Success, Schwarzenegger style

Arnold Schwarzenegger as a role model for retailers? Come on, Jon. (Given the Terminator’s well-publicised infidelities, you may well question whether he is a role model for anyone.)But hear me out.

Just last week, I listened intently as Arnie addressed an enthralled audience in Sydney, and it struck me that his five rules for success had application beyond just getting to the top in body building, movies, and politics.So here are Arnie’s top five, along with examples of retailers who have followed the same principles in their own way:

1. Find your vision and follow it

Schwarzenegger style: “I wanted to be in America… I could visualise myself clearly being a champion body builder and making it in the movies… I knew exactly where I was going. The simple truth is if you don’t have a vision, if you don’t have a goal, if you don’t see your future laid out in front of you, you are floating around without a purpose.”

Retailer example: Tadashi Yanai, founder of the Japanese clothing chain Uniqlo, and the richest man in Japan, built a single ‘unique clothing warehouse’ into a global powerhouse. His lofty aim was (and is) “to change clothing, change conventional wisdom, and to change the world.” Yanai’s vision is to be the number one apparel retailer on the planet.

2. Never, ever think small

Schwarzenegger style: “If you’re going to accomplish anything, you’ve got to think big. I didn’t just want to be a body builder, I wanted to be the greatest body builder of all time. I didn’t just want to be in movies, I wanted to be a movie star. And I didn’t just want to enter a race for city council. I wanted to be Governor of the greatest state in the United States – California.”

Retailer example: Westfield co-founder, Frank Lowy, started with a delicatessen in the western suburbs of Sydney and grew to become one of the world’s largest shopping centre owners and managers. As he once said, “(Our) philosophy was one of ambition – ambition to succeed, ambition to grow, ambition to move forward”.

3. Ignore the naysayers

Schwarzenegger style: “When someone said, ‘it’s impossible’, I heard ‘it’s possible’. When someone said ‘it can’t be done’, I heard ‘it can be done’. When someone said ‘no’, I heard loud and clear, ‘yes’. I believe in what Nelson Mandela said; “it always seems to be impossible until someone does it”. I wanted to be that one that does it.”

Retailer example: Apple’s Steve Jobs took absolutely no notice when Businessweek published a commentary in 2001 headlined ‘Sorry, Steve: Here’s Why Apple Stores Won’t Work’. He went on to revolutionise retail as well as electronic devices.

4. Work Your Ass Off

Schwarzenegger style: “You never want to fail because you didn’t work hard enough. I remember [Muhammad] Ali being asked in the seventies how many sit ups he did. ‘I don’t know because I only start counting when they start burning’. Work your butt off. If you don’t apply that rule, all the other rules won’t mean anything. You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.”

Retailer example: The biggest retailer in the world, Walmart, partially built its success through its famous Saturday morning meetings, where sales results were pored over and actions immediately taken. Founder, Sam Walton, once wrote, “If you don’t want to work weekends, you shouldn’t be in retail”.

5. Don’t just take – give something back

Schwarzenegger style: “I believe that we all have an obligation to do something for our community, something for our state, something for our country. We must serve a cause that is greater than ourselves. Ultimately we will all be judged not by how much we take, but by how much we give.”

Retailer example: John Mackey, co-founder of US organic grocer, Wholefoods, believes in the concept of ‘conscious capitalism’. He has engineered a model where community-giving programs account for well in excess of five per cent of Wholefoods’ net profits each year.

So there you have it. Not bad rules to live by. And after three spectacular careers, I’m sure that if Arnie had turned his mind to retail, he’d probably have done okay in our industry too.

Can’t you just picture Arnie as a young salesperson in a shoe store? The item you ask for is not in stock. He indicates that he will check the stockroom.“Stay right there,” says Schwarzenegger. “I’ll be back.” (Sorry about that. I’ll be back with another column next week.)

*Jon Bird is CEO of specialist retail marketing agency IdeaWorks (, and Chairman of Octomedia, publisher of Inside Retail. Email: [email protected] Blog: Twitter: @thetweetailer

This column first appeared in Inside Retail’s Digital Weekly. For subscriptions details, click here.

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