I’ve been working on this blog post in my head for over four weeks but just wasn’t quite up to getting this on paper yet. This has been a difficult one to write. It’s been hard to put into words the loss of such a great professor, writer, mentor, friend, consultant and brilliant mind. Oren Harari, distinguished professor of business at University of San Francisco and author of nine books passed away in April.
Oren was truly one of the most brilliant marketers and strategists I’ve ever had the pleasure to learn and work with. About 6’5″ with an athletic build, Oren was known for pacing during keynotes and lectures with such enthusiasm and energy that you really felt like you were on the edge of your seat, just waiting to hear the next piece of critical information on how to transform your business and drive your business over the edge to the next big thing. If you took a swig of water from your water bottle, you seriously had missed an important moment. I remember one student went to the bathroom during class once, and we were right in the middle of discussing his company’s CRM strategy…(won’t mention the name but it turned out to be one of the largest CRM co’s in the world)…and the question was–” How do you know when the moment has come for you to to make a critical change in direction or strategy for your company?”… and when the student came back from the bathroom, Oren laughed and yelled out to him, “You missed it! We just figured out the turning point, the point of change for YOUR company! We got it! YOU missed it!”…we all laughed, but truly, in those 3 minutes, the conversation had moved forward so quickly in the discussion, and he did miss it. Oren had made the breakthrough statement that would change that CRM company’s strategy forever. In 3 minutes, no less.
Taking notes was impossible because Oren was taking you to another place when he lectured, opening doors to your mind, pushing visualizations of the impossible when it came to business concepts and growth. If you were listening carefully, you were already taking your business to new heights in your mind, doing the impossible, pushing through barriers, visually walking into your CEO’s office or boldly knocking on your boss’ boss door, convincing your key management team to make a change, take a chance, do something new and exciting. Doing it not for political reasons, but because it was the right thing to do for your company, to drive growth, revenues, and build a healthy and exciting environment for your employees.
“Be audacious!” he would say to us loudly during our class.
“Where is your company going to go next and next…and next? Are you on the leading edge of innovation?” he challenged his students. Were we?
When I met Oren during business school, he was working on his book, “Break from the Pack” and I am constantly taken back to those first few classes with Oren when he announced to the class that “he would be taking notes on OUR current companies, and perhaps may include some examples in his new book, if we were willing.” Since most of us were working full-time while getting the MBA, we were in the trenches of some of the most successful (or unsuccessful companies) and he wanted to learn from us. Here was a man who authored the NY Times Bestseller “The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell,” along with many other books and HE was taking notes from us? Was he nuts? We were just B-School students stuck in the chain of management…trying to get through the next 15 months of school awake, trying to keep our spouses in tact even though we stayed up late every night on the phone with our “study groups” working on papers, midterms and presentations. Could WE really help him? Help his book? Later, when I got to know him better, I realized that this was the hallmark of his true leadership. Oren was just as passionate about learning as he was about consulting some of the most successful CEOs and Fortune 500s in the world and this was his secret to innovation, and this combination (along with his creativity) made him one of “Top 40 Business and Management Minds in the World.” Oren successfully integrated his passion for learning and being on the edge of trends with his mastery of working with executives and his incredible ability to convince people to make changes, bold, bold changes that could increase their success twenty-fold.
After business school I ventured off to the corporate world and eventually wrote Market This! my first book, and convinced myself to ask Oren to read the final manuscript. When he gave the manuscript a great review (and endorsed the back of the book), I was so thrilled and honored. This opened the door to a new friendship in which Oren gave me feedback from time to time about new ventures, social media (he wanted to learn everything about it and how to use it) and my interest and passion around new ventures, start-ups and making people become better marketers. He always had great ideas, great conversation and enthusiasm. Oren will be missed, and lucky for us, he left behind him the legacy of his books and his great teachings.
Here are the top 5 things I learned from Oren that will continue to stick with me:
1.) Take your customers to an impossible place.
Oren always said that you need to be able to take your customers to a place that they never thought was possible. This meant giving them an experience that they’d never had before with any supplier, vendor, partner. “Take them all the way to WOW!” he’d sometimes say. He suggested doing this through authenticity, leading with genuine caring and showing your customer how supportive you are of them, so that they can be supportive of you. Loyalty, he said, came from leading with genuine caring for the customer.
2.) Make Technology your lifeline.
Are you innovating? Leaders who understand innovation, Oren used to say were leaders who really used the most cutting-edge technology “underground…” to make their business thrive, and be efficient. If you’re on top of the latest technology to give you a better reach to your customers, you are innovating.
3.) Seek compelling ideas from outside your organization.
Even the most successful companies can learn from organizations that are unlike them. Oren was always encouraging his students and customers to learn from organizations in other industries. How are they succeeding? What are they trying? Consider the unthinkable–what industry is not like yours that is innovating and thrived in their own industry or beyond their own industry…what are they doing to thrive and grow and could you try it?
4.) Partner with outside organizations.
Outside organizations who partner with you can give you great perspective on how to do thing better, faster, more efficiently. Use your partners as advisors and share, collaborate and learn from them. They may be the ones to suggest an idea that your organization has never thought of, or heard of but may greatly need to drive new success.
5.) Never stop learning.
Oren was constantly reading, educating himself, learning from students, colleagues, CEOs, suppliers, and the list goes on. His insatiable curiosity for business events and the world truly made him a great business consultant, advisor and professor.