'Career' is only one letter away from 'careen.' Get moving.

– Something that came to me on my walk home today.

The Annual Report Project

I recently set out to educate myself more formally about business at a high level. I’m surrounded in my social life by people who work in what I’ll call ‘macro’ industries like consulting and investing or who have gone to business school. These industries and business school classes teach you frameworks for looking at companies and markets at a 10,000 foot level. I haven’t spent enough time doing that while being busy in an operational role at a company, so I’ve been looking for more ways to build that big picture way of thinking.

This (and a side investing habit) brought me to annual reports as a way to develop these frameworks for myself. Why? Well, annual reports are free and publicly available unlike, say, Harvard Business School cases. But also annual reports provide both broad information like strategy and industry landscape and detailed information on a company’s financials. While obviously contrived for investors and rather stale, annual reports are something of an open kimono for someone looking to study business operations, risks, and opportunities. And did I mention, they’re free?

So, I’ve put together for myself a plan called The Annual Report Project. Just about every weekend, I’ll read an annual report from a different company. After a year, I’ll have read annual reports from at least 50 companies.

I chose my 50 companies based on several criteria. First, I wanted to explore companies that interested me either from a business model or product perspective. Second, I wanted to be sure I was well-rounded and covering multiple industries. Third, I wanted exposure to both successful and troubled companies. So I selected my favorites (mostly tech and retail), added in a number of others from a wide swath of industries, and then sprinkled in a few failed or struggling companies. Here’s the list:

Technology

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Microsoft
  • LinkedIn
  • Salesforce
  • eBay
  • Oracle
  • Netflix
  • Yahoo
  • Amazon
  • Priceline
  • Apple
  • Pets.com (S-1, 2000)

Financial Services

  • Bank of America
  • American Express
  • Visa
  • Berkshire Hathaway
  • Bear Sterns (2007)
  • Paychex

Consumer Staples

  • Procter & Gamble
  • Phillip Morris
  • Coca-Cola
  • Pepsi
  • Costco
  • Wal-Mart
  • Lorillard
  • Post

Consumer Discretionary

  • Starbucks
  • GAP
  • Fast Retailing
  • Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey
  • Williams-Sonoma
  • Whole Foods
  • Restoration Hardware
  • Limited Brands
  • Inditex

Automotive

  • Toyota
  • Ford

Delivery / Freight

  • FedEx
  • UPS

Healthcare

  • Pfizer
  • Regeneron

Media / Communications

  • Time Warner
  • AT&T
  • Disney
  • News Corp

Travel

  • Southwest
  • Delta
  • Alaska Airlines
  • United

For each of these, I’ll be reading the most recent annual report available unless otherwise indicated. For companies like Berkshire Hathaway, I’ll likely indulge in reports several years beyond the most recent.

I’m storing these 50 annual reports in my ereader app of choice on my iPhone for easy access. And I’m keeping track of my progress against the reports in a Google Spreadsheet. I’m also making notes alongside specific companies on additional reading they inspire (like a CEO’s biography or more recent news articles on the company’s moves).

The result of this project, I hope, will be a much broader awareness of management practices and marketplace challenges across industries. I mentioned recently the importance of creating for yourself a continuing education plan (whether grad school or something more informal), and this is part of mine.

Our retail stores serve as billboards for our brands…

This is from the Williams-Sonoma 2012 Annual Report. When it comes to multichannel retailing, brick and mortar is now something like an out of home brand advertisement for ecommerce.

Restoration Hardware reveals that when it opens a physical store in a new market, its catalogue and ecommerce sales in that market also grow between 30% and 75%. The existence of a brick and mortar store in a geographic area serves to increase the mindshare and consideration for that brand across all its channels.

This is not unlike the time tested tactic of positioning luxury boutiques on 5th Avenue or mass market stores in Times Square where those customer segments are known to visit. The oversized, touristy outlets serve as advertisements for those brands’ other sales channels.

It’s like putting showrooming to work for you instead of against you.

As we grow, I worry that incrementalism will slip into our thinking. Someone will have a great idea on design, and then before they even show it to someone, they’ll say, but we couldn’t do that because that won’t work on a phone, or that will [upset] a bunch of users. So I’m really focusing on making sure people know that they have permission to be courageous.

– Twitter CEO Dick Costolo on the burden of becoming big. via WSJ.

And my grandmother, she started off as a secretary in a bank…and she worked her way up to become a vice president…

But she hit the glass ceiling. She trained people who would end up becoming her bosses during the course of her career. She didn’t complain; that’s not what you did in that generation.

– Barack Obama told this story during the second presidential debate this year. It stung me. And it was a painful flash forward to what women might face if they don’t stand up for themselves. I’m tucking this bittersweet story away now, so I can always come back to and bolster myself with it.

Now all they have to worry about is whether the scrappy Internet search engine is really worth $27 billion.

– 2004: A skeptical NYT article (and most of the public) wonders if Google isn’t just… a big fat bubble. 2013: Google announces its annual revenue is greater than $50 billion. 

Jobs Our Future Commerce Analyst Has Right Now

As you may have heard, I’m building up a Commerce Team here at Gawker Media. This means we’re going to be seeking new types of talent that our organization has never seen before. But these folks need not come strictly from ecommerce…

Here are some gigs you might have had if you’re applying to be our Commerce Analyst —

  • eBay store owner
  • Sales operations analyst
  • Affiliate marketer
  • Forecasting / inventory analyst
  • Google analytics nerd
  • Media planner
  • Merchandiser
  • Ad trafficker
  • Email marketer
  • Spreadsheet monkey
  • Audience development analyst
  • Social media number cruncher
  • Disenchanted ibanker
  • AdWords marketer
  • Shopify store owner
  • Addicted shopper
  • Growth hacker

…all with a healthy addiction for ecommerce and retail on the side.

You might say, how do all these relate? They involve either quantitative skills and critical thinking (that are exactly what this position requires) or the early phases of ecommerce analysis (which, same).

That said, applicants in the above situations (or anything else we haven’t named) should absolutely have a strong interest in the coming intersection of content + commerce. That’s the necessary passion that gets you here beyond your past experience. 

And, tell us about that passion! If you’re a sales ops analyst or an ibanker applying for a commerce position, we’re going to need some insight into what motivates your new direction.

He named the site Etsy because he ‘wanted a nonsense word because I wanted to build the brand from scratch. I was watching Fellini’s 8 ½ and writing down what I was hearing. In Italian, you say ‘etsi’ a lot. It means ‘oh, yes.’ And in Latin, it means ‘and if.’

No one gives a shit about content from a commerce company.

– Phillipe von Borries, co-founder Refinery29 (via PandoDaily). I’m not entirely convinced we’ve heard the last word here, but for now it’s very much the truth.

Hiring for the Long Haul

I recently had the opportunity to see our 25 person/six city team all together in the same room for the first time in a long time. I realized I had a hand in directly or indirectly hiring three quarters of them. With the team’s stellar performance as of late, I was proud to have assembled so much of our talent. This made me reflect on some of the methodologies that I’ve developed around interviewing and hiring in the last several years.

Beyond the usual advice of always hiring someone with the right skills who is better than you (so important!), here are 10 other best practices for hiring in a growth organization:

1. Hire good eggs
The most important thing to me is that a candidate feels like a ‘a good egg.’ A good egg is a person who — whether or not his/her skillset is a match for your position — is at his/her very core a much more just, reliable, motivated, interested, curious, and sensible human being than the average. Good eggness is not something you can write a job listing for. It’s just something you can feel in each interaction with that person. A-player is another term that’s similar. But good egg gets at qualities beyond just executional ability such as potential for cultural fit within rapidly shifting teams and the long term intellectual curiosity that will power skill advancement.

2. Hire people not positions
While it’s important to create a job spec so you know precisely why you’re hiring, it’s also really important to ignore that spec. No one will ever fit it perfectly. You have to be prepared to value innate talent over proven skill. A smart, motivated person (a good egg!) can learn anything.

3. Hire with a two year outlook
Heck, maybe even three years. In a growth business, you will be hiring someone who will help you see the organization through several phases. You should have a mental map of both the candidate’s potential career growth and the organization’s capacity for that growth. This gets harder as company structures get more complex, but you should at least know how a candidate’s abilities might map to your organization’s needs in the long term.

4. Hire slowly
The old aphorism is so trite but so true: Hire slow (fire fast). I have a team that’s particularly hard to staff (odd skill set, less familiar role to job seekers) and its positions usually take many months to fill. Amazingly these are junior, just-out-of-college positions. You wouldn’t expect we’d take that long to fill entry level roles, but it’s absolutely worth the search time. The team is top notch. So don’t just hire willy nilly to fill seats. If you do, that’s all you’ll get… seat-fillers.

5. Hire industry citizens
The more your organization’s networking and knowledge-seeking can be distributed throughout its branches, the better it will be. Know-how in your area of business can’t just come from the top. So favor candidates who — regardless of level — are entrenched in their industry social circles, take an interest in industry events, have other potential hires/contractors they can bring with them, or follow the moves of industry players and companies rigorously. These industry ‘citizens’ will then bring their connections, knowledge, and ambition to your organization. And you will need that, because yours alone cannot power the team forever.

6. Interview collaboratively
Involve everyone on the hiring team (even direct reports) and key stakeholders from surrounding teams in the interviewing process. You do this for a few reasons. The classic political reason is buy-in. If you are able to get support for the candidate from others in the organization, then you increase the chance of your hire’s success once onboard. Another reason is to ensure a mutually respectful relationship with teammates and direct reports. Some people would say that the direct report interview invites an uncomfortable dynamic. That is a valid concern. But it’s more important to treat everyone on the same playing field in this moment. You want to make sure that all involved parties can respect and be motivated by each other, regardless of reporting structure.

7. Interview relentlessly
Any candidate, regardless of skill level, should interview at least three times. Some folks may view this as over-vetting or wasting time especially when entry level hires are concerned. But it’s crucial to make sure that you have a consistent, comprehensive picture of a person’s nature and abilities before bringing him/her onboard. You get this by bringing a candidate in multiple times to meet multiple people in multiple situations (we do everything from office interviews to social outings). I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to apply the same level of scrutiny to junior level hires that you would to senior level hires. Give everyone a proper vetting.

8. Force individual feedback
When you’re interviewing collaboratively, you may be tempted to solicit feedback from a group of folks at once. It’s faster and easier, but unfortunately it sways opinions. Instead, get feedback from individuals alone and then assess the complete picture. You want reviews from each interviewer to be fresh, distinct, and unbiased by more vocal teammates. (Of course, a collaborative interview process isn’t rule by committee or a tally of votes. The designated hiring manager invites feedback and considers opinions but ultimately makes the final decision alone.)

9. Don’t hire assistants
Don’t hire entry-level people and call them ‘assistants.’ It shouldn’t be anyone’s job to just take the bitch work off of someone else. Every person in an organization should have a dominion over which they are the sole decision-maker. Whether that dominion is creating meeting schedules or bringing in millions of dollars a year, everyone owns a piece of the organization’s productivity. No one just works for someone else. And those people find ways to escape those jobs anyway. (I find ‘Coordinator’ to be a much better title and role development approach where companies otherwise might use diminutives like ‘Assistant’ or ‘Junior.’)

10. Be prepared to call it quits
If all the skill attributes on the hire check out, but something just doesn’t feel right about the candidate’s fit for the position, then he/she likely won’t be right. You’re hiring for what essentially is a family member. It has to not only work out on paper — it has to feel right. Trust your instinct and call off the process if you need to.

Once your hire is onboard, you’re not done recruiting! Never stop selling your team members on the value of their roles, abilities, and contributions. It is the never ending job of a manager to evangelize the company mission to the team member. Remind them every day why you’re worth working for. The skills developed for retention will end up being just as challenging and consequential as the skills needed for hiring.