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Tommy Boy: Lessons on Building Culture, Legacy and Human Capital

Posted by Ryan Howard on Thu, Apr 18, 2013

Human Capital

Lessons on Building Culture, Legacy and Human Capital

Yep, I’ll admit it. I love “stupid humor”. After watching Tommy Boy for probably the 134th time (conservatively), I'm realizing that it’s not just the slapstick comedy I enjoy. It’s the correlation between business, life circumstance, and lessons in humility (coupled with a good belly laugh!). Six of my favorite quotes from this movie, and what they can teach us about business are below. 

It's no revelation that to generate revenue, you need sales. And to generate sales, you need people selling. But I’m not just talking about “sales people”. I’m talking about the entire organization supporting the sales process. Understanding why their job function matters, why they do what they do, and why you love them.

Whether a business owner, manager, or employee, you need to understand the importance of creating culture in your organization. It’s a surefire way to secure your investment in human capital, and attract top talent. But what if that culture is built on the shoulders of one person? As it was for Callaghan Auto Parts in the 1995 movie, Tommy Boy (played by Chris Farley).

Tommy Boy’s father was the driving force behind their company’s success. However, when his dad dies from a heart attack, Callaghan Auto Parts was left without a viable succession plan. The continuity of their business now rested in the hands of generation 2; a lone 7 year college student with little to no business experience. Here are a few of my favorite scenes. 

6 Quotes and Business Lessons I Learned from Tommy Boy: 

Lesson 1: The Lion’s Den
Quote from Tommy to Richard: “Forget it, I quit, I can't do this anymore, man. My head's about to explode. My whole life sucks! I don't know what I'm doing, I don't know where I'm going. My dad just died, we just killed Bambi, I'm out here getting my ass kicked...”

Lesson: No matter how extensive an inside training or on-boarding program may be, there is an invaluable lesson learned from real-life experience. It’s called rejection, and you we must get used to it. 

Lesson 2: Passion 
Quote from Tommy to Sales Prospect: “Because they know all they sold ya was a guaranteed piece of sh**. That's all it is, isn't it? Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time. But for now, for your customer's sake, for your daughter's sake, ya might wanna think about buying a quality product from me.”

Lesson: Your passion will persuade people to believe in YOU. Be genuine. As Simon Sinek said in his book Start with Why"People don't buy what you do; people buy why you do it."

Lesson 3: Humility 
Quote from Tommy to Sales Prospect: “No, what I mean is, you can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking your head up a butcher's ass...No, wait!”

Lesson: Don’t let failure (or success) go to your head. Learn from your mistake and move forward.

Lesson 4: Determination 
Quote from Tommy to Sales Prospect: “Why say no, when it feels so good to say yes”.

Lesson: Tenacity often exists on both sides of the negotiating table. Having a good sense of humor and the ability to adapt will help compliment your determination to the desired outcome.   

Lesson 5: One size doesn’t fit all 
Quote from Tommy to Richard: “Fat guy in a little coat, Fat guy in a little coat”.

Lesson: You can’t be everything to everybody. If you try and force something that isn’t a natural fit, it almost certainly will break.

Lesson 6: Legacy 
Quote from Richard to Tommy: “You're right! You're not your dad! He could sell a ketchup Popsicle to a woman in white gloves!”

Lesson: The importance of building a sustainable business model with culture and legacy at the forefront. 

Not a fan of slapstick humor? Read (and re-read) Jim Collin’s ‘Good to Great’.


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Topics: Human Resources, Employee Relationship Management