Why This Question Matters

By Paul E. Casey

Bruce Nordstrom, former CEO of Nordstrom, Inc., taught me a valuable lesson in business long before I even considered going into business for myself. In the late 1970’s, Mr. Nordstrom served as a volunteer and advisor on a task force that was seeking a transit solution for downtown Seattle. At the time, I was the Public Affairs Director for the project. I was providing staff support for this task force. I noticed some significant things about the way that Mr. Nordstrom communicated with other people.

First, when he was in his office, Mr. Nordstrom never used an administrative assistant or secretary to screen his calls. He always answered the phone in person. If I called to ask if he would consider chairing a new transportation committee or if he would do an interview with a Seattle newspaper about the challenges of transportation facing our region, he wouldn’t keep me waiting for my answer. He never said to me, “Well, I don’t know. Why don’t you call me next week, and I’ll let you now if I can do it.”

After I made my pitch, he would pause for about five seconds and give me his answer. “No, I can’t chair that task force at this time.” Or, “Yes I can do the interview. Set it up for this time next week. Our conversations generally lasted thirty seconds or less. He didn’t waste his time or mine floundering about. He knew instantly whether he had the time, knowledge, or desire to proceed with my request. When he was asked a question he acted decisively.

Bottom Line: This is a great lesson, and one that is imperative if you wish to start a successful business. With each successful project, you establish a new standard for future expectations.

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He knew instantly whether he had the time, knowledge, or desire to proceed with my request.