Missionaries v. Mercenaries

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

I thought this article in the HBR was interesting. It rings true to me. What do you think?

The Best Entrepreneurs Are Missionaries, Not Mercenaries

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113 thoughts on “Missionaries v. Mercenaries

  1. Mercenaries have “a lust for making money,” while missionaries have “a lust for making meaning.”

    I think the article erroneously sets up a false choice. Most successful entrepreneurs have both. Money and profitability matter. Especially for entrepreneurs, their families, their customers, and their investors.

    The article also understates the influence of luck, timing, and trends that you cannot control in the success of an entrepreneur.

  2. obsession with the customer experience

    I’m always surprised by how rare that is and how many companies view their customer as the enemy.

  3. “obsession with the customer experience

    I’m always surprised by how rare that is and how many companies view their customer as the enemy.”

    I had the same thought. I don’t know if I’m looking at the world with rose-colored glasses, but I feel like this is a recent thing. Or at least when I read histories of companies (or watch documentaries), they all say how the company was devoted to the customer experience. So new companies today are trying to fill a niche rather than standing out by being customer oriented.

    Is it that companies or people start as missionaries and become mercenaries after some time? I’m sure some live in one camp or the other their entire lives, but how many people switch sides during their career/lifetime of the company?

  4. “Trump is going to be the nominee – thoughts?”

    I think if the Rs decide to broker the convention and get someone else as their nominee, they will be shooting themselves in their collective foot.

    I don’t see Trump being any more of a disaster as president than many of the other candidates or some of our past presidents, e.g., W.

    DS mentioned a conspiracy theory he’d heard that Trump was running as a favor to the Clintons.

  5. Or at least when I read histories of companies (or watch documentaries), they all say how the company was devoted to the customer experience

  6. “Is it that companies or people start as missionaries and become mercenaries after some time?”

    Or perhaps the founders are missionaries, but as the companies grow, they hire mercenaries.

  7. “Is it that companies or people start as missionaries and become mercenaries after some time?”

    I think as a company gets bigger it atomizes and each unit stops focusing on the ultimate goal and starts focusing on what’s good for that unit.

  8. “Trump is going to be the nominee”

    what do you think of the celebs promising to move to Canada if Trump is elected?

    it seems silly

    I don’t like Trump, but I think we’d survive

  9. I’ve been wondering that about Trump – is he running because he knows it will mean a Clinton win? It’s tons of free publicity for him (and a probably a tax write-off if he loses?).

    It’s not the damage Trump can do in 4 or 8 years, but the lasting effects… how long will we pay for his “diplomacy”? How many steps back will we take in his first 100 days? Or forward? Maybe he really does have ideas to “make America great again”…

  10. Wine – didn’t they say that with W too?

    I dislike Trump and Hilary but agree, life goes on.

  11. I think people are fundamentally missionaries or mercenaries, and each company will have some of both; the key is going to be which ones are in ascendance at a given time.

    We have several major rainmaker partners here. The mercenaries are very easy to identify: they are hungry for business, they fight for every scrap of credit, and they focus exclusively on developing their own practices and client bases, and then selectively sharing that with their chosen few. The missionaries follow the adage that a rising tide floats all boats and see their job as ensuring the firm as a whole does well and that they are training up/developing relationships for the next generation of lawyers. They are constantly looking out for how the firm can help a particular client or fill a specific need, even if there isn’t immediate cash involved, and thinking strategically about what future opportunities may be and how to best position us to get there. I think our biggest strength as a firm is that the mercenaries do well, but the missionaries do great.

    And, yeah, the guy who hired me is a total missionary. Not a pie-in-the-sky fluffy dreamer — he knows and cares more about firm economics than anyone I know, other than our head of accounting (maybe). But his focus is on the long-term opportunities for the firm and its people, not whether he gets 25% or 33% credit on a given matter, and he is very generous with both his time and with using his relationships to open doors for the next generation.

  12. I’ve been wondering that about Trump – is he running because he knows it will mean a Clinton win?

    I think no one is more surprised than Trump that he’s going to be the nominee.

  13. Trump is ok, but I like Bernie more and am sad to see his campaign losing steam.

  14. “I’ve been wondering that about Trump – is he running because he knows it will mean a Clinton win?”

    No. I don’t think it’s possible, and especially not for someone like Trump, to work that hard and get this close to becoming President, and travel for months and months giving speeches to millions of people who are telling him that he would be a great President and that he’s just what the country needs right now…it’s not possible for that person to not believe that he’d be a great President. So he’s doing it to win it. He wants it badly.

  15. “I think as a company gets bigger it atomizes and each unit stops focusing on the ultimate goal and starts focusing on what’s good for that unit.”

    What is the critical mass then? What is the optimal size company to balance the mercenary and missionary tendencies? Can it be a global-level company, or does it have remain regional/local? Has the internet changed that critical mass? For example, can you have a globally known company which operates out of one office and employs relatively few people. This company provides some niche which makes it lucrative, yet because it’s one office it can remain mission focused. Is an example like that possible?

  16. Houston – me too. But I am utterly shocked he won RI. Clinton had this state locked up in 2008. We are squarely in the Democratic machine. I think the young and independent voters tipped the scales.

    What do you think about the push to get people to write in Bernie if he doesn’t win the DNC?

  17. I just like that this mess is spurring Colorado to start having a primary again.

  18. What is the critical mass then?

    I think a lot of that hinges on the quality of the management and the company’s culture. Think about buying, returning or getting warranty service on something at Best Buy vs. doing the same at an Apple Store. One cares about a good customer experience and the other doesn’t.

  19. “Milo – in short, he’s sailing on ego?”

    What I said was really not specific to Trump. It would apply to any Presidential candidate.

  20. I think as a company gets bigger it atomizes and each unit stops focusing on the ultimate goal and starts focusing on what’s good for that unit.

    That’s because that’s how compensation is usually based – departments head are rewarded based on the success of their department, not on the success of the entire company.

  21. I’ve been reading some direct quotes from candidates… Bernie consistently uses “we” to discuss his record and policies, “we did this. we did that.” Hilary uses more of a mix of “we” and “I” while Trump is all “I”. It’s interesting to see/read and how that can affect the meaning of the message.

  22. Think about buying, returning or getting warranty service on something at Best Buy vs. doing the same at an Apple Store. One cares about a good customer experience and the other doesn’t.

    Do some googling about the difficulty of making an appointment at a genius bar.

  23. “departments are rewarded based on the success of their department, not on the success of the entire company.”

    which is how you end up with leaders/sr management of practically every unit (design/engineering, manufacturing, sales, service/support, etc.) getting an annual bonus, often set to start at achieving 95% of the full target with accelerators after the target is achieved, but the whole company falls short of its goal. I kid you not.

  24. See, I don’t like the Apple and Best Buy example. I don’t find them bastions of great customer service. Rhett and DD – you are both right about Apple. And Best Buy does have really good locations or employees, but the other stuff stinks. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one national/global company that hits high customer service marks across the board. Amazon?

    Maybe it was the OP article – but the model where the franchises dictate the goals for that franchise seems interesting. Can a company that gives that much freedom to the “people” get to be a global powerhouse?

  25. We saw Bridge of Spies and finished reading Boys on the Boat. Both were awesome. Hanks is a super genius (I know that is obvious but I felt compelled).

  26. Think about buying, returning or getting warranty service on something at Best Buy vs. doing the same at an Apple Store. One cares about a good customer experience and the other doesn’t.

    In my experience, a Best Buy purchase is pretty straightforward — you grab the thing you want, you get in a line, when it’s your turn you pay — plus you have the option of ordering online for in-store pickup which can be handy. Whereas for Apple, I try to avoid ever having to make a purchase in their stores because there’s no cashier, so no line, and you just can’t get helped. My experience there is that you stand by the thing you want for ages trying to catch the eye of a salesperson only they’re all busy showing off iphones to tourists, and eventually you just buttonhole someone, who brusquely tells you s/he will assist you after helping this other customer, and then if you’re lucky the buttonholee does in fact check you out after the other customer (if you’re not lucky they forget and then the whole process restarts).

  27. I can’t think of one national/global company that hits high customer service marks across the board. Amazon?

    Nordstroms, I’ve never been anything but totally blow away by the service.

  28. Do some googling about the difficulty of making an appointment at a genius bar.

    I’ve never had a problem. And they’ve also always resolved the issue to my complete satisfaction. None of my issues at Best Buy were ever resolved and that is why they are dead to me.

  29. there’s no cashier, so no line, and you just can’t get helped.

    There are like 100 employees and they all have the phones that take credit cards and they e-mail you the receipt. It takes 15 seconds.

  30. I know, why is Cruz picking a VP? I don’t remember VP picking until the nomination occurred.

  31. How nice that their staffing level is adequate to their volume in your location, Rhett. It’s not the case here.

  32. I love that Cruz picked Fiorina. The two most unlikeables band together after they have both lost!

  33. I order lots of items from major retailers online and I haven’t had issues with any of them. If they are getting customer calls, they are not doing something right and need to fix the process. Otherwise, ordering, shipping, returns all should be flawless. I notice Pottery Barn because they have promotions and then the items are out of stock on back ordered for a while, which doesn’t happen at other retailers.

  34. I order lots of items from major retailers online and I haven’t had issues with any of them.

    The only problem I’ve had is with Amazon. Dealing with items provided by Amazon itself has been a delight. Accidentally clicking on something that results in an item being shipped by an Amazon affiliate has been a nightmare.

  35. Pottery Barn Kids and Restoration Hardware are terrible about selling stuff that won’t be restocked for a long time. I mostly have stopped buying from them because of it.

  36. Yeah, I admit to being impressed with Amazon recently. DW ordered face paint for a school project, but shipment was delayed and she ended up buying it at Walmart. In an email response, they apologized, issued a refund, and said to just keep the product.

    I actually look forward to improving customer service in the future for people like us who are not serial returners. I see that as a key benefit of data tracking–they know who the problem children are, and they know who are the people whom they want to keep happy.

    I know that people say Nordstrom has great customer service, but I think it’s easy to do that when you charge $200 for a pair of jeans. I’m much more impressed by great service from Target or Amazon.

  37. “Is it that companies or people start as missionaries and become mercenaries after some time?”

    I simply cannot believe that Comcast ever started out as a missionary, or any other cable company for that matter.

  38. I’ve had terrific customer service with Amazon and Nordstrom’s. I’m sure there are others, but I can’t think of them at the moment. Oh, surprisingly had good service with Enterprise, National, & Hertz. And I cannot forget Zappos.

    Apple not so much. There is sometimes a week wait to make an appointment at the local store, and their online troubleshooting was painfully slow and ineffective. However, their staff are all very nice; I’ll give them that.

  39. PTM – do you have the inside scoop on when Jeb! will be announcing his running mate? I am so hoping that it is Palin!

  40. Marriott is usually very good, but during a recent trip their response to a noisy 2:am crowd partying in the courtyard that could be heard up on our seventh floor rooms was to deliver earplugs to our room.

  41. HM & Rhett – I agree with HM. The one Apple store in RI is ALWAYS swamped with lines out the store and down the “block” (it’s in a mall…).

    I agree with Milo – it’s easy to have great customer service when you price point closes out a good chunk of the population. It’s a different story at Target, or other “low-mid” end retailer.

    I do like the idea of tracking serial returners. In my short stay in retail, we had a few people who would buy/return consistently. We knew them, and treated them far different than other people who were unknown returners.

    PTM – any group of companies that needed an Anti-Trust Act just to exist automatically get put in the “mercenary” category. That includes all utility companies, and cable counts as a utility in my book.

    Trump/Christie – dear God no!!! That would put his presidency on the 7th level of Dante’s Hell. I might actually like Dante’s 7th level. Do you think Trump would choose Kasich or Cruz? What about Hilary choosing Bernie?

  42. Marriott is usually very good,

    Ewww…Marriott…shudder. Not a fan. Hyatt and Starwood on the other hand are a delight.

  43. I think Trump will choose Kasich to indicate his pivot to sanity and the best shot at winning OH. If he wins in Nov., it will be with states like OH, PA, IN, etc.

  44. I like the Target pick up in store option. The items have always been ready and waiting for me.

  45. Online troubleshooting with Apple could be far better. Apple has 430 stores around the world compared to 1060 Best Buy stores in the US alone.

    It seems like Apple requires a metropolis of ~1,000,000 for a store vs. ~200,000 for Best Buy.

    There are lots of articles on why companies grow, but fewer on why companies die. I was thinking about this last Thanksgiving while looking for cotton sleepers at department stores, including Macy’s and JC Penney. Carter’s makes cotton sleepers but no stores had them in stock in the quarter-million-person metropolis I was shopping in. When I went to the Carter’s website, winter cotton sleepers were already sold out in some sizes/styles in November, so clearly there is demand. I can’t decide if the lack of cotton sleepers in stores is a deliberate attempt to force customers to buy polyester, because that’s all stores stock, or if someone didn’t realize how strong the preference for cotton sleepers is.

    I have similar issues with Gymboree, which is loaded down with debt and has slipping sales. Gymboree thought they could make shirts using thinner fabric and more flaws, like their competitors, and continue to charge premium prices, I guess. Gymboree was not focused on the customer, they were focused on costs and profitability. No Gymboree executive sat down and thought, “I bet our customers want our shirts to have small visible holes after 10 washings, just like our competitors’ shirts have.”

  46. I agree that Kasich would be an excellent choice for Trump. But risky for Kasich if Trump loses. I so wish we were going to have a brokered convention. I was very much looking forward to it.

  47. I don’t love Amazon service. I think it is ok, but they missed a lot of shipping deadlines in December. I almost lost my mind with them, and then they gave me $20, and they refused to credit me back for a month of Prime. I’m still annoyed at them.

    I love The Shade Store. They were amazing two different times, and they always do the right thing. One time they refunded me almost $700, and I didnt even ask for a credit.

    I like Room and Board, Target, Nordstrom, Costco, Dicks and Kohls. I find all of these stores try to fix problems and they don’t hassle about returns.

    We recently had a great experience with Delta. They found DD’s camera, and they got it back to us after a couple of weeks.

  48. I dislike both major presidential candidates. I predict the 2016 election will cause even more millions of Americans than usual to stay home in disgust.

  49. I used to be a Marriott fan, but they raised their prices a lot. Now I prefer Hilton.

  50. Customer service is really getting better faster than transportation as a whole. At this rate, we will be able to do returns on Amazon while we are on the spaceship going to Mars.

  51. @WCE – have you tried Lands End for kids clothing ? They are somewhere in the middle of everything price, fashion etc and all their stuff has lasted quite a while.

  52. Back on topic – I wonder what drives charities like Wounded Warriors to go astray (to pick a recent example)? Is it new personnel brought in to help the original founder? A lack of oversight and plain old temptation? Overall inexperience in running a larger platform? What would help keep these enterprises on the missionary track?

  53. Rhett- I also find good service at Apple stores, but never ever go there on the weekend. That is the actual worst!

  54. I think Trump ought to pick Fiorina for VP. I can just hear him, “Didn’t I tell you I could do the best deal?”

  55. “I wonder what drives charities like Wounded Warriors to go astray ”

    In that particular case, I think that a lot of it comes down to fuzzy objective, coupled with a very willing and eager donor base that wants to help but has little interest in questioning where the money goes or for what purposes. Who doesn’t want to help wounded troops, but to do what? So they just buy a lot of tickets to baseball games and hand them out. Then what?

  56. Thanks for the clothing suggestions. I used to like Lands End for my own clothes but have found quality to vary and so have started to avoid it, especially since Sears closed and I can’t return purchases locally.

    We prefer loud shirts with applique or embroidery (like the dragon shirt Gymboree used to have) to the more subdued/faded graphic options at LL Bean and Lands End. I’ll try to figure out the sale cycle at LL Bean in case my kids grow into that style. They are starting to stay in the same size for longer.

  57. “There are lots of articles on why companies grow, but fewer on why companies die.”

    Just ask Carly.

  58. I work for Carly’s former employer. I couldn’t find a single person with a positive word to say about her when she was running on her own.

  59. At our house Under Armour has become very popular. That’s the brand we buy the most of.

  60. Louise – Under Armour, Adidas, Nike and Champion are popular in our house too and my boys are not even all that athletic. Soft and easy to put on, mix and match.

    Uniqlo boys pants are also a hit. *Super skinny, no zippers, buttons or snaps. H&M still has some OK stuff too.

  61. I love LLBean but do NOT enjoy the feeling of being stalked for days by the products I browsed briefly on their site while waiting on hold for someone else’s customer service rep to pick up my call. I love Target and Costco for not making me hang onto my receipts in order to make a return.

    Are customers who order five pairs of shoes from Zappos and keep the one pair that fits considered serial returners?

  62. The ladies in my area have slowly moved to more athletic wear for casual everyday wear. With our climate we can get away with it. It has been interesting to see the trend.

  63. One of my most amusing memories is walking into work and hearing dozens of tinny laptop speakers playing “Ding, dong, the witch is dead,” to which the person I was walking with commented, “They must have sacked Carly.”

  64. I understand the trend to athletic wear, but it still seems inappropriate in so many situations. For example, I attended an assembly today in our middle school for a veteran from WWII. I was invited to a lunch before the assembly, and I just can’t imagine being dressed in leggings or yoga pants even though dressy jeans and tops were fine for the assembly today.

    BTW, this veteran was amazing and I will never forget his story. He was drafted into the army when he was 18, and he was sent to Germany. He will be 90 in May, so he fought in Germany for almost a year before he arrived at a concentration camp 3 days after the war ended. He said that the American and British soldiers had no knowledge of any of the camps, and they were shocked at what they found. His description of his year of fighting and of the months he spent as a liberator were unbelievable. The sacrifices that the people that have served our country have made to insure that America is still free is just amazing. No one moved for 90 minutes including most of the 8th graders because he was so brutally honest about everything he saw in 1944/45.

  65. “I wonder what drives charities like Wounded Warriors to go astray ”

    The goal becomes raising money vs. the ostensible mission of the group. I think it would be fairly easy for a group to slip into that mentality.

  66. Lemon, those waves are amazing. But somehow “the gales of April” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as the original.

  67. “The goal becomes raising money vs. the ostensible mission of the group. I think it would be fairly easy for a group to slip into that mentality.”

    And I’m sure their employees were measured on the goal of raising money vs. actually helping veterans.

  68. I’m guessing WCE, and perhaps tulip, ssk, BAM, and Cordelia know people who share Anon’s feeling about Carly. I’ve heard similar sentiments from people I know in SV.

  69. “Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one national/global company that hits high customer service marks across the board. Amazon?”

    Anyone ever hear of anyone having a bad customer service experience with Schwab?

  70. “At our house Under Armour has become very popular. That’s the brand we buy the most of.”

    I’m guessing Under Armour is popular in your area in no small part because of Steph Curry.

  71. I just started to create my “Do it Now” list, in case that’s our 30 day challenge. It’s looking pretty nasty. I haven’t cleaned the oven in years…

  72. I agree completely with HM about Apple. UGH – what a pain to shop in those stores. And the genius bar is the same way. Even in the suburban slow stores.

    Zappos has excellent customer service, but the prices are slightly higher than like stores. I find it to be worth it for the speed and lack of hassle.

  73. “I’m guessing WCE, and perhaps tulip, ssk, BAM, and Cordelia know people who share Anon’s feeling about Carly. I’ve heard similar sentiments from people I know in SV.”

    Yep, I don’t know anyone who worked for her old employee who feels differently.

  74. A lot of the kids (especially the boys) around here wear Under Armour everything and I don’t think it has to do with a particular player. It just seems to be a really popular brand.

    I like Schwab and I’ve never had a bad experience with them, but they’ve also never done anything to make it a special experience that I would remember. In my mind, the bar is set low for customer service at financial firms because dealing with the commercial banks is a hassle.

  75. Finn – I don’t think so. The brand is popular with younger boys, not teens. From that demographic it has now spread among the women and girls.

  76. I must admit to loving the Under Armour colors – so when DS moved from the cute little boy clothes to the big boy clothes, the brand sort of made it acceptable to wear bright colors where previously only clothes in dull muted colors were sold.

  77. Cordelia, regarding Trump’s margin, I was wondering the same thing, and saw that only 6% of voters eligible to vote in the primary actually did. So he’s that popular among a small, but civic-minded, subset of the population. I’m not sure how that will transfer to the general

  78. Cordelia, it may be that R primary voters are just ready for it to be done and don’t find the prospect of a contested convention appealing. In which case, since Trump’s the only one who even could get a majority of delegates at this point, voting for him could be a vote for wrapping things up and moving on to the general.

  79. “I was surprised by the margin that Trump won by yesterday. Is he that popular?”

    I attribute much of Trump’s success to his opponents.

  80. Under Armour is also very popular among DD’s friends. Part of it is that they had among the lowest priced cleats, so a lot of the girls on her softball teams started with those shoes because they were young and their parents bought what was cheapest. Having so many girls using them helped make them socially acceptable, even popular, for items beyond just cleats, and as the girls got older they had more input into which brands to buy.

    It also helped that they made cleats in colors that appealed to girls, e.g., DD chose a pair that were black with fuchsia logo and highlights.

  81. Trump had a strong slate of opponents. He destroyed them all. Remember that Bush raised over $100M for a “shock and awe” campaign. Trump just hit a nerve with the voters. He talked about things they cared about. People don’t realize that he’s received over 10 million votes. They aren’t all racist, white, blue collar men either.

  82. Insurance companies – definitely mercenaries.

    I’ve always had great service from Progressive.

  83. I’m still running an older Macbook pro (2010), and it’s gotten slow. I know it’s probably due for replacement one of these days, but I’m not exactly in a rush. I’d been meaning to bring my laptop in, but I’d heard about the difficulty in getting genius bar reservations. On a whim when I was between projects, I called Apple customer support. Despite warnings of “longer than usual call delays,” my call was picked up in less than a minute. I handed over my serial # and a callback number and then worked through a list of things to speed up my computer. The customer support folks are friendly, communicate well, and actually seem to know what they’re doing. They scheduled a call back two days later to ensure the fix worked, and then called at the appointed time. Even better, my laptop is running much smoother. Prior to this I’d had a couple of Dell machines, and customer support was a nightmare. This was a dream, comparatively speaking, for telephone support.

  84. I’m a little depressed looking at my “Do it Now” list. There’s a reason I’ve been procrastinating on these things. Dental appointment, renew kids’ passports, take old printers to Staples to recycle…shudder. I’m going to have to prepare a “reward yourself with this” list to run concurrently.

    (Although I guess the real reward is having these things DONE)

  85. “I just started to create my “Do it Now” list, in case that’s our 30 day challenge.”

    I have concluded that if we do a “do it now” challenge, my DIN task for day 1 will be to come up with a list for the following 30 days.

    “I was surprised by the margin that Trump won by yesterday. Is he that popular?”

    We are not big on the Religious Right here, so Cruz never had a chance. I had hoped Kasich might pull it off, as we have always tended toward more moderate, Mac Mathias-type Republicans.

  86. Ooooh, Lark, great idea — we should all come up with a reward, too, if we get through our own tasks!

    That can be DIN task #2. :-)

  87. Looks like a lot of list making for The Challenge and very little Doing :-).
    Get to it, people !

  88. Wait– is it 30 days of “do it now”? I have a few things in mind, but not 30 days worth!

    And I think rewards built in are a wonderful idea.

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