Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey – Workplace Culture Experts & Barefoot Wine Founders

By Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey – Workplace Culture Experts & Barefoot Wine Founders

Use the Barefoot Spirit to Ignite Entrepreneurial Culture Within Your Business

Use the Barefoot Spirit to Ignite Entrepreneurial Culture Within Your Business 150 150 MIchael and Bonnie Harvey

After selling our business, our acquirer asked if we would work for them as brand consultants, to “keep the Barefoot spirit alive,” as they put it. We liked “the Barefoot spirit” so much that it led to our first book’s title—The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. 

We’ve since spoken at over 30 national and international universities that teach entrepreneurship. We’ve also had the pleasure of giving keynote speeches for conferences and events of all kinds, where audiences see us as a real example of entrepreneurial success. Everyone wants to know our secret.

We encourage our audiences to use our guided principles as described in The Barefoot Spirit—many of which we learned the hard way. With these principles, we want our listeners to create a positive company culture within their own businesses.

We spoke at the second C-Suite Network National Conference, where more than 400 C-Suite executives sat at the Ritz Carlton in Marina del Rey to get the scoop on the latest best practices, disruptive business approaches, and up-and-coming business philosophies. They heard from truly successful entrepreneurs about how they found success.

Along with our story, we shared some guiding principles we’ve used to empower and engage our people, to make work more comprehensive and fun, and to shake up a stodgy industry. We first discussed our initial misconceptions and mistakes that wound up costing us. We then shared what we learned, and how we applied this knowledge with a new entrepreneurial spirit to our vendors, customers, staff, and community to develop a best-selling brand.

Barefoot Wine’s foundation was the two-division company. Many companies go with a top-down structure with the CEO and president on top, followed directly by senior vice presidents, junior VPs, division leaders, department managers, lower groups, and so on. Just one of the silos in this pyramid structure contains customer service and another sales. This led us to ask, “How can you put the customer on top if you put sales and customer service on the bottom?” Pyramids aren’t for businesses—they’re for dead pharaohs.

Barefoot had just two divisions: Sales and sales support. That’s it! Each person who was not in the sales department was in sales support, from the CEO to administration, from production to advertising, from finance to compliance. Each earned bonuses based on sales, development, and profitability.

Our corporate culture wasn’t stiff and rigid. It was based on acknowledgement, permission, and, of course, fun. Since we operated on a know-the-need rather than a need-to-know basis, people had the permission and confidence to contribute. The most successful marketing solutions came from our own staff. They also had permission to make a mistake as long as they claimed responsibility, understood how it happened, and improved our procedures for the future. We didn’t hide our mistakes. We celebrated them. Barefoot was created on the backs of mistakes.

On each team member’s work anniversary, we sent a company-wide memo that appreciated them and validated their efforts. It highlighted what they did in the past year to boost growth, sales, and profitability. This way, everyone else knew what their colleague accomplished, and how they could be acknowledged, too.

We embraced a fun and lighthearted spirit. We made adversity into a game. What’s more adverse than being told “no”? So, we started playing the “no” game, where each team member tallied how many “no”s they got. 7 was the average. You needed 3 to start playing, and once you got to 15, you were considered overdue for a “yes”!

We made the choice to release our second book at the C-Suite Network Conference. The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People is written for corporate leaders who want to bring the Barefoot spirit to their own people. You can find our second book at www.thebarefootspirit.com. Happy reading!


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