Do you run your farm like John DeLorean or General Motors?

Do you run your farm like John DeLorean or General Motors?

Today’s lesson: Double down on your strengths and outsource your weaknesses.

John DeLorean was a pretty interesting man.

I learned a lot about him by reading a book called Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. Holiday was a child genius who ended up being an executive at American Apparel. In the past year or two, it came out that their founder had a terrible personal life and dealt with all kinds of corruption.

They tried to fire him from the company. Holliday was there, one of the youngest executives in the company, watching this unfold. He wrote his book based on his experience with his boss’s ego, including lots of great stories of how ego destroys companies.

But the John DeLorean story was my favorite.

The misadventures of John DeLorean

John DeLorean walked away from his job at GM in order to produce his brand of futuristic cars. He failed miserably. (Zedissimo/Thinkstock)

John DeLorean was a designer at GM who wanted to produce futuristic cars. He was convinced that the culture of order and structure at GM was holding back creative geniuses like himself.

Since he was a very good salesman, he felt confident in his ability to forge his own path in business. So he walked away from his job at GM in order to produce his brand of futuristic cars.

He failed miserably.

Without the Back to the Future reference, most people would likely never know what a DeLorean Car was. They were cool in the movie, but in reality, without the flux capacitor, the car was a piece of junk. It had some cool features such as the doors opening upwards, but the car was terribly inefficient.

DeLorean was indeed a genius, but he couldn't manage himself. He was the cause of extreme disorganization and failure in the DeLorean car company.

If you can't manage yourself, you can't manage people.

(By the way, I highly recommend the book Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker on this subject.)

What farmers can learn from John DeLorean

When I talk to farmers, a lot of the same issues from the John DeLorean story arise. They fail to manage themselves and are often making gut decisions rather than logical and planned decisions. They don’t like the structure. They just like running the tractors and don’t care about sitting in the office.

The reality is, there’s work you’ve got to do in organizing and analyzing your finances in order to run a successful business.

Many farmers are geniuses at production, but when it comes time for sales, and to build a growth model, they’re not interested. They may lack the knowledge and structure it takes for marketing, and they may need to outsource it.

It was DeLorean’s pride that led to his downfall. He believed he could do everything. Really, he should have gotten himself good business partners.

Get help with weaknesses

In the same way, we have to focus on our strengths and get help with our weaknesses. For those of you who don’t want to learn new things, that’s OK. Just hire someone with knowledge to do that thing for you.

Henry Ford was famous for implementing this concept. Once, when his company was being sued, Ford was asked scientific questions he didn’t know the answers to. He said, “I don’t know all the answers, but on my desk I’ve got a bunch of buttons, each of which would call someone who could answer any question you come up with.”

Andrew Carnegie did the same thing. At one time he was the richest man in the world, but he wasn’t an expert in industry. He was an expert businessman who knew how to lean on others.

DeLorean bristled against the structure of GM, but only one car company in this story is still successful today—and it’s not his.

What happened to DeLorean in the end? He eventually began selling cocaine to try to finance his failure as a businessman . . . and he got caught.

Identify your strengths and double down on them. But outsource your weaknesses. It seems that John DeLorean flipped that script, and that’s what caused him to fail.


The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.

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