Julie’s Note: I am always curious about what inspires someone to actually sit down and write a book. Everyone says that they will, but so few do. I have found that one of the primary motivators is that one believes he has something to say that simply must be shared. Rarely is it a “get rich” plan, but instead a “I want to entertain, help, or inspire” desire.  (I love that!) I asked my friend Chris to share the whys behind his new book.

Guest Post by Christopher Sopko, author of The Pyramid of Business Success   .

C Sopko (5)

I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio.

Some people may already be snickering and that’s okay with me.  In a certain way, Cleveland actually deserves some of it.   A simple Google search will give you all the ammunition you need including unfortunate references to “the mistake on the lake”.

Cleveland is much more than the sum of its historical blunders.  It is a city filled with middle class people with a very solid work ethic.   Loyal, honest people that believe in the importance of family and getting paid a fair wage for a fair days work.  This can also be said for people in cities throughout the Midwest.   In fact, one word may describe them best.  Pragmatic.

Beth Terry wrote an article a number of years ago that included her thoughts about the “Midwest Work Ethic”.  I have included a segment of her article below that sums up much of her thoughts:

The Working List:

  • Do the right thing
  • Do what you said you would do
  • If you need help figurin’ it out, ask somebody
  • You can’t have everything, where would you put it? –  Steven Wright
  • Most luck comes from hard work, goals, and stickin’ to it
  • The best thing you can do when it all goes to hell is keep on moving forward
  • No one said the world is fair, only that it’s round
  • If you screw up, just admit it, fix it, and get the hell outta the way
  • If you’re getting paid for a 40-hour job, they expect you to actually work 40 hours
  • If you don’t own the business, somebody out there who does may have mortgaged their home, their kids, and their future to make it happen. Respect that and give them your best
  • Life really is good; we really do have it great in the US; most people really are decent human beings; and you do create your own success
  • Gratitude, Forgiveness, Grace, Detachment, and Love pretty much trump everything else. Looking for ROI? You’ll find it there.

I came to realize the items on her list have played a significant role in my career, and now in my book.   My dad grew up during the depression and by any definition, had a rough life.  Both of his parents, having emigrated from Europe, barely spoke English and worked as laborers for menial wages.  Upon graduating from high school, my father as a member of “The Greatest Generation”, immediately joined the Marines and spent his time hop scotching from island to island throughout the Pacific until the end of WWII.    Physically unscathed, he returned from this Great War, and took a job driving a truck delivering baked goods to restaurants and convenience stores throughout the greater Cleveland area.  He quickly started his family and ended up with three boys and no girls

My father left the house each day at 4:30 am and returned 12 hours later and did this for his entire working life.  Money certainly not in abundance, but he managed to save enough to help put his three sons through college and to retire at a decent age.  Witnessing his efforts, frugality, and how he carried himself on a day to day basis helped to instill some of his best qualities in me as well.  Effort, honesty and pragmatism were at the very core of his being.

He taught me many valuable things, one of which was to take personal responsibility for my actions.  It was, and is, one of the most valuable pieces of wisdom I have ever received.  I remember his “talks” in which he explained how important it was for people to take responsibility for their actions.  That everyone would be faced with a lot of different choices during their lifetime and that it was important for each of us to evaluate them, their consequences, and to ultimately make the right decision.  He especially stressed that I really think about the impact that my choices would have upon not just my life, but how they might affect other members of my family or people that we cared about.

His words often echoed in my head that I had to be responsible for my success AND my future.  No one else was going to do it for me.

As a teenager, I also read a book by John Wooden, the most successful men’s basketball coach in the history of the NCAA.  His book contained a graphical model that he created to outline his theory on what it took to be successful as a basketball player and in the game of life.  I have included a copy below:


This resonated with me and I always kept it in the back of my mind throughout my business career.  It wasn’t until many years later that I had the “epiphany” to modify what he started and specifically apply it to the business world.

Early in my career, I began to travel around the country opening up new restaurants for a national hospitality company and I later got a job selling Point of Sale (POS) systems for a large, international organization.   A few years later, I took another sales job at a company based in Cleveland that has its world headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Within 10 years I was promoted to the President of their US and Canadian operations and over the past 15 years I have held similar roles for two other international organizations.

Thankfully, everywhere I went I experienced success in one form or another, and I attribute most of it to what my father taught me:  Working hard, being honest and taking responsibility helped to carry me a long way and they are just a few of the leadership lessons I learned from his school of hard knocks.  I studied the leaders that I had, trying to determine the elements of great leadership.

There is not a shortage of books and articles about what it takes to be successful in business, but I couldn’t find one that really spelled out the core attributes and personal characteristics of successful business people; the type of people that others want to be around, that lead by example, and that time and time again demonstrate long term success.   In my opinion, even the most well- known books on this subject do not adequately cover the topic.

I began to document and outline the critical behaviors and personal characteristics that I feel are important and I narrowed them down to just 15 items.  Many of these may appear to be quite obvious, but putting them into a “pyramid” based upon what Coach Wooden started enables everyone to easily review and perhaps educate themselves on what it takes to be successful.  I firmly believe that the concepts have application regardless of the markets or products being sold.



I do not believe that organizations will be able to maintain long term success if leaders do not focus on these attributes, and hire people who possess them as well.

Most business owners declare that “people” are their most important asset and may spend millions of dollars in training and development with mixed results.  My experience has led me to the conclusion that the reason is more closely related to the hiring process rather than pure intelligence.  Some will operate with integrity, put in the hard work necessary, and use their enthusiasm and competitive spirit to learn and become a master at what is being taught.  Others simply sit through training programs without putting in much effort to actually learn. From what I have seen, this is the primary reason for the variation in effectiveness.

I really believe the importance of a good match to these characteristics will become even more pronounced over the next few years.  Take a look at how about.com described the latest group of people who are now beginning to play significant roles in the work force, often referred to as the “Millennials” or “Generation Y”:

“Millennials are individualistic, innovative, creative, celebrators of diversity, multi-taskers, and write their own rules. They appreciate a structured, supportive work environment with personalized assignments and interactive relationships with their supervisors. Millennials work well in a team environment and prefer to have close relationships with their supervisors to help them feel more confident and supported.

Millennials also strive for balance in their work and personal lives and are unwilling to commit to jobs requiring long hours, evening, or weekend work. This may seem like a lack of commitment to those who have given their heart and soul to an organization but Millennials do value achievement and are confident in their abilities to produce within the confines of a regular work week. Millennials look to work in meaningful jobs where they can make an overall contribution to the bottom line of the organization, while feeling like they are really helping them meet their overall objectives and goals.”

I believe that the Millennials described above will respond quite well to managers who demonstrate the characteristics of my Pyramid of Business Success on a daily basis.

Regardless of the “generation” being considered, it will always be up to the hiring team at any organization to find the right people who are a good match to the attributes in the pyramid. Sadly, my experience tells me that not many organizations spend a lot of time uncovering this type of information. Time and time again I have seen companies focus the efforts of their interview process on skill sets and previous experience, while spending little time (if any) uncovering the truth about the candidate’s basic characteristics and the type of person that they are at their very core.   If at some point you come to the conclusion that the attributes in this book are important, then it is up to you as a business owner/manager to find the right people that match these characteristics as closely as possible. It is also up to you to try and continually develop these characteristics in your team members on a day to day basis.

We are all probably aware that many successful long term businesses have been built by people who do not have any type of “work-life balance”, and it is for this reason that you will not see it as an actual block in my Pyramid of Business Success.  You will note, however, that it actually surrounds my model and I have created an entire chapter pertaining to the topic toward the end of the book.   I believe that this concept will become increasingly important over the next 5-10 years.

I would like to point out that as with any pyramid, mine has been constructed from the ground up, with the most important items contained in its base.  Without a strong base any pyramid will simply collapse, and the same can be said for The Pyramid of Business Success.