The Worst Advice Ever

Advice from well-meaning associates can sabotage your plans for success

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It's probably happened to you: well-meaning friends, relatives and colleagues eagerly share their priceless words of wisdom, which, later, turn out to be a bunch of bunk. Top executives are not immune to the phenomenon. Here they share the worst business advice they've ever received.

Remember all those people advising you to invest in dot coms? Roger Siboni, CEO of San Mateo, Calif.-based CRM provider E.piphany does. In 1999, E.piphany was about to go public and had already established a customer base that included Charles Schwab and Wells Fargo Bank.

According to Siboni, more than one trusted adviser told him that he wasn't nearly as involved in doing business with dot-com companies as he should have been. "Everybody,from board members to investors to buddies to analysts,said, 'You've got to have a more substantial presence in the dot-com world,'" Siboni recalls.

Another piece of bum advice Siboni received from the same group of people regarded the idea of his company becoming the analytic backbone for the B2B marketplace. After attending a B2B conference more than a year ago, Siboni says he quickly rejected the suggestion.

"I started my career as a CPA and spent 10 years in accounting," Siboni says. "I think it was good grounding for me because it taught me to be skeptical of the next big thing and to think things through in terms of where the money is."

In contrast, Kent Foster, CEO of Santa Ana, Calif.-based Ingram Micro, says his friends strongly disagreed with him when he told them about wanting to work in a B2B and e-commerce environment prior to joining the distribution company more than 18 months ago.

"They were stunned and told me I was nuts," Foster says. "I felt like a fossil and was told I was old-fashioned and out of date with reality. But now, those people are coming back to me for business."

Cade Stapleton, president of VoiceExpress, a VAR in Baton Rouge, La., is thankful that he simply smiled, nodded and turned a deaf ear to advice he's received.

"Had I followed it, I'd be on the street," laughs Stapleton, who started his company 15 years ago. Before that, he heard plenty about why he shouldn't break out from the banking industry in Georgia and work for himself.

Included in the naysayers was Stapleton's friend and mentor who had always worked for a large organization, but somehow thought he had knowledge of what it took to start a small business. "He said you can never go into business for yourself because it doesn't depend on hard work, and you need access to lots of capital. That's wrong," Stapleton asserts. "Had I listened, I would never had started my own business and have what I have now."

Stapleton's longtime friend, who's now one of the largest shareholders of WorldCom stock, also advised: "Never try to sell anything on a Friday," and "You can forget trying to sell anybody products between Nov. 1 and Jan. 1 that you can't eat or can't put under a tree."

But, as a matter fact, Stapleton says he's sold more voice networking products during the last quarter of 2001 than in the first five years he's been in business for himself.

"Perhaps he was joking with me, and I just didn't know it," Stapleton says.

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