people who’ve endorsed his book reads like a Who’s Who of the 21st century. For example, NFL superstar Tom Brady says that businessmen who are hoping to learn from it will end up reading it again and again – and having read it ourselves, we agree!

And so without any further ado, let’s jump on in and see what Fertitta has to share with us. It’s time to shut up and listen.

Shut Up and Listen! – Hard Business Truths That Will Help You Succeed

“I think I have an idea why you’re reading this book,” explains Jim Gray, Emmy Award-winning sports journalist, in the foreword. “Over the course of more than four decades, I’ve spent my career covering the greatest athletes and winners the world has ever seen, interviewing legends Muhammad Ali, Tom Brady, Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps. The dedication, devotion, hard work, integrity, intellect, imagination, commitment to excellence and heart have made them global icons. The same principles apply in business.”

Fertitta says that people are constantly asking him what he fears and that his answer is that he fears nothing but worries about everything. There are five things that he worries about in particular, and so the book is dedicated to those five key areas. Each section provides specific strategies and ideas to help your business to break through to the next level. Let’s jump into that first section.

#1: Hospitality: “If they want scrambled eggs…”

Fertitta explains that every successful business is built around hospitality in some way or another, and that the main problem is that many businesses fail to see that. “To me,” he writes, “the definition of hospitality is simple. It’s however you handle a customer. Nothing more, nothing less – how you treat him or her, how you respond to what he or she asks for, and your ability (and willingness) to stay flexible. The ultimate goal of interacting with a customer is to make him or her feel like the only customer you have in the entire world. Why? Because as I tell my own employees, there are no spare customers.”

He says that it’s a good idea to block a few hours out in your schedule each day to cover the what-ifs. That way, if you say you’re going to deliver something, you can damn well make sure you deliver it.

Fertitta also explains that in business, we tend to say no too much. “Why is it so easy to say no when you can say yes?” he asks. “I really can’t say why this sort of thing happens. A casual attitude toward work maybe, or a sense that customers tolerate more these days. But there’s an easy solution to all this: take the word no out of your damn vocabulary.”

#2: You’d Better Know Your Numbers

Fertitta believes that your ability to monitor and understand your numbers is one of the overriding factors which determines whether any given business is able to ride to the next level. “The numbers drive everything that happens in your business,” he says. “And if you don’t know your numbers, you’re likely headed for trouble. Just as important, a failure to know your numbers can needlessly handicap your business’s growth. Without sufficient cash on hand, you may find yourself passing up opportunities that you might have otherwise pursued.”

Fertitta says that working capital is everything, and indeed of all of the different numbers that you’ll be working with, it’s arguably the most important. He says that this is particularly relevant for small businesses which are looking to scale. “Many entrepreneurs have a dangerously simple idea of how business works,” he explains. “To them, it’s very straightforward – you sell something to someone else, and you get paid. End of story. Except that’s not even close to how things work.”

He does everything he can to stress the point, explaining, “Nothing bothers me more than an entrepreneur who doesn’t know his or her numbers. It bothers me a hell of a lot. Know your numbers. Numbers don’t lie.”

And what does he mean by “numbers”? “I mean everything to do with your business,”  Fertitta writes. “Cost of supplies. Cost of production. Labour costs. Costs of sales. Margins. I won’t bother going into any explanation regarding them. You should know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you don’t, you’d better find out.”

#3: The 95:5 Rule: What’s Your Five?

According to Fertitta, a key part of business is knowing the right formulae to use. He swears by something called the 95:5 rule. “Most moderately successful businesses are good at about 95% of what they do,” he says. “It’s the remaining 5% that can determine whether the business excels or not. That 5% isn’t just important – it’s absolutely essential.”

And so the subsequent chapters focus on finding your five and learning to improve it. He provides a few examples of when that 5% going wrong can make all the difference:

– A server brings a drink without a napkin

– A four-person table has one chair that doesn’t match the other three

– A perfectly prepared meal is served on the wrong type of plate

– Overhead fans turn at different rates of speed

– Trash and cigarette butts litter the parking lot

The good news is that if you get it right, there are also plenty of benefits to be had from focusing on the 5%, including:

– It can mean knowing the names of repeat customers

– It can mean knowing where a particular customer prefers to sit

– It can mean knowing whether certain customers appreciate frequent check-ins while they’re eating or prefer to be left alone

– It can mean escorting a customer to the restroom if he or she doesn’t know where it is

As for how to actually achieve all this, Fertitta says that it comes down to two key elements: knowing and leveraging your strengths and then finding people to help out with your weaknesses. That’s largely what the 95:5 rule comes down to: doing more of what you’re good at and less of what you’re bad at. Simple!

#4 See the Opportunity, Seize the Opportunity

Every entrepreneur is, at their heart, an opportunist, and Fertitta says that he means that in the best sense of the world. They’re able to focus on something different to what everyone else is doing and to see the opportunities where nobody else is even looking. To help his readers to do this, Fertitta dedicates a couple of chapters here to the topic of opportunism.

“When things are bad,” he explains, “we often tend to forget that they’re going to be good again. Further, when things are good, we forget that they’re going to be bad again. You need to prepare for both types of situations, because they’re both headed your way, sooner or later.” In other words, there are opportunities to be found even in the direst of situations, and it’s the job of entrepreneurs to be able to spot them.

There’s a certain skill to spotting opportunities and knowing when to act on them. Fertitta explains that we need to learn to be patient (“not the easiest thing for many aggressive entrepreneurs to do”), and there’s a lot of sense to that. Impatience can lead to you abandon a project early or to make decisions that you wouldn’t normally make.

A lot has been said on the “what ifs” when it comes to today’s behemoths. What if Alta Vista had bought Google or if Blockbuster had bought Netflix? They might have been good decisions for Alta Vista and Blockbuster, but Google and Netflix would have been guilty of severe impatience and of failing to seize the opportunity they had to its fullest.

#5: Live Your Leadership

“Every leader looks good when times re good,” Fertitta says. “It’s when things are bad that you really see great leadership. Leadership isn’t something you impose on other people. People want to be led, and more specifically they want to be led by great leaders.”

This final section of the book is dedicated to Fertitta’s musings on the art of leadershipOpens in a new tab., a topic that’s been covered to a great extent in other books by other authors but which he brings a fresh perspective to in Shut Up and Listen. Fertitta is an unorthodox leader, but that’s okay. The same principles hold true no matter what kind of leader you are.

According to Fertitta, the most important element of leadership is the ability to listen. He says that we were all born with two ears and one mouth for a good reason, and that the very best leaders carve out time in their busy schedules to listen to partners, employees, advisors and customers. “A chat in the trenches can tell you a lot,” he explains. “You’ll probably hear a fair amount of BS, but even if you get just one piece of useful information, you’ll be a better leader. And the more you do it, the better you become at separating the useful from the useless.”

Your next role, on top of being a good listener, is to be a good teacher, too. Fertitta says, “[The best way to do this is] to teach your people to act how you would act in a particular situation. If it works for you, don’t be shy about sharing it with others. Show them the value of making quick decisions as well. This comes back to knowing your business inside and out, from the numbers behind your business to your overall understanding of how things work and why.”

And that brings us on to the denouement, which is all about change and the way that we need to accept and embrace change. He points out that many of his fellow entrepreneurs are frightened or intimidated by change. But change is an inevitable constant of doing business, and it’s only by change that we can grow.

“Change gives every one of us the opportunity to improve,” he explains, “to reinvent ourselves and to correct past mistakes. Think back to the prior chapter that discussed the importance of being a great teacher. The reason it’s vital to be teaching all the time is that you want the people around you to change and grow. You want them to improve, to get better at their jobs, and to think faster and more creatively on their feet.”

Now that you know just a few of the lessons that are on offer to you if you pick up this book, it’s over to you so that you can grab a copy of your own from AmazonOpens in a new tab.. The good news is that it’s a gift that keeps on giving, and while we’ve tried to include as much as we can in this roundup, there’s no way that we could hope to include everything.

Still, there should be plenty for you to be getting started with, and you can skip the book entirely if you need to and to just focus on the lessons that we shared today. Consider going back through this with a pen and paper to take notes on what you plan to put into practice at your business. Oh – and happy reading!

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