I take a certain amount of pride in the fact that I don't have a traditionally impressive academic pedigree. Sure, I went to a great school (Arizona State University), but it isn't like I hobnobbed at Harvard or Yale. I don't have an MBA, and I dropped the CFA designation like it was hot after flunking the level II exam for the third time (I didn't study).
Still, I've managed to find a good deal of success in a fairly short amount of time in the workforce. I attribute the success of BodeTree not to innate intelligence or good luck, but rather to my ability to learn from the world around me.
In fact, some of the most valuable business skills I've ever learned were taught to me not by professors, but by NASCAR insiders.
I'm fortunate to have a group of friends that include NASCAR drivers, marketers, agents and team owners. We get together twice each year for a lively dinner where we celebrate, commiserate and plan for the future. The lessons I've learned from this unique group of individuals extends well beyond stock car racing and I strive to put many of them to use each and every day.
Let people underestimate you
Let's face it, NASCAR has a reputation as a "redneck sport." Coastal types tend to look down at the sport and its fans as being unrefined, unsophisticated, and often uncouth. This perception, however, couldn't be farther from the truth.
Sure, the sport is dominated by Southerners who talk a bit slower than New Yorkers, but you'd be a fool to assume that means they're not sharp. One thing I've witnessed is that some of the most successful people in the sport have an uncanny ability to play the fool, so to speak. They let the person they're negotiating against think they're dealing with an unsophisticated country boy, only to let them have it once their guard is down. The best negotiators and shrewdest business people I've ever met are often the most disarming.
Street smarts almost always beat out book smarts
As a sport, NASCAR brings together an incredibly eclectic mix of individuals, more so, I would argue, than any other sport today. Highly-trained mechanics, self-taught agents and marketing professionals, billionaire entrepreneurs, drivers who eat, sleep and breathe racing, Ivy League-educated lawyers, and everyone in between all sit at the same table, so to speak. Interestingly, no one seems to care about your pedigree. All they care about is your ability to perform and get deals done. There are no points for being the smartest person in the room and street smarts literally beat out book smarts every time.
The value of street smarts should never be overlooked by entrepreneurs either. When I left the world of finance to become entrepreneur, I was amazed at how little my background mattered. Unlike in finance, there are no strict "qualifications" to become an entrepreneur and no degree or course will prepare you for what's ahead. Hard work, creativity, street smarts and grit are what separate successful entrepreneurs from the rest of the pack.
Nothing is more appealing than authenticity
Fame and fast cards aside, one thing I've learned from my friendships with the NASCAR crowd is that most drivers are motivated by a passion for what they do, not the money or recognition. If the money and fame disappeared tomorrow, I'd bet that most would show up at the track regardless.
The same authentic passion is what defines a successful entrepreneur as well. Those entrepreneurs and leaders who do what they love and take time to learn from the world around them are bound to be the most successful in the end.