EYE ON THE PIE: Here's a recipe for business success

March 13, 2006

Clovis Crowder did not become a leading Hoosier executive by default. He did not inherit his position. He earned it. A man of rugged countenance, imposing stature and brilliant intellect, he is often mentioned as a candidate for high elected office, but humbly declines all such invitations. Also, he has no ambition to be a university president or a basketball coach.

Recently, he and I had the following conversation:

MM: "Tell me, Mr. Crowder, what has been the essential feature of your success?" CC: "Call me Clovis. It's a good Hoosier name and I want to be seen as one of the guys. See that picture on the wall? I'm in a coffee shop eating doughnuts with a crowd of diabetic retirees. Makes me look folksy, doesn't it?"

MM: "Is that the secret of your success, being one of the guys?"

CC: "Not at all! I would not consider hiring one of those idiots. Success is based on the quality of the people you hire. Those fellows are customers."

MM: "That seems cynical."

CC: "Realistic. Customers make their own choices. They can buy my products or they can buy from my competition. I will not harm them by making an unsafe product, but I am not responsible for their choices."

MM: "So tell me, what are you looking for in an employee?"

CC: "I want someone who can speak well, write well and think with perspective. I turn down anyone who cannot identify Napoleon, Waterloo and Wellington. I reject those who say, 'I done went there and I seen, like, what they's been a doin'. If you say, 'My dad give it to him and I,' you will not get a job here. I expect a person to know who the president was at the time of his or her birth."

MM: "I hope you will not take offense, Clovis, but that sounds both old-fashioned and elitist."

CC: "Nonsense. Today's emphasis on teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) uses our schools for vocational training, not education. I support SHE (science, history and English). Students must know how the world is structured. That is the purpose of science education. Workers must know how our current society evolved. That is the purpose of history. They must be able to communicate and relate with others. They should want to be readers so they know what is happening today. That is the purpose of English (or language arts, if you prefer).

MM: "I see the logic, but not the practicality."

CC: "I want people working for me who see themselves and our times in perspective. They will have those interior resources of imagination and inspiration that lead to innovation. Literature is tied to the changing social forces in society. History, properly taught, covers music and art, not just politics and military events. The study of science is also an exploration of social and technical progress.

"If an employee of mine does not have perspective on today's world and cannot communicate well, he or she is likely to lack sensitivity and resourcefulness. I do not want my company represented by people who are ignorant or sound ignorant."

MM: "Do you have a dress code for your employees?"

CC: "Absolutely. Shoulders, cleavage, navels, knees and toes are not to be seen. Body-piercing jewelry, beyond earrings, is prohibited at work.

MM: "That all sounds very Puritanical."

CC: "It has been very profitable without being unduly repressive."

That is Clovis Crowder, a Hoosier legend, a man living against his times and doing well.

Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.
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