Are you Intelligent or Street Smart?

By Rich Bond

When I joined Seagram, it was the largest distiller in the world. I stayed 11 years.

It was an interesting journey, as I held seven totally unrelated jobs with progressively more responsibility.

Working at Seagram was like an ongoing game of “Liars Poker” – all bluff, bluster, and blunder.  (“Liar’s Poker” is a game usually associated with Wall Street that involves betting on the frequency of digits appearing in the serial numbers of U.S. paper currency. It was made famous by Michael Lewis’s book of the same title.)

I was convinced that many of the executives, if they weren’t selling liquor, would have had a 3 Card Monte game at the corner of 53rd and Park Avenue, where our world headquarters was located.

These guys were what I call “street smart.”

I consider myself intelligent – but not street smart. The entrepreneurial people at Seagram first viewed me – with my MBA from Wharton – as the enemy.

Eventually, I learned to have a lot of respect for my street smart colleagues. And the executives came to regard me as a resource rather than an enemy. That’s because many of my recommendations, which they initially fought tooth and nail, made the business more profitable and FUN.

After working in sales and later as a division CFO, I concluded that to be successful, finance people need to be less impressed with themselves and more willing to learn about and understand the business they work in.

What has your business experience been?  Do you think you are street-smart?

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