Ever wonder how Southwest Airlines has impeccable customer service? You can bitch about the unassigned seats or the pricing not being “the lowest” or a flight not being on time, but you would be hard pressed to find a large swath of people bitching about the customer service. I, like many people, have a Southwest story which I might share. This post is not about customer service per se; its about the commitment to a corporate culture that benefits the communities you serve.
As I continue to put the pieces of the Blue Diamond puzzle together, one of the things I’m commited to is building a sound corporate culture, upfront, from the start. A lot of companies have mission statements or corporate culture statements and they seek to “promote” it with statements or community engagement or social missions. Ok, yeah, good. Most of these are retrofitted, for whatever reason. You retrofit shit, after you have fucked it up or forgot it or for whatever reason, you didn’t get it right, the first time. For Southwest, the customer service is not “retrofitted.” It’s who they have been since the company was founded in the mid-’70s. When employees join, they already know what to expect. People look to join because of the culture and likewise, people don’t want to leave, because of the culture. There are some benefits that the company enjoys because of its culture. I would consider that positive collateral. You can trace the Southwest culture back to its charismatic founder, Herb Kelleher. He was more than funny as fuck. He was a visionary when it came to customer service and building a corporate culture. Check out book, Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success.
With Blue Diamond, I will build the culture as I have built it at other companies I have founded and in the corporate atmospheres, I’ve tried to impact. There are several things that I want to do, that I am going to do that I will layout in this post. Most of it is easy stuff cause that’s who I am and what I do. Some of the other things I want to do are more directed, more pointed given the markets where we will operate, the business that we will be in, and the business partners that we will have.
Let me talk about the easiest part of the corporate culture that will be present, even before we start. Diversity. To me, it’s stupid that you must make a commitment to diversity. But the world is fucked up and people are fucked up. I have made the statement in the jobs that are currently posted that we won’t discriminate. It’s canned language that you shouldn’t have to make but I did. Every company I have started or bought has had a diverse workforce. Every corporate organization I have worked for, where I had hiring authority or impact on hiring authority, there has been diversity in the workforce. To me, its pretty simple. The only question is do you have the experience, do you meet the requirements, can you do the fucking job and are you gonna be a problem with the rest of the staff? I don’t give a fuck if you’re black, white, purple, green, pinstriped, man, woman, gay, straight, blind, cripple or crazy, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or Buddhist. If you can pass a piss test, you can work for me. Of course, I see you when you walk in the door but at the end of the day, if you successfully meet the job requirements and are competitive with other applicants, you have a shot. I won’t have to adjust or retrofit relative to diversity, because I will do it right the first time. Blue Diamond is an extension of me. We will do it right, the first time. Anybody that can’t get it right won’t work for Blue Diamond.
One of the places I worked had a problem with the lack of diversity in senior leadership. Well, probably more than one but I’m thinking about one, in particular. I challenged my peers and management to improve diversity. In my boss’s, boss’s staff meeting I brought it up, brought the lack of diversity. One lady in the meeting thought it would be a great idea to find one of the lowest level minority workers, train them, and follow them through their growth process until they could be good enough to be a manager and that, would help diversity. I wish I was kidding but I’m not. I didn’t cuss and I’m not gonna say what was in my fucking head. I cuss a lot but what I was thinking is just not appropriate for me to write.
My boss’s boss was irritated as fuck that I was in the meeting in the first place but absolutely annoyed that I was bringing up diversity. This sorry fucker said to me, “why are we talking about diversity?” Because I wanted to try to make a change I didn’t say, “because you’re a racist mutha fucka, bitch.” What I did say was, “we operate in almost every community in the country and in many communities around the world. Our workforce should look like the communities we serve. We can better serve those communities if we have a diverse workforce. Diversity if good for business.” You know that asshole wasn’t going to change. I was surprised he didn’t pull out his robe and hood from behind the door and burn a cross right there in his office.
Diversity won’t be a problem for Blue Diamond.
What else can we do? Initially, we will have 14 stores in roughly 9 different communities. Two of the communities have HBCU’s less than a mile from our stores. Some of the communities are not only underserved, in many respects. Some of our markets don’t have the available services and products that other markets take for granted. Our business goal is to add stores which means we will add additional markets, communities. We can have significant social impacts on all the markets and communities in which we operate. Blue Diamond is committed to making impacts in the markets we serve, even before we start. What does that look like?
First, our employees will look like the communities we serve. That is not the case now. I’m going to close this post with a story that infuriates the fuck outta me but before that, let me talk about some of the specifics that we will do.
We will partner with he HBCUs in our markets to employ, train and educate students on business, entrepreneurship. I think there is a program within the Department of Education and may be some other federal agencies where we can hire students as part of a college work study program. I know that Paul Quinn College in Dallas has a similar relationship with the business community in Dallas. We can replicate that in the markets that we serve. We won’t retrofit it; we can establish the relationship going in the door.
The cool thing is that we will have partnerships with not only some of the largest companies in the country but the largest companies in the world. Looks like our initial major oil company relationship will be with Chevron. We can’t demand that Chevron and others participate with us in impacting the communities we serve and particularly the HBCU’s but we will ask and press. They say they have commitments to the markets they serve and we will look to have them meet that commitment. I could make a stronger statement than that but, I won’t.
One of the ways I came to chase the Conoco deal and in some respects the deal with the initial stores Blue Diamond will buy is how fucked up they look. These are raggedy, shitty looking stores, particularly the stores located in minority neighborhoods. Texaco has initially said they would not brand these “particular” stores. Just cleaning up the image of these stores will improve the look of the communities in which they are located. I did this with the Conoco stores. Take a look. If we are going to profit in a community, we’re going to give back to that community image.
I announced the formation of The A C Nelson Foundation, a foundation named after my dad, whose initial program will be a program to expose children to coding through coding camps. KidsCode2! will have camps in certain of the markets that we serve. I’m so committed to this program that we will have the foundation as a limited partner in Blue Diamond Distributing, LP.
The point is that we, like Southwest Airlines, will make a commitment to our corporate culture during the formation of the business, not by retrofitting it. Retrofitting doesn’t work!
Can I tell you a story?
I must be careful that I don’t reveal the company or brand name when I tell this story and if you guess it, and asked me, I won’t confirm it.
Before I finally got the Conoco deal done, I chased the acquisition of other retail convenience stores or gasoline stations. Most all the stores/chains I chased were in minority communities and were fucked-up in appearance. They were contributing to the “ghetto” look of communities. Conoco was no different which was one of my appeals to get them to sell their stores to me. This “story” is not about Conoco. There is a page/chapter committed to that story that is forthcoming. This story is about another long-standing company that operated in the Dallas market, particularly, the southern and eastern Dallas submarkets. This chain of stores not only had convenience stores/gas stations but also, car washes, restaurants, and liquor stores. I’m not going to completely repeat what I just wrote but I do want to emphasize this brand was operating “businesses” in minority communities primarily in the southern and eastern Dallas submarkets. At one point there were more than 17 convenience stores, 10 restaurants, 6 car washes, and 10+ liquor stores. When I approached the would-be seller, there were only 10 convenience stores left (for him to sell) and 6 car washes. The liquor stores and the restaurants had been sold.
I did what I did in terms of research to identify the owner and the assets that he owned. This was before the internet was in full swing by the way. I wrote this guy a letter and sent it to him via USPS to his office. The office building and the office/warehouse location may have been the nicest thing about the company. As I write (10/2019), this was about 29 years ago, exactly. I remember cause my oldest son was a baby, less than a year old.
The owner eventually called and told me that he would be interested in entertaining an offer for the purchase of his company. I always get a bit of a rush when a possible transaction begins. This guy invites me to his house which I thought was a bit unusual since he really did have an office. In any event, I and a guy I had met maybe a few months earlier went to visit him.
They guy I met was a partner in a broker-dealer company. His firm was engaged in several different areas of “finance.” He and I had met as a result of some commonality with our kids. I’m being purposefully vague since I don’t have his permission to use his name so, by way of reference, that’s I’ll I will say regarding his identity.
We get to the prospective seller’s house and this old fucker comes to the door in his bathroom. I shit you not. He was a nice enough guy, initially, seemingly. Some how he wanted us to know he was Jewish. I don’t know why he thought it was important to tell us but he thought he should share so I share that here. That was not the most surprising thing he shared with us, if you consider that surprising.
He invited us to have a seat on a sofa that was, I guess, in kind of a living room. Not the formal living room but a “sitting” room near the kitchen. His daughter was in the kitchen making tea or something. We declined any food or beverage. This fucker was in his bathrobe for goodness sake. Who was gonna eat or drink with that fucking visual?
He started out telling us that he was 86. When I get to 86, I’ll fucking walkaround and entertain people in my bathrobe too, if that’s what I want to do. He goes into how he founded the company and how he grew it. He immediately captured our attention. Here’s what he said:
He asked if we noticed that all his stores where located in southern and eastern Dallas, in minority neighborhoods. He says he started the stores there on purpose because there was a void in the market. He then went on to say that his wife, who had died some years earlier, started the “restaurants” near some of the stores. He said nobody else wanted to be in those markets so he saw an opportunity and filled it. He said the land was cheap so he bought it. Then he said the carwashes were natural to add so he did those as well. He told us that most of the carwashes were closed but if I wanted to buy those he would sell those too.
As a side note, the carwashes were in fucked up condition. If they didn’t have homeless people in them, they were a magnet for loiters and drug-dealing. Fucked up but it was what it was.
With respect to the liquor stores, this was one thing that was some of the most fucked-up shit I have heard anybody say, directly to my face. This old fucker begins telling us that he had sold the liquor stores some years earlier, to some Asian people. He said when he operated the liquor stores they won an award twice for ‘selling the most Schlitz Malt Liquor in the country. Let that sit in for a minute. I wish there was a way for me to pause your reading and let you reflect on what I just wrote and what this fucker said. I and the guy that was with me were dead silent. Dead fucking silent. This fucker admitted to being a cancer in the African-American community, for years and was proud of it. ‘He won an award for selling the most Schlitz Malt Liquor in the country, two times.’
In one visit, that would be enough, right? He went on to almost top that insult. This is the other thing this fucker told us.
He asked, ‘have you been to my stores? You see I have all foreigners working there?’ We’re sitting there wondering where is this fucker going with this. He went on the say, ‘They don’t steal as much. We both have some bad people. You’re people steal and we have some bad ones too but those foreigners are pretty honest. They are mostly Ethiopian and they tell their friends and they are some good workers.’ Neither one of us cussed this mutha fucka out. As I write this I’m speechless to even find the words to address it and its been 29 years.
Let me wrap up what happened with this meeting and finish this post with some closing thoughts on corporate culture.
This guy made a proposal to me regarding purchasing his stores. He said he would sell them for $6 million and he would carry the note. He wanted 10% down and would do interest only. For those that are non-financial people, that is a fucking insult. But, why would he not be insulting? He had already called black folks’ thieves and bragged about selling “dope” in black communities.
First off, these were shitty stores, not worth $6, let alone $6 million. With an interest only deal, you would never finish paying. It’s like forever rent. I know you can structure a deal with better terms but the thought that he put that shit out there like that shows the level of disrespect that he had displayed the entire time, walking about in a fucking bathrobe. Get the Fuck Outta Here, bitch!
This seems like an extreme case of how people and companies’ disrespect and have disdain for the communities they serve. Whether it is exploiting labor or the environment and that includes natural resources and the physical appearance of the communities within which they operate, or substandard products and service, or redlining in lending or any of dozens of other ways people and companies exploit communities. Blue Diamond is commited to doing more and communities should demand more.