Chain of Thought

Why Are Immigrants More Likely to Succeed? Ask Their Moms.

I’m in San Antonio this week for MHI’s annual meetings and executive conference. So what could executives in attendance possibly learn about business from the president of a university? Dr. Nido Qubein, president of High Point University, was the keynote speaker Monday morning, and he answered that question by explaining where he came from. He came from Lebanon with $50 in his pocket and used what his mother gave him to manage several successful businesses here in the States, including Great Harvest Bread—which he bought at about the same time diet guru Dr. Adkins was warning people away from carbs. Nevertheless, he made that business a success and now serves on the boards of the La-Z-Boy Corp. and Dots Stores.

What did Qubein's mother give him that got him where he is today?

“My mother said if you want to be a great person you need to be side by side with great people,” he said. In other words, business results come from behavior and beliefs. And speaking as an immigrant, he cited a stat he learned from various sources: immigrants are four times as likely to become millionaires in the U.S. because they believe they can make it. The danger lies in narrowing your search. This led him into businesses as broad as bread and hard as easy chairs. He also broadened his mother’s lesson about hanging with great people: Hang with people smarter than you.

“Who you spend time with is who you become,” Qubein said. “It’s never the circumstances, it’s always your choices that determine success.”

His talk was peppered with many such business bon mots worthy of Mom. I’ll share some of his best, suitable for framing and following:

“To Do” lists are transactional. You need a “To Be” list. You also need a “Stop Doing” list.

The only way to thrive is to change. How you change is how you succeed.

Where people fail in change is how they communicate change to their people.

Facts tell, emotions sell.

It’s not just about change, it’s whether you transform.

Interpret the value of what you sell for your people and your customers.

Go beyond selling to positioning.

Get rid of irritants in your business system; to do that you must learn what irritates your customer.

Go from training to education; from what to do to how to be. From success to significance.

Sure, these are pretty words. But words mean things. We’re deep into the season where politicians try to get you to believe a lie is the truth via constant repetition. Maybe if you repeat Qubein’s truths often enough you can share in his reality.

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