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Leadership Wisdom from Mr. Wonderful

Kevin O’Leary, a.k.a. “Mr. Wonderful”, was the opening keynote speaker at the AICPA (American Institute of CPA’s) ENGAGE 2017 conference in June.  AICPA is world’s largest member association representing the accounting profession, with more than 418,000 members in 143 countries offering conferences, workshops and the latest in knowledge and insights to CPA’s.

Since this is a U.S. based conference, Kevin presented “Lessons Learned in the Shark Tank,” ABC’s television version of CBC’s Dragon’s Den.

Our group walked away with a new perspective of Kevin. Overall he was the highest-rated keynote speaker at the conference, and that had to do both with his message as well as his direct, but charismatic delivery style.  Kevin shared his memorable moments on Shark Tank profiling one particular mother and daughter business he invested in called “Wicked Good Cupcakes.” He used this as a case study to explain the following seven effective management tips:

  1. Maintain a clear line of command and set achievable goals
  2. Always be Accessible
  3. Delegate, delegate, delegate – at $10Million in sales, you have to delegate
  4. Have superlative time management skills – three must do tasks every day before anything else
  5. Understand price of service is now political
  6. Use technology as a productivity tool
  7. Remember that business is war! With winners and losers

Now, Point 7 is classic Kevin O’Leary, but what resonated with me was Point 2, “Always be Accessible”. Kevin expanded on the importance of this concept to him. As an absent investor in over forty businesses, he carries two cell phones. One of the numbers he provides to all the employees and stakeholders in his companies with explicit instructions to call him directly if something is wrong that he should be aware of. This phone does not ring often but when it does, it is important and has saved him money, and in some cases, his overall investment. If leaders are not open and accessible, they may not know what is going on in their business. The second phone is for family and friends, and he said that it rings all the time!

Mr. O’Leary’s remarks reminded me of a speech (Lessons on Leadership) by retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie to the Burlington Economic Development Corporation’s annual Business Excellence dinner a few years ago. One of his leadership attributes was to be a good actor, which, is all about being accessible. From his perspective, as a leader in the Armed Forces in a combat zone, regardless of how you feel, what kind of stress you are under, your team should know that you are approachable. If they are concerned about what kind of mood you may be in you may risk not being advised of critical information that could cost lives or in a business context, the difference between winning and losing.

Kevin O’Leary and Major-General Lewis MacKenzie are very different leaders, but their message to leaders is common and practical.


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