Everything but Tights, a Mask, and a Cape
I first heard of Gene Naftulyev from Daniel Whittington.
Daniel had somehow wrangled himself an invitation to an exclusive New Year’s dinner with a group of business tycoons at which the host, Gene Naftulyev, decided to paint his portrait.
It is an amazing work of art.
A few weeks later, Gene showed up in a class I was teaching on Practical Applications of Chaos Theory. I knew he wasn’t just a painter when he began asking questions.
You can learn everything you need to know about a person by the questions they ask.
No, that isn’t entirely true; you can’t learn what they do for a living.
Fascinated by his intellect, I asked Gene about his business during a break in the class. He handed me his card. Beneath his name was the phrase “A Legitimate Business Man.” I laughed, of course, and Gene smiled. It didn’t seem appropriate to press the matter further, so I dropped it.
A few days later, I learned that Gene had signed up for every other class we teach and donated the money to build our now-famous Whiskey Vault. Gene’s commitment of time and money to our school was impressive.
“Daniel, what does Gene do for a living?”
“Well, he… uh…” Daniel paused and looked puzzled for a moment, then his eyes met mine as he said, “I’m not really sure.”
I spent 2 or 3 days a month with Gene for the next 18 months as he attended all our 2 and 3-day classes and workshops, and at the end of that time, I still had no idea what Gene Naftulyev did for a living. Every person who met Gene liked and admired him, but not one of them could tell me what he did for a living.
I had experienced this once before. It was 1998. My publisher called to say he had been sent a copy of a bookstore receipt indicating that someone had purchased 500 copies of my book, The Wizard of Ads, and on that receipt was scribbled the note, “Is this enough for you to arrange for me to meet the author?”
The publisher, Ray Bard, asked, “Are you willing to do it?”
Intrigued, I said, “Sure, why not?”
A couple of weeks later I spent a delightful day with Dean Rotbart. After he had left for the airport at the end of the day, Pennie asked, “So what does Dean do?”
Puzzled, I said, “I’m not sure. I can tell you that his wife is named Talya, and his children are Maxwell and Avital, and they have a very happy family.” Thinking back to the previous several hours, it dawned on me that every time I had asked Dean about his business, he had skillfully deflected my question with one of his own.
He kept me talking about me.
A few weeks later, Pennie and I received a mysterious invitation to attend a black tie gala in the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Seated at the head table between Dean Rotbart and Paul Steiger, the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, in a room of 1,000 important journalists dressed in tuxedoes and evening gowns, we were frightened out of our wits. It was when Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo – the Masters of Ceremonies – stepped up to the microphone that the mystery of Dean’s identity was finally solved.
Dean Rotbart had been a legendary investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal and this party was an annual event hosted by him to spotlight journalists he felt to be worthy of special recognition. Receiving a TJFR award from Dean Rotbart was almost like winning a Pulitzer Prize.
Who else but a skillful investigative reporter could so easily keep you talking about yourself while telling you nothing at all about them self?
Gene Naftulyev, that’s who.
Gene isn’t a journalist, but he is most definitely an investigator.
I was talking to a friend who employs about 250 people in 3 different companies when he mentioned that he had hired a specialist to figure out what was wrong with a company that was underperforming.
“Who did you hire?”
“A fellow named Gene Naftulyev.”
“He’s going to figure out what’s holding you back?”
“Yeah. He’s famous for it.”
“Procter & Gamble. American Express. Kraft Foods. Target. They’re all clients of Gene’s.”
“What does he do, exactly?”
“He improves profits without spending money.”
“Process re-engineering, operational optimization, making business units autonomous, negotiating contracts, stuff like that. And his fixes are quick and easy.”
“But if you were going to summarize what he does in a single sentence, what would that sentence be?”
My friend thought for a moment, then said, “He refines things so that you’re more efficient, have fewer frustrations, and make more money.”
“Gene, this is Roy Williams. I want to talk to you about writing a book.”
“Because I’d like to read it.”
This is that book.
You can thank me later.
Roy H. Williams
Author of the New York Times bestselling Wizard of Ads trilogy,
Chancellor, Wizard Academy