Tuesday, January 08, 2008

RISK-BELIEF- LUCK: Lessons from Lenny Semis

Puerto Penasco, Sonora, Mexico (aka Rocky Point) is quite a drive from the corner of San Francisco’s Townsend and Embarcadero streets - but certainly closer than Russia. That (actually then called the Soviet Union) was Lenny Semis’ initial point of departure when his family immigrated to the United States two decades ago.

Fast-forward to the early 2000’s. Lenny finds himself sitting in a classroom at the University of San Francisco where I, as an adjunct professor, was teaching the core MBA leadership course – highly experiential by academic standards, yet well grounded in the rigor of research and instruction expected in a major college environment. I recall him as always very involved in class discussions, seeking to view things from new perspectives and thinking through tough questions to find new understandings; maybe because he was (still is) hungry for life. We found time to get to know each other outside the classroom. I had been an officer in the US Army during the same years his father was a Soviet army officer, making us (his father and me) once-upon-a-time enemies. This mixed with class material created interesting “office hour” conversations for us - always held in the coffee shop on USF’s Lone Mountain campus. One highlight for me was the day he introduced me to his dad and we (his dad and I) got a chance to chat about our memories of when our countries were adversaries.

Sometimes when you see the unexpected
you decide to do the unexpected

On somewhat of a whim, not long after he secured a consulting position in Accenture’s San Francisco office Lenny decided to take a few days off from work and with his friend Vlad (another Russian) go to Mexico to hang out. Soon after arriving something caught their attention. It wasn’t what they saw. Rather, it came in the form (really void) of what they didn’t see: a lack of service in the midst of a high need - a growing presence of Americans buying or building homes just south of the border. Homes in need of furniture. People with no way to furnish them. Nothing and no one around to help them accomplish that.

This definitely was not corporate consulting, or blue suits, or starched collars and red ties. It wasn’t double-late’-capa-rapa-frapacino, and definitely not do-as-you’re-told-fit-the-mold-climb-the-appropriate-ladder-until-you- -are-old- reach-the-top-and retire-with-fat-pension job. It was something strange and new and demanded creativity, flexibility and a seize-the-moment awareness for action. Lenny and Vlad didn’t go to Mexico looking for this; they went there to enjoy the beach, the beer and the shrimp. Sometimes when you see the unexpected you decide to do the unexpected. Vlad and Lenny quit their jobs, traded in their Gucci’s and tailored digs for tennis shoes and Levi’s, and started a furniture store, but without …well … the store.

Within days they were in business selling and shipping truckloads of furniture - no showroom – using pictures and virtual presentations, and making promises and then making good on those promises. Surprisingly (or not) their business grew. Lenny’s office became: “Wherever I am with a cell phone and a computer.” His business schedule became: “Whenever the phone’s on.” His clients became: “Everyone.” This lack of structure isn’t for some people. But for Lenny, it was (and remains) perfect.

I … ummm … sell things

Lenny’s vision began shifting from chairs and tables and beds and night stands to the homes and condos and buildings and developments that housed them. With this shift in vision came a shift in business. Still sans the suit, and with only cell phone and computer, he now says his primary job is being creative enough to solve problems associated with getting people together in order for them to have the homes and condos and land developments that they dream of. “Are you a real estate agent?” I asked. “Nope,” he said, “I’m a problem solver.” “What’s your title with the firm you’re now part of?” I inquired. He responded, “I don’t have a title and I don’t want one. A title limits you and your thinking. I … ummm … sell things. From there it’s a matter of time, trust and perseverance.” A far cry from the structured world he was so eager to foundation his life upon when he graduated from USF.

Just before we broke for the morning to go our separate ways, I asked him if he were able to go back to USF as a guest lecturer and advise other soon-to-be MBA’s what would he say his biggest lessons learned were. Without hesitation he responded, “Take risks. Believe in yourself. Luck is important, too … it creates opportunity. So, accept the luck that comes your way.”

To see what Lenny Semis is dong visit http://www.lpsgc.com/. There’s a photo of him of the “Contact” page, but no title. Remember, he’s just “sells things.”

©Lance Giroux, 2007

1 comment:

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