Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Old Happiness' Worth a Lot More Than `Old Money'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Old Happiness' Worth a Lot More Than `Old Money'

Article excerpt

Here's a career exercise for you:

What single word would you use to describe your personality at work? (For instance . . . Happy? Sleepy? Grumpy? Sneezy?)

Now, what are the top five words that best describe leaders of thriving corporations? Compare and contrast.

I was thinking about this "defining word" exercise because I knew I was going to meet a man who has built several national restaurant chains, and when I asked around about him, the word I kept hearing was "sweet" - as in, "He's the nicest man, a real sweetheart."

Sweet? Is this any way to run a business, especially in a brutally competitive, "closed for remodeling" industry? And yet Norman Brinker, Nice Guy, created and built the Steak & Ale chain, then presided over the turnaround at Burger King, then built Brinker International (Chili's restaurants, plus three newer chains - Cozymel's, On the Border and Macaroni Grill).

He's written an engaging and moving book, "On the Brink" (co-authored by Donald Phillips, Summit Publishing, $24.95), a major portion of which is devoted to arm-wrestling the Grim Reaper - Brinker lay in a coma for two weeks, not expected to survive, after a fall in a polo match.

I can guess what you're thinking: "A polo accident? Polo? Right. This guy has a lot in common with me and my life." But Brinker is not an old-money snob. (He happened to have a fascination with horses and was once on the Olympic equestrian team.) No, he worked his way through San Diego State by selling Cutco knives.

In fact, what interested me most about his career is that he consistently walked away from money. Here are three instances:

* Coming out of college, having been on the Olympic team, Brinker had plenty of job prospects, including offers from P&G and Bethlehem Steel. His wife grew impatient as he turned down job after job, saying to her only, "Well, honey, they offered me a job but it just didn't sound like fun - so I said, `Probably not. …

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