Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

The Most Important Thing In Business


I was talking to a good friend of mine, Bob Fetterman, who is the manager of the performing arts center at our local college, when he turned me and said, “In one word, what is the most important thing in business?”

I thought about it for just a few seconds and then confidently answer, “Talent.” Bob looked back at me and said, “It’s the same in the theater.”

The truth of the matter is it’s the same in just about every organization. If you’ve done a truly good job of finding highly talented people you have built the foundation for a sustainably successful organization. Because no matter what’s wrong in your business; if you have great people they can figure out a way to fix it. On the other side of the coin, no matter what’s wrong in your business, if you have bad people they will make it worse.

In the class I teach on strategy at Wharton I tell my students that we are entering an era where there is very little opportunity to create sustainable competitive advantage. Your competitor can copy your products, they can put a location right across the street, they can spend ten times what you do on marketing, they can drop their price, they can offer free shipping, they can do lots of different things to try to win in the marketplace, but if you have superior talent, your people will figure out how to win against the competition. To me, two of the only sustainable competitive advantages left to most businesses are:

The quality of the people that you can get, grow and keep on your team


The relationships they create with your customers


Which means that talent acquisition, talent development and talent retention should be a major strategic imperative in your business. In addition, you will need to create a winning culture of highly engaged, satisfied and loyal employees who are fanatical about delivering only the highest quality products and services and having only superior customer relationships and will tolerate nothing less.

Years ago I had lunch with a gentleman who built his business from one acre on the edge of a dairy farm, to a multibillion-dollar enterprise and I asked him what he felt the most important thing in running a successful business, he didn’t hesitate, he looked at me and said, “John, you can kid yourself about a lot of things in business but at the end of the day it’s always people, people, people.”


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  1. Brilliant and correct! Profound and simple! Properly discovered, developed, and deployed talent is the great differentiator.

  2. John, I would say the single word the most important thing is “PASSION”, and expanding that to a few words is a “Passion in a belief”. If you can attract people that have the same passion they will or have developed “talent”, passion drives talent, talent is a result of passion. If you are very talented and lack passion for what you are doing, it will show in your product or service.

    “The quality of the people that you can get, grow and keep on your team”
    -It is the passion for what you are doing that gets, grow and most importantly keeps quality people.

    “The relationships they create with your customers”
    -critical, the human experience is what ultimately drives customers, anybody can produce a widget, but why customers choose your widget ultimately comes down to your ability to communicate your passion.

    • Chris, I’m 100% in agreement with you that the “right” talent must have passion. Talented people without passion are, for the most part, not going to add real value to the business. So I would define talent as a person with a true passion for their work. Thank you very, very much for your comment.

  3. Tony Heath says:

    I believe that Jim Collins said in Good to Great, “get the right people on the bus.” Talent + passion = the right people.
    When I have hired well, I have obeyed this basic truth.
    Thanks, John for saying this so clearly. You somehow manage to speak above the noise.