Undercover: Tina Lee at Work

I watched an episode on the “W Network” concerning T & T Supermarket, Canada’s largest Asian supermarket, in which Tina Lee, T & T’s Strategy & Operations Executive Director, goes undercover in order to find out what’s really happening on the “front lines” where customers interact with employees. Tina rationalized that many dynasties in China fell when the leadership lost touch with the people. She wanted, therefore, to bypass middle management and see what was actually happening with her own eyes.

Tina became nearly unrecognizable with her short-haired wig, large glasses and over sized, red worker’s cap placed slightly ajar on her head. None of the employees she engaged with could ever have imagined that “Linda” was, in fact, their boss.

It was precisely through her disguise and the casual and candid conversations she had with her employees that Tina was able to gather information she would otherwise never have obtained. She was able to see for herself how managers trained employees, how they interacted with customers, what skill level they possessed, and what improvements were necessary to make the business run more efficiently.

Get your hands dirty

Tina is remarkable because she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.  She hardly flinched when handling live lobsters, bravely cut a wide variety of meat products, and even made a cake from scratch. She was working, learning, and communicating nonstop with her ears wide open.

Communications genius

Tina has a knack for connecting with people. She has “the touch.” While humbling herself and revealing certain weaknesses (like making mistakes), Tina was able to obtain her employees’ trust with humor.

Generosity counts

I was very impressed when, at the end of the episode, Tina calls her staff to her office and reveals the truth to them. She rewards her employees for their hard work and her generosity toward them is both commendable as well as business smart. Her employees’ fidelity will, most likely, be reinforced; turnover will be stopped in its tracks; production will increase; and customer satisfaction will grow.

In the “telephone game,” information that is whispered in the first person’s ear tends to become distorted when spoken out loud by the last person in the chain. In a similar fashion, executives who follow in Tina’s footsteps will be surprised by what they see and gain deep insight into the business they run.

Tina Lee Undercover

Image title:  Tina Lee Undercover

Image source:  http://www.wnetwork.com


Fortitude has to do with facing pain or adversity courageously through endurance.

Light at the end of the tunnel

When we face difficult or challenging circumstances, we can become discouraged and think, When will this end?  The truth, however, is that nothing lasts forever.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Don’t give up

We endure certain hardships because we know that they won’t always be.  A Chinese philosopher said that the best way to face a seemingly unmovable obstacle that appears like a ‘boulder’ is to do nothing.  Nothing? you ask.  Nothing because by disengaging, you allow time to work on and solve the problem.

Resist futile efforts

Have you ever tried to solve a problem by tackling it aggressively with everything you’ve got only to see that all of your efforts were futile?  Nothing you tried seemed to work and it all ended in frustration.

This happens when we fail to realize that there is a right time for everything and that artificially attempting to manipulate outcomes doesn’t work.

The ‘umph’ factor

When we know that we cannot change a particular situation or fix a particular problem immediately, we need to endure.  We need to, essentially, dig our heels in and wait.

Time plays a big role

Determining when to act versus when to wait is vital.  If you feel that things are flowing, that certain people almost magically appear in your life, and that all the signs pertaining to resolution say ‘go,’ you can circumvent the ‘boulder.’  You can move around it!


Image by Luba Rascheff

The Story of Iannis V.

Writers are storytellers.

As I thought about a story to tell you, I settled on the story of Iannis V. *, a rich and influential Greek businessman.  I thought about him because he made an impact on me.

Even though Iannis owns over thirty homes, he mostly lives in two, one of which is a beach house.  He called me recently and asked, ‘What do you know about roses?’  I was flattered that he thought to ask me.  He explained that he wanted to plant them near his beach house and sell them.  ‘Near your beach house?’ I asked incredulously.  ‘Yes, yes!  I researched it and they’ll grow here just fine.’  I replied that I didn’t know much other than to mention Bulgaria’s Rose Valley.  It hardly surprised me that at an advanced age Iannis would attempt to cultivate roses near a beach for export.

To spend or not to spend

When we first met, he told me that, once upon a time, he didn’t have much money at all.  ‘When I didn’t have money, I staid home.  When I had money, I’d go out to the restaurant.’  It was an astonishingly simple yet powerful statement.  He then made some disparaging remarks regarding the spending habits of younger Greeks. 1

On a separate occasion, Iannis said, ‘When I was a teenager, my friends wanted me to smoke even though I didn’t.  One day, they bunched up on me and forcibly held me against a wall as they tried to stick a cigarette in my mouth.’  Iannis laughed out loud as he remembered, his perfectly intact, white teeth flashing and his brown eyes dancing.  ‘I fought back by kicking them hard.  I don’t smoke!’ he said earnestly.

Not only doesn’t he smoke, Iannis told me that he goes to bed at sunset and gets up at sunrise.  He told me he’s done this his entire life.

Good behavior, bad behavior

Iannis seems to attract scandal to him like a magnet.  Some people love him, while others hate him.  He’s even received threats.

In spite of it all, though, I think that Iannis V. is an extraordinary character.  Although lacking a formal education, he is brilliant, highly disciplined and an amazing businessman who knew exactly what he wanted from an early age.


* Name changed to protect identity.

1 He was referring to borrowing from parents and the use of credit cards.  Note that this conversation took place prior to the financial crisis of 2008.

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Image title:  ‘Sunset over the Acropolis’

Photographer:  Luba Rascheff

Crossing the Threshold of Excellence

If you’re like me, you place much emphasis on excelling through excellence.  You are meticulous, articulate, focused and aim at succeeding in all of your endeavors.

Stand out

What is that special quality that enables one to stand out in a crowd without resorting to inappropriate methods?


Do you behave the same way at home as you do at work?  Is your behavior flawless in the sense that you have one standard and that this standard defines, in fact is, your personal brand?


Do you take accountability for your actions or, if things don’t work out, blame others?

Crossing the threshold of excellence

When you’ve made a conscious decision to stand out via your impeccability and pursuit of excellence, you’ve crossed the point of no return.  You’ve distinguished yourself from the crowd as someone who will succeed, period.

The difference between you and those who choose mediocrity is that you’ve consciously crossed the threshold of excellence.

What are the signs of having crossed the threshold of excellence?

  1. Acting will be easy.  Once you have consciously decided to accept responsibility and, generally speaking, ‘give it your all,’ you will immediately know how to act in all situations, even difficult ones.
  2. Doubt will vanish.  The doubt you once secretly harbored about yourself and your potential will vanish.
  3. A noticeable difference.  People won’t recognize you anymore.  ‘What?  Is that [put your name here]?’ they’ll ask.
  4. Success will come.  You will find yourself (even under difficult circumstances) easily succeeding (e.g., closing deals, increasing your reputation, etc.)
  5. A new vision.  When you cross the threshold of excellence, a new vision will come upon you:  the uncanny ability to ‘see’ what’s around the corner or down the road.

When you come to the point of no return and cross the threshold of excellence, you will stand out and your success will be unparalleled.

Reaching for Excellence

Reaching for Exellence

Image source:  xaxor.com/photography/21817-mountain-climbing-photography-by-various-photographers.html

How I Ran a Successful Real Estate Business

What has it been like directing a real estate business in Sofia, Bulgaria for the past decade?


I remember when one of my clients, a bank director, called me one evening and said he had no electricity and had to use a candle to see.  It turned out he had never paid his electric bill.  This was the impetus for the invention of my bill-paying service.  It helps assure that clients’ bills are paid on time with me being promptly reimbursed.  This avoids needless and expensive late fees and reconnection charges from CEZ Electro Bulgaria, the electric company.

Other problems that have arisen over the years include:  leaks (from terraces and roofs); toilets not working; losing the garage’s remote control; outlandish requests or demands; and missing items.

Crisis management

When I get a telephone call from a client, the first thing I do is listen intently to hear what the nature of the problem is.  I then reassure them that the problem will be resolved in a timely manner.  As soon as I hang up, I mobilize key members of my core team to address the problem.

Although solving the problem is my goal, I always bear in mind my renter’s schedule.  As pressing as the problem may be, a visit from the plumber, for example, must happen at a time that is convenient to the renter.

Diplomacy is key

In the high-end, residential real estate business, diplomacy is the key to a satisfied clientele.  It’s vital to respond to individual needs while at the same time affording renters their privacy, giving them their space.  It’s important to be friendly without being chummy; professional without being cold; and clear without offending.

Delineation of duties

One of the key factors that makes my business run smoothly is a clear definition of roles among my staff.  There is no overlap or redundancy because everyone knows exactly what they’re supposed to do.  From the manager, to the lawyer, to the accountant to the handyman, everyone has a job to do.

Rights and responsibilities

My renters have rights and responsibilities.  They have the right to prompt, polite, efficient service and privacy; yet they must, according to Bulgarian law, be “good caretakers.”  This means that they must treat the rental apartment as if it were their own.

Satisfaction guaranteed

The baroque-style furniture, creature comforts, modern amenities and attention to detail all play a part in providing a luxurious, high-end, rental experience.  When my clients are satisfied, I’m satisfied.  When my attitude is such that clients know that I genuinely care about them and will do everything in my power to ensure that their stay is pleasant with everything in the apartment working as it should, their satisfaction leads to the reputation of the business growing, an increase in profitability, and a sense of personal satisfaction on all sides.

Real estate

Image source:  http://www.score.org