Peter J. Boni: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris


Boni 1Peter J. Boni has advanced by taking on the tough assignments of repositioning organizations that had run aground. During his career, he added nearly $5 billion of value as a science and technology CEO (public, private, IPO), consultant, director, and private equity/venture capital investor. His firms were recognized on the Inc. 500, Software 100, Fast 50 and Fortune 1000 several times.

He was twice cited in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year competition, most recently in 2011 as Master Entrepreneur in Philadelphia. Boni has commentated on CNBC, Fox Business, and The Street.com and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and Investor Business Daily. His book, All Hands On Deck: Navigating Your Team Through Crises, Getting Your Organization Unstuck, and Emerging Victorious, was published by Career Press (June 2015)/

In addition to a BA from University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Boni earned a Rice Paddy MBA in leadership through adversity on a “full scholarship,” courtesy of Uncle Sam. A decorated military veteran, he spent 15 months in combat as a special operations infantry officer.

Today, as Managing Principal for his consulting firm, Kedgeway, Boni serves as Vice Chairman of The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), which has brought entrepreneurship training to 600,000 poor, inner city youth in 21 U.S. states and nine countries. He is founding co-chairman of its Philadelphia branch.

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Morris: When and why did you decide to write All Hands on Deck?

Boni: By the mid-1980s, I had moved from Fortune 500 executive to high tech CEO by tackling tough assignments and succeeding. I read a best seller, What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School: Notes from a Street-Smart Executive, written by Mark H. McCormack, featured 14 things organized in three sections, People, Negotiating and Running a Business, that he said that they don’t teach at HBS that would accelerate a career.

McCormick had never even attended Harvard Business School. Rather, he was a Yale law graduate who had founded a highly successful sports marketing company, International Management Group. Among his early clients were Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. He used the lessons of his real life to promote the notion that the 3% who have clearly written goals will out-earn by 10X the 97% who don’t take the time to think their goals through and write them down. His practical advice ranged from how to read people, making the right first impression, effective negotiations, taking the leading edge to run meeting, making friends and gaining international experience…all designed to further advance a person’s achievements, and, therefore, better position his or her career for further growth.

My observation was then, and is now, that a major, multi-chapter Section 4 was missing. It could be a book all by itself. Take an troubled or dysfunctional unit, team, department, office or whatever…one that has run aground and is stuck in the mud for whatever the reason… get it off the ground and out of the mud (“kedge off,” in sail boating terms) so it can safely “sail” again and turn it into something. Recognition and rewards will come more quickly to one’s career and even allow someone without the pedigree and credentials of an Ivy League education or MBA to advance beyond, even leapfrog, the individual with a superior educational pedigree and an old boy’s network. It was working for me.

As I progressed with the thrills of victory and the agonies of defeat in my career, I began to label and refine my approach with the notion that it would make an interesting book one day. That day has come. I announced my retirement as CEO of Safeguard Scientifics in 2013 and formed Kedgeway as a platform to consult, speak, teach, invest and direct my philanthropy. Kedgeway provides guidance and training to avoid, anticipate or overcome obstacles and advance…your organization and your career.

My plan to write a book moved from the back of my mind to the forefront of my activity. Now, here we are with All Hands on Deck: Navigating Your Team Through Crises, Getting Your Organization Unstuck, and Emerging Victorious.

All the pundits have written that to get to the top of your field, one needs to study the right thing at the right school and have the right network. In reality, only 5% of the college educated population has that pedigree. And less than half of them reach the top of their fields. The pundits will have you believe that the deck is stacked against 97% of us.

I’ve got another notion on how to get to the top. Disruption creates 10X the career opportunities to advance. Shakespeare said “When the sea was calm, all boats alike show’d mastership at floating.” In what boat do you want to sail? The tested ship, of course. Become the tested ship and advance.

Last year set a six-year record for turnover at the top, not only inside 25% of the Fortune 500, but in 1300+ organizations (both profit and non-profit) to boot. Ask the boards of JC Penney, Target, eBay, Mattel, McDonalds, Credit Suisse, AMD, The GAP, and countless others what credentials they’re seeking for their top dogs. You’ll hear a lot less about credentials and pedigree and a lot more about the ability to lead through difficulty.

I’m tired of reading academic diatribes written by consultants, educators, and journalists who do a pretty good job of “talking the talk.” Where do you want to do for advice? Someone who has written a case study or someone who has lived it? My book is a practical “how to” handbook written by a practitioner who has walked the walk.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Boni: My first vision of the book included many of my personal anecdotal stories. As I got started, I realized that adding Section 3, featuring memoir-style case studies of real people who showed the ABCs in Action in varying fields, would be far more memorable to convey these principles with greater credibility.

Morris: You devote the first chapter to Captain Josiah Nickerson Knowles whom you characterize as “the greatest captain of them all.” Why do you hold him in such high regard?

Boni: The 19th century press characterized Captain Josiah Nickerson Knowles as “the greatest captain of them all.” He was held in high regard by society overall. Captain Knowles practiced a timeless technique of leadership. He practiced the “ABCs to Advance” and led his passengers and crew to survival AND rescue. Shipwrecks were known to be deadly in the 16th through the 19thcenturies. Aren’t they still? To be both shipwrecked and marooned on a wrongly-charted and deserted island in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean and live to tell about it was no small feat.

Morris: What are the most valuable business lessons to be learned from him?

Boni: The Captain was highly selective. Only the very best could be hired to serve on his crew. And he trained the daylights out of them. They were a competent and professional force. Who do you want on your team when the chips are down? The best, or course.

After achieving the impossible, Captain Knowles, his crew and many of his passengers advanced throughout their careers as a result of the achievements stemming from the shipwreck of Wild Wave. Their story of survival and rescue demonstrated the ABCs in Action long before organizational psychologists ever studied about the leadership dynamics of high performance teams and put labels to them.

Fundamentals are timeless and ring true time and time again.

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To read all of Part 2, please click here.

Here is a direct link to Part 1.

Peter cordially invites you to check out the resources at his Kedgeway website by clicking here.

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