The Art of Management and My Old Man


By Bernard Levy


Management combines art and science.  Managers, especially CEOs, usually excel in their respective companies’ technology, but they often lack the finesse necessary to practice the art of management. 


The art of management employs skill, craftsmanship and creativity to accomplish goals, while science uses principles and methods to make the “wheels of progress” mesh smoothly and functionally.


All the varied business functions must be performed simultaneously to achieve and maintain success.  The larger the company, the greater the opportunity for more personnel to practice the science and art of their functions.  Although the CEO may excel in only one or two functions, he  (or she) also has the responsibility to supervise the entire company.  I have analogized these duties to those of a symphony orchestra conductor; he alone is responsible for the orchestra’s members to play together with passion and competence.


I received my initial science and art business training from the master of them all.  No, it wasn’t Jack Welch, nor was it Lee Iacocca or even Peter Drucker; it was my old man.  He was a master at both science and art.


My dad was the original Sam Walton.  He and his dad started Levy’s hardware and Sporting Goods in 1919.  It operated in the same location for 60 years when my dad, 77 years old, finally called it quits in 1978.


He was the classical small businessperson and operated the store almost exclusively by himself, with my mom at his side.  He did have an employee at times, but he was a terrible supervisor because perfection was his game, and he would willingly do the work that he instructed others to do.


He ended his business career before Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr., published their best seller, “In Search of Excellence,” in 1982.  He died before Scott Adams published his “Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook” in 1996.


He never had the benefit of reading Peter F. Drucker’s “Managing in Turbulent Times,” published in 1980.  He also missed the vastly overrated best sellers for the last several years, including “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, M.D., and “Fish!” by Steven C. Lundin, Ph.D., Harry Paul and John Christensen.


Dad had an eighth grade education and was forced into business to care for his family.  He learned by experience, and he was a grand master of the business art form.


He was the best businessperson I have ever observed, analyzed, audited or counseled.  He was successful because he knew people, their buying habits, their needs, their weaknesses and their strengths.


Many businesses focus on the value of that old real estate adage, “Location, location, location.”  My dad’s store had a reasonable location but it wasn’t the best.  It only had street parking, and its square footage totaled 2,375, including a shop/storage area of 625 square feet.  But, he merchandise the heck out of that space.


Self-taught, he was the best window dresser in the world.  Creative and packed full of merchandise, his windows pulled people into the store where Dad and Mom greeted them with open arms.  No customer was ever left unattended for more than a minute or two and, during that period, they made the most of viewing extensive displays of products. 


Dad was the master of serving multiple customers at the same time.  He practiced the message of “Fish!”  He enjoyed his work, and he made every customer’s shopping experience positive and delightful.


He knew all about finding, eating, rediscovering and savoring cheese.  He knew firsthand about managing in turbulent times; he succeeded in the Great Depression.  He maintained reasonable inventory levels and timely introduced new products.  He anticipated and took advantage of new trends.  He enjoyed what he did, and he did it well.


As a kid and a young man working in the store during summers and evenings, I never appreciated the experience.  But, fortunately, osmosis took hold, and I absorbed much about business and people.


It’s one thing to be an academic and write about business; it’s quite another to be a businessperson and simply do business.  The people who own and manage small businesses do not have the latitude to make the major mistakes and judgment errors that continually, it seems, are made by large businesses such as General Motors or Ford.  By the way, consider the current state of those industrial giants – pretty bad, huh?


Don’t get me wrong - book learning is important; but nothing, absolutely nothing, replaces the value of experience and a love for what you do.  Take it from me.  You won’t go wrong with my suggested advice because I learned from a grand master, my old man.