The Conduit Theory in Practice – Speaker Willie Brown

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Willie Brown, the former speaker of the California Assembly, never intended to have a political career when he was born. Brown was raised in a backwater town named Mineola, Texas, in 1934, a time when Texas and the South were not particularly conducive to the career dreams of African Americans. To find a better path, his family packed Brown on a train from Texas all the way to California. There, with the help of a professor, Brown found his calling at a state University and earned a law degree from the prestigious U.C. Hastings. However, he was yet to prove his greatest accomplishment.

In 1964, after a second try, Brown gained a seat in the California Assembly. There, he learned simply being unique didn’t get him much. He had to learn how to be a useful broker. In that respect, Brown quietly learned from his legislative tutors like Jesse Unruh and Philip Burton how to become a pivot point, a conduit between the many who want something and those with power. Positioning through legislative committees, Brown went from being a name in the Assembly to eventually to becoming its Speaker, one of the top five positions in state government. Brown held that chair for fifteen years, only to then retire and become the mayor of San Francisco in his later years.

Becoming A Conduit Point

For a business, Willie Brown’s story is an illustrative one; you don’t have to be biggest, most powerful player on the market to become instrumental. Brown, as an African American politician in the 1960s, was clearly not in the position to leapfrog right away to leadership or the Governor’s office. However, he did find a position that everyone needed and had to go through to get something. By identifying how and becoming a conduit point, Brown secured his future, which is what successful businesses do in their market.

A conduit point isn’t just limited to being between end retail customers and suppliers. Conduit businesses can easily do the same in the business-to-business market as well, often producing far greater revenues than they would on the retail side of things. However, positioning can be a challenge. One needs to see the entire market, not just a segment of it. Getting to the forest level instead of the weeds allows a business player to identify all the connection points and where being a conduit has the greatest potential for producing revenue. It also shows what is needed to be successful in that particular position. Sometimes some potential conduits are too challenging, and others may offer too little in reward for the effort. Picking the right market position takes some experience, which means a business needs to research well and study peers, suppliers, buyers, competitors, and middlemen. No one in a given market should be left out.

Willie Brown was an intensive study of his legislative peers, which is why he was able to position himself so well. He also took lessons from those more powerful than him rather than fighting them, using that knowledge to become one of the powerful ones himself. A growing business can learn a thing or two from his life example.


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Three Brothers and Success

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In a town with lots of industries and choices of careers, three brothers grew up and began to pursue their paths in work. Based on their father’s wisdom and teachings, they all decided they wanted to work in a field that would eventually let them start their own businesses. The oldest became a lawyer. The middle brother became an accountant. The youngest brother, however, didn’t want to be an office professional but, instead, enjoyed food, so he became a cook. All three left home, set off to pursue their goals, and wished each other the best.

The Lawyer and the Accountant

The years passed and the lawyer made a lot of money, but he was always miserable and in debt. Everything about his job was about fighting or arguing, and eventually, he lost his own marriage. The lawyer was regularly complaining about his work whenever asked. The middle brother found himself living a life of stress. He chose to be an accountant because he thought it was a safe career path for income, but he found himself always under extreme pressure to complete his work and make sure it was accurate. The stress became so intense the younger brother was regularly sick and became a prime candidate for serious health problems before he was middle-aged.

The Cook

The younger brother focused on what he wanted, learning how to be a cook. Every day in the kitchen was where he wanted to be, so it never felt like work. His enjoyment quickly increased his skills in cooking, and soon he became a head chef. He was doing so well he chose to open up his own restaurant. It wasn’t the biggest place, and it wasn’t the most expensive. However, the youngest brother loved his job, and that made a difference in his food, his staff, and the experience of his customers.

Which Brother Had the Right Idea?

Essentially, the best place to be as a business or business leader is to love what you do every day. If you’re not happy in your work, your market position or your role, you will never be able to manifest your full potential. Happiness and satisfaction are key elements of success, especially for business leadership who look for someone to follow and emulate in their own tasks. Sure, your business can have some immediate success, as in the case of the lawyer brother, but ultimately, the angst and frustration catches up with everything and becomes a psychological burden in the workplace. Don’t be that older brother. Find your love and make it come to your career and your path. You will be happier, your productivity will be higher, and staff will follow your lead.


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Overcoming the Getting Started Obstacle Course

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Collette Divitto was born with Down syndrome, but she hasn’t let that stand in the way of doing what she wants with her life. As a passionate baker, Collette sought opportunities to work in that field and earn a living. However, every place she applied told her that she was not a good fit. Instead of giving up, she formulated her own cookie recipe and went into business for herself.

Her cinnamon chocolate chip cookies were popular with friends and family. When one friend after another told her, “you should sell these!” she took the leap and began her small business out of her apartment. She bought business cards, made a website, and learned how to create invoices. Before long, she was taking orders online and had her first local client, the Golden Goose Market.

While Collette faced a unique set of challenges getting her business off the ground, everyone who wants to start an enterprise will face hurdles. Overcome these hurdles by asserting the sort of grit and curiosity that got Collette started:

1. Remember that you don’t need permission.

Collette first tried to work for other businesses. When they did not see a use for her, she decided to go out on her own. Instead of waiting for an opportunity to present itself, those who wish to forge a business should follow Collette’s courageous steps.

2. Be willing to learn new skills.

When bootstrapping a company and getting it going, you may not be able to hire people for every role. Collette learned how to do her own accounting so that she could get started. If she’d waited for someone who could do that job for her, she might still be waiting to start.

3. Reach out to the network you already have.

Collette’s local client, the Golden Goose Market, is right in her neighborhood. Since they already knew Collette, they were willing to take a chance on her and display her cookies. Look to your own network; think about the people you know from old jobs, friends of the family, and other contacts. They may have a need for your service or know someone who does.

4. Capitalize on what makes you unique.

Collette Divitto got promotion through human interest stories because of the obstacles that she has overcome. Think about what sets you apart from your competition. It can be a brand story, a unique product like Collette’s top secret cinnamon cookie recipe, or an aspect of your customer service that goes above and beyond what your competitors provide. Recognize your unique attributes and learn how to convey them to your prospects. These qualities are the ones that make your business more appealing than the rest.

Being willing to take risks and dedicating the work necessary can help ensure your business’s success. This sort of courageous approach can get you through those slim early times and make it more likely that your business will thrive.


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