George Washington’s war-time success offers lessons from the battlefield that lend themselves surprisingly well to the business world. #b#Bill D’Arienzo#/b#, a brand marketing consultant, founder and chief executive officer of Wm. D’Arienzo Associates Inc. at 116 Village Boulevard, and a student of history, has recounted some of the first president’s lessons in a new book, “By George! Lessons in Leadership from George Washington, CEO.”
“I’ve always been fascinated by how George Washington could have won with a ragtag army against the most disciplined army and the largest navy of his time,” says D’Arienzo. “Washington never commanded more than 1,500 men before taking over the Continental Army. His generals had no military training. His army consisted of carpenters, farmers, and blacksmiths whose rifles were taken from the mantle. He never won a major battle but he won the war.”
How did Washington succeed against such dominant odds? “Leadership and brand,” says D’Arienzo. “Washington was a leader who turned himself into a brand that motivated his troops, got the money needed to supply his army, and persuaded the French to join the Americans as allies.”
All of these points offer parallels and metaphors that carry over to leaders of the business world. “I looked at what George Washington accomplished and said, ‘let’s consider a general as CEO,’” D’Arienzo says. “Contrary to conventional wisdom, research shows that financial performance is not the major reason CEOs are fired. Three-quarters of CEO firings are because of poor business communication and personal leadership style. Washington had enormous charisma and self-discipline, and he knew how to communicate.”
D’Arienzo will discuss and sign copies of his book Saturday, October 2, at 1 p.m., at the Borders bookstore at 601 Nassau Park Boulevard. The event is free. For more information go to www.borders.com.
D’Arienzo grew up in Brooklyn, the son of a barber-turned-entrepreneur father and stay-at-home mother. “My father worked hard as a barber, saved his money, and bought a company that manufactured pajamas,” D’Arienzo says.
Yet, that is just what happened in a roundabout sort of way. D’Arienzo earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Ohio State University in 1958, a master’s degree in political science from the City University of New York in 1967, and a Ph.D. in political science from the New School in New York City in 1976.
D’Arienzo’s beggan as a teacher at Hunter College (now Lehman College). After 10 years he lost a tenure dispute and found himself out of a job. That’s when the door to the apparel industry opened. He accepted an offer from a friend to work in sales and marketing for Maidenform swimwear.
D’Arienzo quickly advanced into management in the apparel industry. He held senior executive positions in marketing and merchandising in apparel manufacturing companies and became a divisional president.
“In my first year in sales and marketing, I made 50 percent more money than I earned after teaching for 10 years,” D’Arienzo says. “It shows how terrible our priorities are and how things are valued. Money is a marker in our society.”
In 1985, after 10 years with various companies, D’Arienzo formed his own consulting company, providing research and brand-marketing services to retail and wholesale clients in the apparel sector and related industries.
D’Arienzo visited many of Washington’s nearby Revolutionary War sites, including Monmouth Battlefield State Park and where Washington famously crossed the Delaware River on December 25, 1776, to surprise Hessian soldiers in Trenton.
“There is a great quote from John Adams,” D’Arienzo says, “about how it was unimaginable that our cause could be led by anyone other than George Washington because he’s so identified with it. That is the power of branding.”
In D’Arienzo’s book, he compares how Washington’s obstacles and performance are similar to those faced by any company’s CEO. Washington left a well-established business (his farm) to lead a start-up company (the Continental Army) few thought could succeed. He knew his strengths and weaknesses, successfully marketed his product (a nation governed by its own people) when he had no proprietary product to market and little capital with which to do it, and headed a company with horrendous cash flow problems. He lost an overwhelming number of battles (market share) in which he was engaged, and though he never won a major battle, he remained CEO (commander in chief), and he consistently lost the confidence of the board of directors (Continental Congress), but was never ousted.
D’Arienzo has applied Washington’s lessons to his clients as well as his own business. One client, for example, ran a family hosiery business but he never took the title as president or chief executive officer. “He thought that wasn’t necessary because it was just a small family company,” D’Arienzo says. “But taking the title of president says that the buck stops here. ”
As for his own business, D’Arienzo says, “We do internally what we ask clients to do. We regularly communicate in clear language what we are doing. We bring humility to our organization. And you don’t mortgage your farm for next year’s crops. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
“We’re really closest to Washington in how we focus on our core competency,” he says. “We know what we do best and we don’t take on projects just for the money. We regularly communicate our mission statement and think of ourselves as a brand.”
D’Arienzo also knows how to teach and he can’t seem to let go. Today, he teaches a branding seminar at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and an executive MBA program at Rider University in Lawrenceville.