Saturday, November 3, 2018

When have you been ruthless in business and how? Answered by Kyle Phoenix

Newspaper Route & Comic Books, Literary Society and The Test Dinner Party and Corporate Drama

Newspaper Route & Comic Books
At 6 years old, I needed cash. I was fiending for it. I had a comic book/action figure Jones and my measly allowance, washing dishes and sweeping and taking out the garbage, that bullshit wasn’t working out.

I went to my mother and stepfather and explained that something had to change in this set up or I’d make their lives hell. My mother was like well, get a job or more appropriate t, start a business. I went back to my round king sized bed and contemplated what i could do on Staten Island, a business.
Once I’d gotten past drug dealer, abortion doctor and assassin I came back to her with newspapers. I could sell the Sunday newspaper to the neighbors in our building. Just like I brought her the paper in the morning and did the same for a neighbor, I could knock on doors and ask if they wanted to buy it for a slight mark up. 50%. I was young, I was cute, I could pull it off. But I needed a loan, a huge loan to get me started—-and the shopping cart. And an alarm clock. Ok, a huge loan, the shopping cart, an alarm clock and maybe a nice breakfast to get me started at 6am. And hugs, plenty of supportive hugs.

My mother wrote up a contract to loan me $5 with repayment terms that I was to pull from my profits. I was also given the rule of knock/ring the door, place the shopping cart before me and the door, never go inside.

I signed. She spotted me $5 and that Sunday I bought a wad of papers and started my invented route. I was sold out in 30 minutes. I took the profits and went and bought another round of papers and sold out of those in 30 minutes. I went and did a third time. By the time I got home that first morning, I gave back the bank—-my mother her $5 and had funding cash plus profits for the Jones I was feeding. For months I was up at the crack of dawn, knocking on doors, selling more and more papers. More profits meant I could buy more at a time—10, 20, 40 papers at a time so I could do one good trip, one good round and go back home.

My babysitter’s niece and nephew lived in the buildings up the block. They wanted to know if I would teach them, hire them. I did. I broke off some of my papers, they sold them and I paid them for every batch they sold, different than the 50% price we were reselling for. I pointed out, the more of your profit you pour back in, the more papers I can front you, the more you’ll make. I was acting as the bank, as my mother had, but they never worked multiple waves to build up their profit cache, they worked like one or two.

Then the niece, let’s call her Agnes—-Agnes says I should split the TOTAL Sunday profits 3 ways. Agnes was older and taller than me. I told her to take a deep breath and think this through. Careful, bitch, careful.
Agnes, rather threateningly loomed over me that she could just take it away. Her bother, Johnny, my age, agreed. Agnes added that unless I agreed to a 1/3 split, she and Johnny would just go buy papers themselves and sell in their buildings and not use me as a bank nor cut me into the profits (they were technically franchisees.)
I asked was she sure? Agnes haughtily said yes. Johnny yelled yes. I politely told them they were both fired and walked away.
I went home and explained this to my mother who explained that I’d done the right business thing but babysitting time might get dicey.

I went and we played and laughed that whole week and then Sunday came. I continued my route, I assumed they continued in their buildings. This went on for a few weeks until their aunt approached my mother, Agnes and Johnny had no funding capital and I’d told them they were fired. My mother explained what had happened. They were employees (at best franchisees) and had jumped out of pocket. I was the sole owner of my business, it was up to me.

I smiled politely and continued my business. I fired my first employees at 7, that still gives me a special tickle to my heart when I think about it. Agnes and Johnny, having taken on the position of employees (at best franchisees) misunderstood that they held the least power in the relationship, particularly with no financial backing. I could cut them out, fire them, wait them out, take them back or do nothing. That’s the power of being the owner.
We moved.

Comic Books and Copyright
A few years later I’m in Middle School. Again I need cash. I would visit my mother at her job at AT&T and we’d meet my stepfather and go to dinner. I would sit at a desk coloring or reading comics or doing my homework or making photocopies.
I got a brilliant idea. I would enlarge panels and make posters of comic books.
I went back to school and told all the comic geeks—-what posters do you want? 25, 50 cents, $1, $2 specialty color orders. I was doing weekly deliveries in a month, collecting cash and breaking all copyright laws.
Then we started playing role playing games but everyone wanted the game rules, campaign books—-I started copying the campaign books. I’d buy them for $6, photocopy and sell for $3,
Then I was like, we have so many original ideas. I actually came up with the Vision being merged into the Hulk!

What if we created our own comic books? Our own comic book company? Published and sold them around the country?
How to recruit? What would be the membership charge monthly?
Comic fans would send in letters to a comic and they’d be printed on the last page—-I copied them down—-on my Commodore 128 typed up intro letters and a membership form and for a measly $25 you could join!
I used the proceeds from one venture to create the other and got dozens of members. My best friend was the VP. Then he moved to Long Island. Then he got lazy. Then I fired him. By now my mother was used to explaining to parents that if their children didn’t hold up to the bargain, implied contracts, occasionally written contracts I’d created, they could be fired. Yes, she acknowledged, her son was a bit ruthless.

I learned a lot from The Wealth Choice: Success Secrets of Black Millionaires.

Literary Society and The 48 Laws of Power at A Dinner Party

Fast forward to college. The comic book amateur company had run it’s course after about 5 years. I was just writing/being a student, looking for the next opportunity. I get to undergrad SUNY, I start writing for the newspaper, the magazine, the Literature chapbooks, the graduate chapbooks. I’m on a tear. Mainly because I have a sense of my work as product and not writer angst. So I make deals with editors—-for instance the school magazine published 16 times a semester—-if they would give me three cover story slots—-I would do them, deliver, but I needed a column, ten short story slots. To the Editor in Chief it was a dream come true—-he had guaranteed content from me.

The Lit Society asked me to become an Editor and hinted, the mostly female group that had started it that in a couple of years they’d all be graduating so I could be in line to be the Lit Society Club President and Editor in Chief.

Hmmm. I’d now progressed in my entrepreneurial thoughts to OPM in business—-Other People’s Money—-using the capital of others—-namely SUNY—-and I’d long thought the University's money would be an excellent resource to experiment with.

I turn to the newspaper and I’m dropping stories to them and to the magazine and the yearly Lit Society chapbook—-there were some grumbles and upset—-back then I didn’t think it was racial or jealousy or a combination of both—-now looking back, the lack of Black students writing for the publications—-I actually pulled a friend in so there would be two of us at the magazine and newspaper —-was a factor that I was too young to completely codify. Also jealousy—-I had a huge output—-I’d started going through the Writer’s Market book and sending out 20–50 manuscripts/stories/poems a month.

(I have a blind spot about jealousy because I’m an only child so I’ve never had envious situations. I’ve also been mainly en-cultured with adults so I’ve always operated at an adult level—-applying an adult level of production, perfectionism, interest and strategy to things that younger people generally learn not find immediately natural.)

Year 3 comes around and the old guard that had started the Lit Society Club and published the chapbook are all in their Senior years and leaving within a semester or so. By the Student Government laws (we’re in April) we have to vote in a new cabinet. I’ve dutifully been an Editor for two years. There was a bit of a feminist slant to the Board, it had been created by young White women and it’s primary supporters on faculty were White female professors. I noted this but didn’t think it would be an issue as I was friends with everyone. I often forget I’m Black. And male. And tall. Call it past lives as a woman haze.

My mother though she’s chatting me up about my work, school, extra curricula moves and we’re discussing her entrepreneurial businesses and then my interest in the magazine or the Lit Society—-becoming EIC or President & EIC.

We decide that the Lit Society is where I should start first, to experiment with OPM and publishing before taking over the magazine—-and the chapbook has more freedom than the magazine.

Now there’s a 1 credit 15 slot management responsibility that comes with anyone who signs up for credit. It’s a lot but I’ve been TAing for three years by then for several professors, in fact I’m the only undergraduate TA in the history of SUNY. Normally you have to be a graduate student but since I’m 3 years older than most Freshman and have extensive work experience, I’ve been granted the position and I’m also getting a paycheck for it, eventually totaling as high as a grad student’s. Again, I’m obtuse that these might be extraneous issues to my running for President.

My mother is like race, gender, sexual orientation, your TA position, the credits, it’s all going to come up and it’s going to get ugly. Here’s what you have to do:
  • First she sends me a certificate of accomplishment, naming me as President and EIC, three months before the election. She tells me to hang it up in my apartment, to focus and visualize it coming to pass.
  • Then she’s like, make a list of everyone involved and notations about each one of them, what you know, grudges, who they like and dislike—-files on everyone.
  • Then she’s like you need leverage—-it’s essentially a popularity contest—-due to race and maleness and spite, I’m not going to win just based on capability, I have to stack the deck.
All elections take place on say the 2nd Friday of April. But by the 1st Friday of April all school clubs have to have spent up their entire budget for the year (anywhere from $500 to $10,000) or have it committed in signage/promissory notes for the SUNY office to pay (say you order jackets for your club for graduation—-the check might not need to be cut until the last week of April for the jackets to be made and delivered by the 2nd week of May but the money must be spoken for).

Now the chapbook had been paid for once a semester, it cost $1000 to print several hundred copies but the budget of the Lit Society was always about $250 a semester—-they had to beg these professors to write checks—normally their supporting White female teachers.

I explain all these machinations to my mother and she’s like that’s where you have leverage. We talk about all the people I know, and because I’m a TA, I know students from all class levels and lots of groups that they belong to. Go to those clubs, the last week, when everyone HAS to get their budget to zero or the SUNY review assumes they gave them too much money and lessens their new year budget. Catch them a few days before the deadline and clubs will sign off on giving you thousands of dollars.

Which is what I do. Now I have a stack of signed promissory notes for thousands of dollars for the coming year, more than the Lit Society has ever raised before—-the LGBT club, The Black Student Association, Fraternities, Latin Association, the Chess Club!
But I tell the clubs that the Board meeting/election is happening early, the Thursday before the deadline, if I don’t become President—-I’ll tear up all the promissory notes but I’ll redirect all the monies to other clubs I work with.

The Lit Board meeting begins—-a guy who was desperately trying to seduce me warns that not everyone likes me. he was White, I should’ve known, ready to roll over and die—-no spine……glad I never let him touch me.
The President, let’s call her Chastity, suggests something that in 5 years has never happened, after everyone announces their interest in positions. (I’d locked up the other positions—Closet Guy for VP, a young lady for Treasurer and another guy for Secretary—-it will be a new clean Board to start off with.)
Chastity says she'll stay President for another semester, though technically she’s graduating in May, and then I can become President in January of the following year. For January to April. I ask if in the 5 years of the Lit Society existing has this ever happened or been done before? They all admit no.

Then out of left field, a girl we shall call Jane jumps out at me that I need to be quiet and stay in place and not forget they started this and they’ll structure it as they will, even as they leave. (Amazingly, completely justifying some social experiment, Jane had been the nicest to me over the years and I’d never seen her so…venomous. Most tellingly, no one came to my defense.)

I politely look over my left shoulder, then my right shoulder. There’s a room full, maybe 25 people and I ask her: “Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to in that tone?”
Then I rip her a new one, sideways, in Latin, with a double axle twist.

Five minutes later when I’m done with her, she actually ran out of the room crying.

I turn to the rest of them and I say:
  • I’ve put in the years as an Editor, supporter, etc,
  • I have more than enough experience, in fact I’m more qualified than them to run the credit granting aspect
  • and over qualified than any of them to manage a business and I will not settle for a halfsies Presidency.
  • Oh, and I have thousands of dollars , I slap the promissory letters on the conference room table, that are attached to me as President. The letters are commitments to me. I’ll take them/the cash, thousands of dollars to another club. And they, whomever is left from this shit show can beg yet another year for crumbs and crackers.
  • And, as you can see, I don’t take shit from anyone. I’ll shoot a kitten in the face if it comes at me the wrong way.

Chastity says they have to vote now.

We cast our ballots and step into the hallway where a couple of people tell me I went too far cutting Jane a new one, she’s one of the original members/creators, I poisoned the waters. I reply that I’ll be a strong president and strength doesn’t take shit from anyone, no one, no matter position I have or don’t, gets to disrespect me like that.

A true leader must be a balance of compassion and ruthlessness so that you are capable of both helping and protecting those around you; if they saw me kowtow to her they would know that one, I was weak and two, I couldn’t protect them when the time might come.

(Three, bitch had it coming. If you can’t ride, don’t get on the horse. My mother was calling from her house in teh mountains but also from our apartment in Brooklyn. G’wan, blood clot with the bullshit. Don’t bring none, won’t be none! We don’t play that kind of mouth-smack in Crooklyn. She lucky I wasn’t a girl like her, might have tied up my dreds and gone across the table……..)

The Vote Is In
We go back in.
By an overwhelming vote, I’m voted in as President and EIC.
I warmly thank everyone.
They ask me my plans—-I open my leather portfolio—-because I’d been able to talk to the VP, Treasurer and Secretary candidates, they are the ones I wanted and I have some ideas……
  • One, we won’t be dependent on begging professors to pay printing bills, I’ve covered that with the money my name has obtained.
  • Two, I’m going to change the printing schedule and size of the chapbook. I have some bigger marketing ideas for the singular rather than two chapbooks we’ll produce.
  • Three, we’re going to hold more events—-poetry readings and such.
  • Four, I’ve got some other professors on-board who’ve wanted to be involved for years but it was a little too heavily feminist for their tastes—-we’re going to democratize and expand to include all colors and orientations.
  • Five, but first I want to personally thank everyone with a gift to them all.
Out of my portfolio I pull out the next stage in my mothers plan—-beautifully printed invitations for a dinner party in 2 weeks at my house with a full banquet meal prepared by me.

“For all of the hard work you’ve all done over the years, I want to given the graduating, exiting Board/creators a grand send off. And for everyone else, rather than just the cookies and soda one time event, I want to give them all a beautiful dinner for all of their hard work and commitment.”

Did I mention my mother was a psychology major at Baruch?

Scene shifts to my rushing upstairs to the office, calling her long distance, we did it! She asks did I hand out the invitations? I say yes. I’m putting in the voucher now for the food from Wegman’s. (Yes, my first official act was to pay for all of this with OPM. I’m no fool.)

Now the design of the dinner party is simple, a psychologically ruthless trap she’s devised. Everyone who has honestly worked hard will attend the party, those who haven’t, subconsciously, they won’t be able to. I’m like—-nah, old woman, you’re crazy, that will never work.
Two weeks later—-I’ve prepared a feast, enough food for 40 people.

Slowly people start milling in. None of the old Board arrives—-except for Jane who has apologized for her attack. And honestly, she had worked tirelessly on the whole club. All of my Board shows up. Plus the new people I’ve brought in. But only Jane and another young lady of the old guard. Interesting.

By the end of the evening, my mother’s ploy had proven who were the hard workers, the loyalists, the malcontents.

I went on to really experiment with the club, throwing galas at the Art Gallery—-a beautiful glass four story design; shifting the chapbook to free for SUNY folk but expanding it to being for sale through bookstores throughout the city to generate revenue back in to pay for the future expenses and getting more monies in from clubs who now feel included in the chapbook, etc..
The Treasurer had to go to Australia for an internship, but still needed the 2 credits, could we work something out? Sure. We agreed that I could sign off as the President and as the Treasurer and she got her credits. The VP was a fool who I never pressured to come in to meetings, just gave him his credit to get rid of his uselessness, but I held his vote/power; the same for the Secretary. Benevolent dictatorship.

In Sum….
What I learned was the machinations of power, leverage, ruthlessness and OPM and the psychology of power. To her credit, my mother predicted a lot of their actions and reactions and helped solidify what my strengths were and paying attention to my blind spots. Her own entrepreneurial and management strengths were focused through me as a learning lens. I doubted her tactics but her strategy was sound.

Frankly, they (from childhood to college…I haven’t even told my corporate intrigue tales of ruthlessness) never had a chance.

When I reflect upon it, it was like she was a puppet master and orchestrating how I could get into power.

Secondly, when I got a copy of the 48 Laws of Power, it was like old hat. Between her and my father, they had taught me so many tactics—-the velvet gloved claw—-to plan several steps ahead—-to not tolerate public attack—-to be magnanimous (I accepted Jane’s apology—-I never forgot her attack though and made sure that I quietly but succinctly eliminated her from contact, control, influence…with a smile and often asked her “advice”. She’s gone on to be a published author and teacher—-I also keep an eye on people through social media.)

Once, years later, I used similar tactics, and I shifted an entire national organization through deft moves, for the better, I hope. I think of ruthlessness as neutral, like capitalism. There are times when emotion has to be put aside, when there is a greater good or just a greater prize to be had.
I’m a good person, I’m not a nice person.

There are times though when I’m oblivious to discrimination by gender, sex, sexual orientation and I’ve had to quickly surmise and act to offset attack, smeared reputation, exit myself from insane professional situations…and make it look like fate, chance, the other person’s idea.
Have I hurt people?

I suppose so. I am a force in life, I expect that I’ve hurt people that I’m both aware of and not aware of. There were some that was darkly intentional and others that were unintentional.
But here’s where I differ in two respects—-I take full responsibility for my actions and I always tell adversaries to their face what I will do, have done. I don’t play passive aggressive games, I don’t pretend, I don’t shrug innocently.
I look you dead ass in the face and say,
“Yeah, I fucking did it to you. Merry Christmas. Smooches.”

Smile, Kyle

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