From the Basketball Court to the Boardroom

In Jack Keough's first blog for MDM, he looks at what makes a top performer tick.
Long-time editor of Industrial Distribution magazine Jack Keough joins MDM this week as a contributing editor. This is his first weekly blog for To contact him, email
At 5 feet, 3 inches tall, Muggsy Bogues was the shortest player to play in the National Basketball Association. Everyone had always told him he was too small to make it in the big leagues. They all doubted that someone of his size could challenge the 7-footers who dominated the court. It turned out that his competitiveness, resilience and self-discipline led him to success on the court.
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What does Muggsy have to do with distribution? A lot, says Herb Greenberg, CEO and founder of international consulting firm Caliper, and Patrick Sweeney, president of the company.
The two men delivered a keynote speech at the annual summit of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors in Washington, D.C. last week and outlined the traits top athletes have in common with successful leaders in distribution. Greenberg has a unique perspective. He’s been associated with a number of sports teams, including the New York Jets, along with industrial distributors such as Carolina Handling and the Modern Group.
Greenberg and Sweeney said there are four main characteristics that separate top performers, whether you’re an athlete, an industrial salesperson or CEO. They identified those traits as competitiveness, self-discipline, optimism, and resilience.
“Competitiveness is the core quality we look for in an athlete or in a chief executive officer,” Greenberg says.
Athletes, he adds, want to be connected to other top performers. It’s no different in business. Creating a culture in which wins are celebrated and top performers are pushed to exceed even their own expectations are critical to a company’s success.
Some distributors recognize those characteristics. The CEO of a power transmission distributorship once told me that when hiring new people he takes a hard look at what they’ve accomplished beyond school. For example, he looks for prospective sales candidates that have played on a sports team or a school club and developed the ability to compete and win. He likened the winning of a game to winning a contract with a new customer.
“These are people who have had to attend practices every day and have a worked as part of a team to accomplish a goal,” he said.
Greenberg and Sweeney offered what I consider a key tip for taking your business to the next level: Surround yourself with optimistic, can-do people.
“If you hire optimistic people who share your vision, you have a good chance to succeed,” says Sweeney. “Look for positive people. Pessimistic people can ruin all you’re trying to achieve.”
Anyone who has managed people has seen these types of employees. These workers seem to suck the oxygen out of a room and bring down the attitude of all those around them. They respond to change with a negative view of every new idea and always seem to talk about why the plan won’t work, not how it can be executed.
We don’t need them on the basketball court, nor do we need them in our distribution businesses.
As an aside, I want to say how happy I am to be blogging for MDM. I’ve known Publisher Tom Gale for many years and it’s a pleasure to be working with him and my former colleague Associate Publisher Craig Riley. I’ve been writing about distribution for nearly 25 years and it’s a pleasure to correspond with all of you once again. I am now the owner of Keough Business Communications and I can be reached at or by phone at 508-734-0029.
Keough can also be reached at
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