Chamber gets business talk straight up by entrepreneur

Speaker: Toledo poised to reap economic boom

Entrepreneur Steven S. Little told the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce at its annual meeting that the city is primed for growth, with a skilled work force and a proven business infrastructure.
Entrepreneur Steven S. Little told the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce at its annual meeting that the city is primed for growth, with a skilled work force and a proven business infrastructure.

If there’s one thing that business growth guru and author Steven S. Little loves more than anything, it’s a creamy vanilla milkshake. He often gets one to reward himself after a very trying day telling groups how to grow their businesses.

But sometimes a vanilla milkshake can be more than a treat. In the right circumstance, it can be an insight into whether a business is growing and efficient.

Mr. Little, the keynote speaker Thursday at the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting, said he discovered “the Milkshake Rule” about eight years ago at a hotel in Baltimore.

Arriving late and frustrated, he asked room service for a milkshake, only to be told it wasn’t on the menu. But in talking to the room service manager, Stuart, he found he could order a big bowl of vanilla ice cream, a large glass of milk, and long spoon.

He ordered them and made his own milkshake.

“Stuart wasn’t stupid,” Mr. Little explained. “It’s the system that was stupid. And that’s what I tell people — don’t let the organization’s system make you stupid,” he said, adding that he has tried his milkshake experiment many times over the years and found many other hotels that can’t fulfill his milkshake order.

“They had ice cream and milk and I couldn’t get a milkshake … If it wasn’t on [Stuart’s] keyboard, he couldn’t ring it up. The point is: Don’t let your system get in the way of what’s right and pleasing for your customers,” Mr. Little said.

An entrepreneur, businessman, and former senior consultant for Inc. magazine, Mr. Little spent 45 minutes Thursday telling nearly 500 Chamber members about the Milkshake Rule and other business rules that have made him a recognized expert on business growth.

The meeting, at The Premier banquet hall on Heatherdowns Boulevard in Toledo, began with a moment of silence to honor two Toledo firefighters killed Sunday in a North Toledo fire.

Mr. Little said businesses that are successful and growing possess seven common traits.

They have a strong sense of purpose, they have outstanding market intelligence, and they engage in effective growth planning. They also have customer-driven processes, put the power of technology to work for them, and have the ability to see the future before it happens.

Those firms also keep their ranks filled with the best and brightest people. But the best and brightest doesn’t always mean people with degrees or glowing resumes, Mr. Little said.

The best people, he said, are problem-solvers.

“Give me problem-solving, quality, motivated individuals every time. I don’t care about backgrounds. Your best people, they will be engaged, motivated, and fire-in-the belly problem-solvers,” Mr. Little said.

Mr. Little, who developed and ran three fast-growth companies, also discussed six facets of Toledo that he believes will be drivers of economic growth for the area.

As a student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Mr. Little spent time visiting Toledo in the early 1980s. And though he now lives in Wilmington, N.C., he said as an outsider there are aspects of Toledo that tell him the area is poised for an economic boom over the next few decades.

“The challenges for Toledo are small relatively compared to those of other places,” he said.

For starters, Toledo has excellent geography, Mr. Little said. “You sit in the middle of the largest boom economically in the history of mankind,” he said, lauding the area as a prime spot for roads, railroads, shipping, and pipelines.

“It all comes through [Toledo]. And you’re also next to 21 percent of the world’s fresh water,” Mr. Little added.

The area also boasts an excellent quality of life. “I know there are some lists that put you at the bottom [in quality of life], but I say: I don’t trust those lists,” Mr. Little said. “When you can buy a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house in a good school district for less than $200,000? People are going to come here.”

Mr. Little said Toledo has world-class health care and is dedicated to education. “That isn’t the case everywhere,” he said.

Toledo has a proven business infrastructure with workers that have skills — “You don’t have that in Florida and Arizona” — but the area’s “secret weapon,” Mr. Little said, is it’s uniquely “open” populace.

“Open” can have many meanings: gregarious, accepting, eyes wide open. For Toledo, though, it means a “tolerant community” that is “open for business,” Mr. Little said.

“That is not the norm,” he added.

“Historically, growth-oriented communities are also ‘open’ communities,” Mr. Little said. “And open communities know how to make money.”

Contact Jon Chavez at: or 419-724-6128.