Actually I don’t want 10% of your time. I wanttotake it from you and immediately give it back to you.

Here is why. Nothing is forever.

As I wrote in the book “INNOVATE!” there are some iconic brands and businesses that seem to have been serving their customers forever. Jim Beam sold its first barrels of corn whiskey around 1795. DuPont has been producing chemicals since 1802. Colgate has been selling consumer goods since 1806 and Brooks Brothers has been selling clothing since 1818.

In wholesale distribution, the NorthEast Wholesale Food Distributors Association has been serving its members since 1875. Kranz, Inc., has been distributing janitorial and sanitation products since 1850. Graybar’s history dates back to 1869 when entrepreneur Enos Barton and inventor Elisha Gray cofounded the company.

Even the established accounting concept of a “going concern” was at one time based on the assumption that a business will operate indefinitely. Despite these arguments to the contrary, nothing is forever.

As I interviewed Chicago Tube & Iron CEO Don McNeeley for our first of five Innovate For The Future. FM podcast episodes titled “Points of Inflection and 100 Years of Continuous Profitability,” he reminds us of our vulnerability:

  • 40% of all businesses fail in the first generation of management.
  • Another 44% fail in the second generation.
  • Around 15% fail in the third generation.
  • And only one out of 100 businesses makes it into its centennial.


Sustained relevance in a rapidly changing world requires transformative leadership. McNeeley says we are facing at least five major shifts that will transform how business is done and create winners and losers in the future. The shifts include:

  • Demographic;
  • Excess global capacity;
  • Globalization;
  • Increase in non-product costs; and
  • The Internet and the digitalization of business.


In this environment status quo is the enemy. Simply managing the business for this quarter or this year is certain to put your business at risk. Today, our distribution businesses, more so than ever before, need transformative leaders to emerge.

They need leaders who have the ability to look at the trends that are impacting the world, connect the dots, craft a vision that galvanizes the organization, and maybe most importantly, to lead the business through market-disrupting inflection points and to a sustainable and relevant future.

The business of distribution is complex, it’s busy and there are many demands on an executive’s time. In fact, we often are pulled into the tyranny of the urgent. Transformative leaders will escape this urgency to focus on the future.

Commit today to 10% of your time (I’d really like at least 20% but we’ll start with 10%) to get away from the day-to-day. Use this 10% to work on the business rather than in the business. Work on creating a stronger and more relevant future rather than solving the problems of today.

“Distribution definitely needs to be looking to the future and as leaders in the industry it is incumbent upon us to do so,” one distribution leader told me during my research for “INNOVATE!” 

He pointed out that regardless of the line of trade, the transformative leader is well aware that wholesale distribution has, for the most part, become a “me too” business and the landscape is constantly changing.

“I’ve got to be thinking, how do I innovate? And to me that requires continually thinking about how do I innovate and change my business,” he said.

Use this 10% of your time to begin the innovation journey within your organization. Two dates you’ll want to hard code into your calendar right now are Sept. 28-30 for ASA’s Network2016 in New York City and Oct. 19-20 for the UnleashWD Innovation Summit in Chicago. 

Both are amazing opportunities to get away from the business and to think deeper about the transformations you must lead going forward.

This article was originally titled “10%of your time” in the January 2016 print edition of Supply House Times.