In truth, what I am about to lay on you is actually one of the keys of life. It's like the 800-pound gorilla of keys. It has the power to transform and impact the very DNA that courses through your body. It is so important that Moses should have added it to the Ten Commandments. In fact, I think Moses probably left the mount about two minutes early and missed the last piece of advice coming from up above.
I mean, isn't the Ten Commandments just another list? The Bible would sell more copies if they retitled it:
The 10 Ways God Wants You to Lead a Better Life
Forward by Tony Robbins!
Before I tell you what this key of life is, I will tell you how I was told.
In the late '70s, my band Twisted Sister was working five nights a week trying to become more popular. It soon became clear that our little light show (bar bands carried around their own lights in those days) was really inadequate. We needed to make a statement, and a big impressive light show was very important. But there was a big problem: The lights were very expensive, and we didn't have the money.
As fate would have it (fate was always there when we needed it), a guy named Tony Sklarew came to one of our shows and became friends with our roadie/light man. Tony worked for one of the biggest lighting companies in the world: Altman Stage Lighting, based in Yonkers, N.Y. It made all the really huge spotlights and associated gear for the biggest arenas and shows around the world. Tony loved the band and invited me to meet his boss, Ronnie Altman. I went to the factory, a huge complex on the Hudson River in Yonkers. I had never seen anything like this operation.
Ronnie came over to meet me. He was a short man with a huge, bellowing voice. He was very brusque and intense. He wore jeans and a work shirt. I got the feeling that he was a very hard-working, blue-collar guy, who was all business. I was so right, and then some.
Tony told Ronnie about the band and what we needed. Ronnie said that the cost of the light show that Tony described would be around $10,000. Ronnie looked at me and asked if we could afford it. I said that we couldn't. He took me aside and said, "Tony tells me your band is really good, and that you are a good guy. I'm going to rent you this light show for $25 a week. Can you afford that?" I was blown away. I never thought you could do business at this level on a handshake. This is exactly what we needed, and it wasn't costing me anything up front. I also knew that the lighting rig would evolve over time, so I wouldn't be burdened with having to resell it.
"Good," he replied. "You can pay me that $25 every week, whether in person, by mail, or carrier pigeon. The week that you miss the payment, you lose me as a friend. The lighting rig that I'm giving you is something that I wont miss. The 10 grand will not make a difference in my life. You, however, will never do business with me again if you miss the payment."
I had never heard anything like this before. Ronnie was, in effect, daring me to be honest--and giving me my own noose with which to hang myself if I wasn't.
I never missed the payment. And, over time, Ronnie's trust in me grew, and he gave us more and more equipment. Every couple of months we got more items, and the lighting system kept growing at no extra charge. I think that he thought of us as a pet project that he could be a part of and tell his friends that we did business together. But he wanted to know that I was true to my word. That I was responsible enough that he could trust me. This is really "old school" stuff where trust is built on an instinct and a handshake. I have run my business with that same sense of responsibility every day since my first meeting with Ronnie.
Ronnie passed away around 1981 as we were leaving the club scene. We didn't need a light show by that time. (In fact, the days when local bands carried this stuff around are long gone.) But Ronnie's lesson really has nothing to do with a lighting rig, the delivery of an album, or appearing on stage at a contracted time. It's about understanding that your word is worth more than anything in a contract. It's about the credibility that you bring to a situation. The more people can count on your commitment, the more opportunity you will have to show your character, and the more you will learn to expect from the people that you do business with.
I recently called Altman Stage Lighting to see if it was still in business and wound up speaking to Ronnie's granddaughter. I told her the lesson that Ronnie taught me. She started to cry and said that was the kind of person he was.
That, my friends, is the greatest business advice I ever got. It is my 11th commandment: "Always do what you say you are going to do."