How to be a Human Swiss Army Knife

Thomas Magnuson  – Co-founder & CEO Magnuson Hotels

Pepperdine Graziago Professor John Mooney, Academic Director, Executive Doctorate of Business Administration & Associate Professor at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School  – In conversation with Thomas Magnuson (MBA ‘89) at January 2021’s Graziadio Day Around the World: Europe  – 08 February, 2021

When you start a business you often only have one or two people so you have to fill every role, even though it’s only a company of one. You may have taken classes, you may not. If you can, take a step back and ask yourself, “What business functions are needed to achieve a profit?” Then, create a simple and lean org chart, not of people, but of the functional roles needed.
When our kids were young Melissa and I told them that they couldn’t count on a 50-year career with the gold watch and the company car. You can’t rely on the idea that the company town will protect you, that’s a romantic ideal of the past.

Embracing Change: Lessons from a Bygone Era

I was born and raised in Wallace, Idaho, a small town known for its silver mines. There, companies used to support their employees in every aspect of life – from education to healthcare, law enforcement, and even leisure activities like swimming pools and cars. This kind of support spanned generations. However, such complete care from employers is no longer something one can expect in our current times.

The School of Hard Knocks

In the 1980s globalisation rose, followed by NAFTA. We started to see the nature of the US and its industry towns change from the cocoon of protectionism to the open field of globalism. Seeing this, we told our kids; you’ve got to be as well rounded as possible. Be a one-person SWAT team, be a business commando or a human Swiss army knife. The learning will come from being independent. By making mistakes you become hard wired not to do that again. It’s living and learning, and sometimes things smack you sideways.

Mastering Every Facet of Your Business

Someone may have the greatest idea in the world but will often launch only to get hit by a lawsuit from someone who has your brand name and is on the other side of the world. Maybe you’ve built a small business using a small SAAS vendor, because it’s affordable and agile. And then a few hundred customers later, you see your vendor partner set up a copycat of your idea. In hindsight, you should have trademarked, and you should have built in a non-compete clause to your agreements. The good news is, if you make these hardscrabble mistakes early on, you will never make them again, and the knowledge will become Gospel within your growing organisation.

In the solitude of countless nights spent seeking solutions alone, the necessity of mastering every facet of your business becomes apparent. From IT to accounting, public relations to negotiation, understanding and excelling in these areas equips you with the tools to thrive amidst adversity. This holistic mastery ensures not only survival but the capacity to outperform in an ever-changing landscape, embodying the true essence of being a human Swiss army knife in the realm of business.

Learn every aspect of your business hands-on so that you become a human Swiss army knife. Because when everything’s got upended, when every sector is upside down, those that are well equipped and can do everything will survive and outperform.