The Desire to Excel

In his book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie illustrated the value of competition with a story about Charles Schwab. For those of you who don’t know or remember, Schwab was the first president of U.S. Steel and earned a million dollars a year in 1920. This Schwab is not to be confused with the Charles Schwab of the investment firm. Schwab was the Steve Jobs of the 1920s.

Schwab had a mill manager who simply could not get his mill to make quota. The manager had coaxed, cussed, and threatened, but the crews would not produce. One day, Schwab visited the mill to discuss the problem with the mill manager. Near the end of the day shift, Schwab asked for a piece of chalk and turned to the nearest worker. “How many heats did your shift make today?” A heat number identifies a production run and is the lot number stamped on the material plate roll to prove it meets industry quality standards.

“Six” was the reply from the employee. Without a word, Schwab chalked a huge number six on the floor and walked away. When the night shift came in, they saw the number 6 on the floor and asked what it meant. “The big boss was here today,” the shift employee answered. “He asked how many heats we made, and he chalked the number on the floor.”

“The next morning, Schwab walked through the mill again. The night shift had rubbed out the number six and replaced it with an even larger number 7. When the day shift reported for work the following day, they saw the big number 7 on the floor. The day crew decided to show the night crew how things could be done. They pitched in with enthusiasm and, when they went home that afternoon, left behind an enormous, swaggering 10.

Within weeks, this mill that had been last in the company in production became the most productive in the company. Schwab explained it this way, “The way to get things done is to stimulate competition. I don’t mean in a sordid way, money-grubbing way, but in the desire to excel.”

America enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world today. We are considered wealthy by every measure or yardstick. One of the primary reasons we have achieved so much is the desire to excel. The desire to prove our worth, to express ourselves, to win at the game of life – is a driving motivation. I work every day with businessmen and businesswomen who care about their customers and their employees. They are in competition, but they are not focused on the competition. They are focused on the desire to excel, improve and be successful.

I see it every day in McAllen. Businesses that are excelling at being successful and making a difference for the people and families they employ and the customers they serve. Do you want to be the best? Focus on excelling at everything you do and understand what high performance looks like.