Beyond Harvard: Discover Business Success Secrets

Benjamin Gruber


A man and a woman engaged in business negotiations
A man and a woman engaged in business negotiations

The book "What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School" by Mark McCormack is a treasure trove of practical business wisdom, drawn from the author's vast experience in the world of sports management and marketing. McCormack's insights delve into the crucial aspects of business success that often elude the academic curriculum.

Beyond Harvard: Discover Business Success Secrets

The cornerstone of his philosophy is understanding people. Mark McCormack stresses the importance of reading individuals, from their body language to their spoken words, and tailoring communication to resonate with them. He also highlights the significance of building and maintaining relationships, noting that in business, who you know can be just as crucial as what you know.

Sales and negotiation form another critical part of McCormack's teachings. He discusses the art of selling not just products or services but also oneself. The key, he argues, is in being genuinely interested in the other party's needs and wants. In negotiations, he emphasizes the need for preparation, understanding the other party's position, and seeking win-win outcomes.

Running a business, according to McCormack, requires a balance of strategic planning and adaptability. He advises on managing teams effectively, fostering a positive company culture, and the importance of continuous learning and development.

Throughout the book, McCormack weaves in anecdotes and personal experiences, providing a real-world context to his advice. He underlines the idea that while academic learning provides a foundation, true business acumen is honed through experience, intuition, and understanding the human element in business dealings.

People, Sales, Negotiations and Business

The book provides insightful guidance across three main areas: people, sales and negotiation, and running a business.


Mark McCormack discusses various strategies for understanding and interacting with people effectively in business. Key themes include the importance of reading people, creating positive impressions, and the value of listening and observation.

McCormack uses real-life examples and anecdotes to illustrate these points, emphasizing how understanding people's behaviors, motivations, and reactions in various situations can significantly impact business success. This section is rich with practical advice on navigating interpersonal dynamics in the business world.

A practical example involves Dave DeBusschere, a former basketball star and vice-president of Mark McCormack's television company. DeBusschere had several frustrating meetings with an executive from an insurance company in Connecticut. He was attempting to interest the executive in sponsoring one of their television shows.

Despite the executive's genuine interest in the concept, he was overwhelmed by dealing with a former sports star like DeBusschere and couldn't move past his own awe and suspicions. He questioned why a 'regular guy' wasn't presenting the opportunity if it was indeed so great. This example highlights the importance of understanding and adapting to the perceptions and reactions of others in business situations​.

Sales and Negotiations

Here, McCormack delves into the art of selling and negotiation. He shares strategies for effective communication, timing, and the use of silence in negotiations which are crucial for a winning mentality. This part is rich with techniques and stratagems for successful selling and negotiating, drawing from real-life experiences and scenarios.

Psychological Impact in Negotiations

One notable example is the psychological impact of using specific numbers in negotiations. McCormack advises against using round numbers, as they tend to invite counter-offers and negotiations. Instead, he suggests using odd numbers, which sound firmer and less negotiable.

For instance, rather than proposing a round figure like "$100,000," he recommends stating "$95,500" or "$104,500." Such numbers are perceived as more considered and less open to negotiation, often leading to a better final agreement.

Psychological Negotiating Chips

Psychological negotiating chips are elements used in negotiation that carry a potent psychological impact. These chips are seemingly minor or innocuous points in a deal, but they have significant underlying influence. They are powerful because their true value or impact is often not fully understood or recognized by the other party.

For instance, a psychological negotiating chip could be a concession that seems important to the other party but is of little actual cost or consequence to you. This could be something like a minor change in contract terms, a small adjustment in delivery schedules, or offering a title or recognition that is valued by the other party but doesn't materially affect the agreement's core terms.

The strategic use of these chips allows a negotiator to give something to the other party that satisfies their needs or wants, thereby moving the negotiation forward, while simultaneously maintaining or even improving their position. It's a way of creating a win-win situation where the other party feels they have gained something significant, but you've made a concession that, in reality, costs you little or aligns well with your broader objectives.

McCormack's use of psychological negotiating chips highlights the importance of understanding what motivates the other party in a negotiation and using that knowledge to create agreements that are favorable yet satisfying for all involved.

Strategic Sales: Timing & Setting for Maximum Impact

An additional core theme is the importance of timing and setting in making a sale. Choosing the right time and place is crucial for a successful sales pitch. Formal settings, like the buyer's office, might not always be ideal. Instead, environments where the buyer is more relaxed and receptive, such as during a casual lunch, after a sports game, or even in their home, can be more effective.

For example, McCormack recounts an incident where a producer secured a commitment for sixty-five hours of family television programming by screening a pilot in the relaxed setting of a television executive's home. The informal setting, complete with the executive's family and popcorn, created a conducive atmosphere for agreement, demonstrating that the environment can significantly influence the outcome of a sales pitch.

This theme underscores the strategy of understanding and utilizing the right context and moment for making a sale, thereby enhancing the effectiveness of the sales effort​.

Running a Business

In this section, McCormack addresses the broader aspects of managing and growing a business. Topics range from building a business from the ground up to maintaining its success over time. He offers advice on leadership, decision-making, and entrepreneurial insights, all drawn from his extensive experience in the business world.

  1. Leading by Example: McCormack emphasizes the importance of setting a personal example in leadership. He acknowledges that he is demanding of his management executives, but equally demanding of himself. For instance, if he expects a subordinate to come in early or stay late, he ensures he is doing the same or more. This approach builds respect and willingness among employees, contrasting sharply with a leader who makes demands from a position of comfort or privilege. This principle is fundamental: don't ask your employees what you are not willing to do yourself.

  2. The Power of Delegation: McCormack discusses a specific instance where he had to replace the head of the International Television Sales division, a critical part of his business. Instead of choosing from the obvious pool of candidates within the division, he selected an executive from the skiing division. This decision, driven by a desire to try something new and unexpected, resulted in a significant increase in profits. This example illustrates the importance of effective delegation, the ability to build up people and then trust them with responsibilities. It highlights the need for managers to overcome their egos, allowing their teams to grow and take ownership, which can lead to remarkable improvements in business performance.

  3. Income First/Organization Later: McCormack illustrates this concept through the example of setting up a licensing operation for Hank Ketcham, the creator of Dennis the Menace. He points out the folly of focusing too much on organizational structure, like profit-sharing plans, before the business has started making money. McCormack emphasizes that while good organization is vital, it's counterproductive for a new corporation to have an elaborate plan without having earned its first dollar. This example highlights the importance of prioritizing income generation over extensive planning in the early stages of a business.

  4. Flexibility Over Structures: McCormack discusses the importance of not letting rigid structures and systems stifle business growth and innovation. He uses the example of how IBM developed its Peanut computer by putting some of their brightest minds outside the regular structures and rules, allowing them to work freely on the project. This approach reflects the need for businesses to occasionally step outside their established systems to foster innovation and adapt to rapidly changing business environments.

In conclusion, "What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School" serves as a guide for those looking to complement their formal education with the street-smart skills necessary for real-world business success. McCormack's book is a testament to the importance of interpersonal skills, practical wisdom, and the ability to navigate the complex dynamics of the business world.

Order the book now and enhance your business success.

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