Winning the Battle to Tell the Truth

In my last post, I described the battle in which I am engaged to see to it that the case study which was created by the Ivey School of Business - one of the top business schools in Canada - based upon my book “Don’t Let Your Dream Business Turn Into a Nightmare” remains available to students at Ivey and at other business schools around the world which may have interest in using it in their programs.

In the spring of 2009, I submitted a copy of my book to the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, with a view to having it added to the curriculum of their courses in entrepreneurship. In May, I received an email from the Executive Entrepeneur in Residence at Ivey, expressing interest in adapting my book - or my story as I told it in my book - into a case study, as Ivey is one of a number of business schools that uses the “case study” methodology. The case study was written in the fall and posted on the Ivey Publishing website in November of 2009. In December, I received an email from Ivey informing me that my former friend and associate, who is now the president of The Men’s PowerSpa, had lodged a complaint, on the basis that the majority owners of the company did not give their consent to use the case study that bears the name of the company.

My book is a very personal account of one man’s entrepreneurial dream that turned into a nightmare. I wrote it as a cautionary tale to warn other would-be entrepreneurs of the dangers of starting a business - especially a “dream business” - with someone else’s money. Someone who may not share your passion or vision.

I did not expect the majority shareholders of the company that I founded to like my book because it is not a very flattering portrait of the way that people can behave when money is on the table. The lesson of my book is that when money is involved, a number of values which we cherish, such as fairness and even “niceness” can go out the window. You might think that all is fair in business, but I don’t, and that is why I wrote my book.

Prior to self-publishing my book, I consulted with several lawyers, and was advised that as long as my book was truthful, I could defend myself against any claims of libel. Since my book was truthful, I went ahead and published it. And the Ivey School of Business deemed that the story that I told in my book - the story of how my “dream business” turned into a nightmare - was of value to the students at Ivey and at other business schools around the world.

But in December, because the majority owners of the business had not approved of the use of the case study, they pulled it.

This, to me, is analagous to a newspaper pulling a story about the problems at Toyota becasue the owners of Toyota don’t like it. Talk about freedom of the press.

The upshot of all of this is that, as of this week, I was informed that the case study will go forward, in a disguised version, so that readers will not be able to recognize The Men’s PowerSpa.

So, somewhere in the future, students of entrepeneurship at Ivey and other business schools around the world may get to read the story of an entrepreneur who had a dream, and saw that dream turn into a nightmare.

It won’t be my story the way I told it in my book. But it will be as close as it can be, thanks to the majority owners of The Men’s PowerSpa.

A couple of guys who should be ashamed of themselves.

What Do You Make of This?

My book, “Don’t Let Your Dream Business Turn Into a Nightmare” is an honest account, from my perspective, of my experience in founding one of the first day spas for men in the world called The Men’s PowerSpa.

When I had finished my book, in late 2008, I submitted it to one of the leading independent publishers in Canada, and the Managing Editor, who loved the book, and called it “the most original business book he had ever read”, said that it belonged on the syllabus of every M.B.A. program in the country.

That was a “light bulb” moment for me, as I had written the book as a cautionary tale for would-be entrepreneurs, to help them avoid the misfortune that I experienced. I had not thought of the book as an educational resource to be used in college or university entrepreneurship and business courses.

Based upon the comments of the Managing Editor, I decided to publish the book myself, and to send it to university and college instructors, to see if it might be of interest for their graduate and undergraduate courses. One of the most thrilling responses that I received was from the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, not only one of the top business schools in Canada, but my alma mater, as I have a Master’s degree in English from Western.

In short, the Ivey School of Business adapted my book, which is the tale of a first-time entrepreneur with the dream of creating one of the first spas in the world for men, into a case study. The case study was completed in the fall of 2009, and made available on the Ivey Publishing website.

I did not have any financial interest whatsoever in the use of the case study at Ivey or in the sale of the case study to other business schools, but I did see a benefit to me in the association with a prestigious academic institution like Ivey and in exposing my story to students of business around the world, some of whom might have interest in reading the complete story as I told it in my book.

I should also point out that in writing my book, I was as honest as I could possibly be about my actions, my decisions and my mistakes, and those of others involved in the story. I was guided at all times by the truth, and the advice that I had received from several lawyers, that as long as I told the truth, I could defend myself against any legal challenges that might arise. I also felt, and I am going to admit this openly, that as a citizen of Canada, I had the right to tell my story my way - and that is what I did. I refused to allow myself to be cowed out of doing so by anyone.

And, what happened to the case study that was created by the Ivey School of Business?

Shortly after it was published, they received an email from someone associated with the business who complained that the majority owners had not given their consent to use the case study.

The case study that was based upon my book.

The book that was an honest and truthful account of my experience.

The experience that belongs to me, which is part of my life story, and which I told as truthfully as I could.

And, what did Ivey Publishing do? They immediately withdrew the case study from their website, with the intent of revising it so as to completely disguise the name and the identity of the business.

In other words, to completely alter the story that I wrote.

And why would they do that?

I was told that their case studies are not based upon individual stories - like the story of an entrepreneur whose dream business turned into a nightmare. Their cases are based upon businesses, and unless everyone signs off on the case study like a happy little family, they won’t use it.

Wouldn’t want to risk controversy in the academic world now, would we?

Someday, there may be a case study that bears some vague resemblance to the story that I told in my book.

The story of how my dream business turned into a nightmare.

There are always going to be cowards who are afraid of the truth, and those who lack the courage to tell the truth.

And, hopefully, others who aren’t and don’t.

If you want to know my story, read my book.

What is the "Mikey Factor" in Your Small Business?

Back in 1981, I was just starting my career in television production, and working as the Unit Manager on a location drama. One day, I learned a lesson that would serve me well some 20 years later, when I came to develop a small business. The lesson that I learned in 1981 was that any small detail can really screw up a production. This is how I described it in my book entitled “Don’t Let Your Dream Business Turn Into a Nightmare”:

One day, one of the lighting guys wasn’t feeling well and left the set early. At the end of the shooting day, word was sent out to the set from the production office that the call time for the following day was being moved up from 7 a.m. to 6 a.m., because the production had fallen behind schedule, but the lighting guy didn’t hear the announcement because he had gone home early.

And you, as the Unit Manager, didn’t think of calling him at home to inform him of the scheduling change.

Ordinarily, that might not be a big deal, but this time, it was.

Because -the next morning, as the convoy of production vehicles was pulling out of the television station to make its way to the set – a small town about an hour north of the station –the huge lighting truck remained in place - and a bolt of white hot terror ran from the top of your head down to your toes, as you realized that the driver of the lighting truck was still in bed, because you hadn’t thought to call him to tell him about the change in call time.

Soon there would be 40 people standing around on the set while the lighting crew was waiting for the truck to arrive so that they could set up for the first scene– and whatever time they had hoped to pick up by virtue of the earlier call time would be entirely lost.

So you got into the truck yourself - and without a license to drive a rig that big or any idea of where the gears were – you willed the vehicle to the set – sweat pouring down your face –and you never forgot how that felt, for the rest of your career in television production – or the rest of your life.

The fellow whom I forgot to call was named Mike, and everyone called him “Mikey”.

Forgetting to call “Mikey” almost ended my career in television production before it began.

But the lesson that I learned stayed with me -and so, when I was developing my small business, which was a spa for men, I made a list of everything that I felt could go wrong - every single small detail that I could think of - that had the power to ruin my business.

And I checked that list every single day.

If you are developing a small business, or if you are already running one, ask yourself “What is the ‘Mikey Factor’ that could ruin or damage my business if I forget to do it. Is it insurance, a security system, labor regulations or building codes?

It takes a lot to make a business successful, but the smallest details can make it fail.

The Top of One Mountain is the Bottom of Another

When I was developing my small business, which was a spa for men, I learned a very valuable lesson, although I did not realize it at the time.

It was November of 2004, and I had just returned from a trip to Vancouver, during which I had made a presentation to two prospective investors - and, subsequent to the presentation, they agreed to provide the bulk of the financing for my small business. The following day, we had a meeting and we all shook hands on the basic terms of an agreement to go forward. When I returned home to Toronto, I felt as if I were sitting on top of a mountain, until I realized that I was at the bottom of another one. Here is a brief excerpt from my book:

It is Saturday -the day after your triumphant return from Vancouver – and for the moment, you are sitting on top of the world.

For a brief moment.

Because - you don’t actually have the money for your dream business -not yet.

You have an agreement in principle. You don’t have a signed agreement. And you won’t get the money until you do.

And - while you are on the subject of what you don’t have -yet - you may as well include: a location, a designer, a contractor, a product line, a bank account, a line of credit, a Small Business Loan, a website, a software program, a security system, a telephone, a staff, a logo, a marketing plan, marketing materials…. and, you have promised your investors that your dream business will launch in June, 2005- exactly seven months from now.

What I did not know at the time, was that the very lesson that I was learning in the development phase of my small business would apply once the business opened. Every time I thought that I had climbed a mountain -by having the best day, the best week or the best month - I would find that I was at the bottom of another mountain - facing the worst day, the worst week or the worst month.

One of the most important - and painful -lessons that I learned in running my small business is that every single day you are at the bottom of another mountain.

If you accept that, you may be able to enjoy the climb.

What is a "dream business"?

I took considerable interest, some months ago, when the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team hired Brian Burke as their new General Manager and, at the press conference to introduce him to the media and fans, he described his new position as a “dream job”.

A “dream job”? What is a “dream job”? Is it a job in which you make a lot of money for very little effort? Is that a “dream job”? Is that what Burke meant when he described the General Manager’s role with the Leafs as a “dream job”? Clearly, not. Burke had already been a General Manager in Anaheim, had won a Stanley Cup, and was one of the highest-paid G.M.’s in the game, so what did he gain by moving to the Leafs? It wasn’t more money or power for less work. Yet, it was a “dream job”.

A “dream job” is one which has special meaning for you. It is not about money, power or working a few hours a day. It is about the challenge of achieving a personal mission.

A “dream job” has to resonate with a personal mission - for Burke, that mission is, obviously, to lead one of hockey’s most storied franchises to its first Stanley Cup in over 40 years. That’s a challenge worth taking on, if you are a G.M.

As I said, I took considerable interest in Mr. Burke’s comments because I wrote a book entitled “Don’t Let Your Dream Business Turn Into a Nightmare”.

What is a “dream business”?

For me, a “dream business” was one which provided me with an opportunity to accomplish my personal mission of helping men look and feel their best.

That was my personal mission, and that was the mission of the “dream business” which I created, called The Men’s PowerSpa.

If you have a personal mission, and create a business to provide you with the opportunity to achieve that mission - i.e. your “dream business” - you had better have your own money to do it or only bring in investors who share your personal mission and the mission of the dream business.

Otherwise, you won’t have a “dream business”.

You will have a nightmare.