Charles Brewer & the CV&B’s

I’ve recently had the privilege of getting to know Charles Brewer. Charles is a technology luminary who earned his success and reputation by founding and growing the internet service provider, MindSpring Enterprises. He is now the founder and principal of Las Catalinas, an amazing new Costa Rican town with an extremely bright future. Over the past year, Charles has become a huge role model for me and this was further ingrained when I began to learn more about the culture of his businesses, and specifically about his Core Values & Beliefs (CV&B’s)

My company, NanoLumens is in the early stages of our development and at a time when culture is being formed. With that in mind, I wanted to learn more about the CV&B’s so that I can help start things off for us on the right path. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to read an excerpt from one of his speeches. In a nutshell, it gave me goosebumps. This is the type of business manifesto I’ve been seeking for a long time and really captures the feelings that I’ve had about the right way to do business. I’ve jotted down some of my key takeaways below and hope they will spur you to read the letter.

  1. Management doesn’t know best, the people do: When you hire the right people, they’ll want to be successful. If given space and freedom, they will perform at peak.
  2. Honesty/Integrity: in EVERYTHING
  3. Only thing static in a sea of change: “Everything else about a company will change over time – the market, the people, the products. Only the values have a chance to remain constant and make the company different and better in a lasting way.”
  4. Well done beats well said: people have a pretty accurate bullshit meter if you are not authentic. “A false attempt at values based leadership is doomed to horrible failure.”
  5. To infinity: This practice is absolutely scalable, “but it requires that essentially everyone in the company become a champion and guardian of the CV&Bs”
  6. Customer Service: Customers are the most important element of a business, treat them extraordinarily.
  7. Frugality: Spend the company’s $ as if it was your own.
  8. “Have a drink on us!”: The story is told from when Mindspring provided a 25% Refund to all customers for an entire month and admitted that service was below their capabilities. This is a perfect example of doing the right thing no matter how painful or costly.
  9. Incorporate it into EVERYTHING: Charles stresses the need to continually articulate the values “all the time, in every way you can think of”. This means they are mentioned at every meeting, on backs of business cards, the website, discussions with vendors, etc.
  10. Employee letter excerpt: Read it. It was the major source of the goosebumps.

What takeaways do you have from the article below? If compelled to share, it would make my day! I hope you enjoy the article.

Charles Brewer Speech

  1. Be careful with number 1…it’s a fine line. It was my dream also to provide the space and freedom so they will perform at their peak. It goes back to the first part though, hire the right people… and if they abuse space and freedom, let them go b/c I don’t think the philosophy is wrong but the majority of people WANT the freedom of space but don’t know how to perform with freedom and space. No matter what though, don’t expect them to reach your level of peak performance. Be realistic of their peak versus yours or you will be banging your head against the wall. Most won’t have your aspirations or they would be starting a company. Instead they want to work for one. Tough to accept inside the walls after granting the freedom and space philosophy. Again, fine line!

    1. Very strong points there Greg. Thanks for the feedback.

      I hesitated a bit when writing part 1 because although I felt it was a key takeaway from the article, it was also very tough to personally accept. I’ve certainly had the situation before where I wanted for someone to strive harder and show more passion but didn’t want to have to “manage” it out of them. For me, its about being comfortable with depending on someone to get something done. If they don’t perform, I’ve got to communicate with them, & be prepared to figure out another way to solve the issue..all the while incorporating my learnings into the relationship.

      I imagine that will always be a big challenge but seems to best be mitigated with super clarity in the role and tight hire/fire guidelines.

      1. Kyle, thanks for the very flattering post. I would re-title number one. It is really addressing CV&B number 1, which is about respect for the individual. “We respect the individual, and believe that when people are treated with respect and given responsibility, they respond by giving their best.” A slightly different concept than what your #1 says.

        See, I respect you. And you *are* doing great work. But you aren’t always right :)

        1. No better source than from the man himself. Thanks for the clarification Charles & great contribution! Now I look forward to learning it first hand.

  2. I would like to speak as someone who has worked for Charles Brewer and seen the CV&Bs in action over a course of 5 years while working at MindSpring.  The CV&Bs actually do work.. part of the beauty in what they propose is that (as Charles once put it.. and my apologies to Charles if this is misquoted or paraphrased): “This may sound crazy.. but we believe that by letting the inmates run the asylum, in the long run it will become a more efficient and welcoming place.. because it’s those people who work  and see the daily activities that best know what is truly needed.  It does no good having someone in an office miles away telling you what to do and having it be in direct conflict with what the person in the trenches sees daily.” 

    I can tell anyone reading this piece or wanting more information about Charles and his vision that his dream not only works, it changes lives and spreads like wildfire.

    Happy employees and staff, make for happy customers and consumers.  What you yield, is positive reinforcement and constructive criticism instead of what many other business ventures get in return; namely anger, frustration or discontinued service from those looking for help from the company.

    All I can really say if asked to put it as briefly as possible, is to trust that Charles knows what he is doing because his proven consistent track record speaks volumes more than any possible misconception anyone may have.  Don’t compare a diamond (CV&Bs) to a piece of coal (Typical business constructs) based on speculation that because they look different they can’t be refined .. you just have to have the vision to see how to polish it after nature has had it’s hands on it a while

    ..and he does :)

    1. Awesome comment Desiree! It’s great to have an inside source weigh in. I’ve been super impressed by the way Charles leads and seek continually to incorporate his teachings into my life.

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