What Self-Made Billionaires Do Best.
They don’t just generate results. They produce breakthroughs.
Post by John Sviokla and Mitch Cohen
Lynda Rae Harris was in her 20s and the owner of a Los Angeles–based ad agency when she met her second husband, Stewart Resnick. He was an entrepreneur who had built a successful janitorial business from scratch after his father won an industrial floor scrubber in a contest. Together, the couple made their first joint acquisition—of the floral wire service company Teleflora—in 1979. They followed it with acquisitions of agricultural land in California, and of the Franklin Mint, all chosen because of Stewart’s penchant for service businesses with repeat customers.
But even the most loyal customers need a reason to keep coming back, and Lynda was always looking for new ways to draw them—seeing and creating what they needed long before they knew they needed it. For example, she came up with the “gift within a gift” concept of packaging Teleflora flower deliveries in a reusable planter or vase. Lynda also redesigned the Franklin Mint’s traditional product set of commemorative coins and stamps to include collectible dolls, including porcelain Scarlett O’Hara and Princess Diana dolls that earned millions.
To make the most of their agricultural assets, Lynda sold the masses on the virtually unknown pomegranate fruit by packaging it as an antioxidant-rich juice drink now known as POM Wonderful. She also rebranded clementines—a sweet orange–mandarin orange hybrid fruit—as “Cuties” and marketed them to time-strapped parents with the slogan “Peel It Yourself.”
Stewart has an eye for purchasing viable businesses with high financial potential. He knows how to make them perform. Lynda can transcend their perceived limits with innovative product ideas and focused marketing. She knows how to produce entirely new business lines, time and again. Together, their ability to perform and produce has made the Resnicks billionaire.
Self-made billionaires are distinguished from the average business leader in one respect. It’s the way they look at the world. Their unusual perspective allows them to turn good ideas into great businesses. We found that most self-made billionaires practice five habits of mind as they apply to ideas, time, action, risk, and leadership. These five habits can be summed up with the word produce. To produce, in our lexicon, is to look beyond an existing business or market to envision something new, develop the often divergent resources necessary to make it real, and sell it to customers who didn’t even know they wanted it. Producers see unmet demand or potential for disruption and meet it head-on. They do this not once or twice, but throughout their careers. If they suffer professionally, it’s because producing is difficult to measure, and sometimes it’s difficult to spot.