Gary L. Mussell
Call (805) 523-7830

Business Management

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When I thought about what to write on this Business Skills page, my mind went first to the usual list of skills learned and applied from my years on experience on the front lines. Because I devote several other pages of this web site to describe my skills in technical training, writing, and instructional design (please refer to the menu at the top right to read about them), my focus here will be on project management and corporate skills that underlay the other accomplishments.

Project Management
I have managed perhaps a dozen major projects for companies over the past ten years, taking the assigned goals and turning them into reality by controlling cost, time, and quality and creating happy customers at the end of the journey. These projects have varied in size and scope, from the 18-month and $1.5 million project that required 50 hires to compare the quality of ink jet and laser printer cartridges for Quality Logic to the $5 million implementation of new Sales and Marketing software in seven countries at the Intel MCD Division. Each project had its challenges but I enjoyed them all, especially since they came in on time and under budget. Some of the tools used were MS Project's critical path analysis and MS Excel, whose Pivot Tables and charts proved invaluable when measuring progress. I must confess the entire process of planning the work and budget, hiring just enough staff, getting them trained and scheduled correctly, measuring the quality of the work using data analysis, then writing the final reports each had its specific challenges, but in each case I built terrific teams who came through with excellence.

Corporate Director, Trustee, President

I have served on the Boards of eight local corporations over the past two decades, in various capacities from Director to President. Some of the highlights, in chronological order:

LAAHU - The Los Angeles Association of Health Underwriters. I served first as its Program Chair where I organized learned the ropes and brought in monthly speakers. Then I organized two very large trade shows (see below) that brought in thousands of attendees, vendors, and speakers from around the country. I then was elected Vice President, and finally President as membership grew to over a thousand and it became the largest and most successful such trade association of its kind in the country. I testified several times before legislative committees in Sacramento, steering two bills through to the Governor's desk. After my 2-year term, I helped organize the state organization, CAHU. I wrote their Articles of Incorporation and By-laws, and guided them throught the incorporation and tax-exemption process.

CMS SOFTWARE SYSTEMS - I joined this company as its VP of Marketing and Communications, which meant my department was in charge of all creating and distributing all promotional materials, training workshops, all advertising, leading the trade show booth teams, and making presentations to large insurance companies anxious to buy our client management software for their agents. (Mutual Benefit Life had me script and star in a 5-hour video training progem, described on my Insyructional Design web page.) The trick was to run the department so it made a profit and was not a drain on the company budget, as is often the case with marketing in other companies. I spent more time in airports and Holiday Inns than in my office, and I think we made a major impact on how agents did their business.

ASTD - After I sold my insurance practice and became a corporate trainer, I joined my regional chapter of ASTD, and the leadership process repeated itself. I served as ts Programs Chair, VP of Finance, and Executive Vice President. I also organized two of its trade shows that drew national press because it focused on retraining office workers in the new technologies. These events put the organzation on a sound financial footing. My employer at the time refused to approve me becoming the groups president because of the time requirements, otherwise I would have held that position also.

XIRCOM/INTEL - A few months after I was promoted to Training Manager for the division, I was invited to become a Xircom University Trustee. (This was above and beyond my regular managerial duties, which focused on the worldwide upgrades of internal company software systems.) Xircom saw continuing education for its 2400 employees as an important part of its "work hard, play hard" company culture, and our Board was tasked with providing training in both soft skills and technical skills at all seven international offices. We worked within our budget to update the orientation program for new hires, and we developed extensive material for a new series of "lunch and learn" seminars that explained how each department worked. We also developed off-site workshops that focused on such soft-skill training as interviewing skills for managers and team-building exercises. Graduation Day at Xircom University was always very special, as everyone wore the traditional propeller cap! (See photo, left.)

SCNA - I was one of the founders of this non-profit public benefit corporation and served as its first president and CEO for several years. I led a 7-person Board of Directors, all unpaid volunteers, elected annually by the membership. The easy party was establishing the vision, writing a business plan, and setting priorities. The hard part in the early days was the marketing, solicitations of donations, and creating a corporate culture that would survive its entrepreneurial founders. I also led them through the maze of government forms to get incorporated, and a tax-exempt status from the IRS. Both its web site (which I designed) and its monthly newsletter have won several awards in its industry.

Some of the Corporations
I Have Served as a
Board Member or Trustee

LAAHU (Los Angeles Association of Health Underwriters)

CAHU (California Association of Health Underwriters)

ASTD (American Society for Training and Development)

CMS Software Systems

Xircom University

Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce

SCNA (non-profit)


One skill I hardly use anymore is that of Parliamentarian. I served in that capacity for three years for a national trade association. Because hardly anyone on the Board or among the 300 delegates assembled knew about how to formally run a meeting or convention according to the rules, I experienced many exciting (and often amusing) moments as I counseled and nudged the elected officers on the podium to do everything correctly without embarrassing themselves.

Most of the time I succeeded. Alas, the one important time I failed, and one of my funniest experiences, came several years ago when the president of the organization asked for a voice vote by asking those in favor to say "aye" and those opposed also to say "aye." He then declared "the ayes have it!"

Trade Show Management

Over the years I have run four trade shows, all of them successful and profitable. I organized two of them through LAAHU, the largest health insurance trade association in the country at the time. The second two I ran were a few years later for the Ventura/Santa Barbara County chapter of ASTD, the national training association. At all of them we attracted featured speakers from around the nation, had vendor booths, and many breakout workshops.

Later, when I was Marketing Director at CMS, I was in charge of our trade show booth operation, which journeyed from state to state and trade convention to convention. I visited 41 states in 3 years doing this and probably set a Guinness record for staying at the most Holiday Inns. Our goal each time was to make the show profitable, which required we not only sell product but also set up training classes at the hotel which people paid to attend. At one show in Chicago where we were introducing a new product, we gave away golf socks at the booth if people stayed through our hourly demonstrations. We gave away 600 pairs of socks in 3 days but sold enough product to more than cover their expense. Those were fun times.

Remembering Mr. Hankins

During my career I have been a self-employed entreprenuer, mid-level manager, and president of a corporation. But some of the best advice I ever learned came from Mr. James Hankins, my first store manager.

For the first eight years of my professional life I worked my way through college at JC Penney in Canoga Park, California. In those days, Penneys was challenging Sears with a full range of departments from appliances and furniture to housewares and sporting goods.

I worked in many departments, from Toys to Menswear to Ladies Foundations. I recommend everyone work in Toys during Christmas at least once, but I digress. My favorite corner of the store contained sporting goods and hardware, where I worked myself up from lowly clerk to department head over the course of three years. I learned to mix paint, drill bowling balls, and string tennis rackets. None of these specific skills proved useful later in life.

Mr. Hankins took a liking to me, and he went out of his way to mentor me on the essentials of business success. The essentials: (a) always remember you are here to earn a profit, (2) stay focused on what you do well, and (3) treat your fellow employees and your customers with mutual respect. He also made me promise to always make the best decisions I could, and don't be afraid to make a mistake.

One of the more important piece of advice he ever taught was when he said, "When a person comes into hardware asking for a three-quarter inch drill bit, what they really want is a three-quarter inch hole. The drill bit is only a means to that end. Our job is to provide all that is required for the customer to satisfy the goal." This meant listening - really listening - before offering a solution. What the customer really needs may not be what he/she is asking for. The customer is always right, except when he isn't. Amen to that!

I still carry his lessons inside me 40 years later. Thanks, Mr. Hankins.

Click here for Lessons Learned from Living a Corporate Life

Favorite Business Quotes of Mr. Hankins

"Always be asking yourself: 'What’s the best use of my time right now?' ”

If I don't know the answer, don't assume, ask questions."

"Surround yourself with people smarter than you. Then take their advice."

"When in doubt, follow the directions of the guy who signs your paycheck."

"If you can't be the leader, your job is to make your leader look good."

"When you make a mistake:
Rule A. Apologize, take responsibility, and then try not to repeat it.
Rule B: If you repeat it, see Rule A."

"Look for the “Win-Win” in any situation"

Favorite Business Authors

Here is a bibliography of business books I still reference from time to time. I recommend them to anyone starting out into the business world, as an employee, consultant, or entrepreneur. Listed alphabetically:

Bowling Alone, Robert D Putman, (2000), Simon & Shuster
e-Learning and the Science of Instruction, Ruth C. Clark and Richard E. Mayer, (2003), John Wiley & Sons
How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life Allan Lakin, (1972), Signet Books
In Search of Excellence, by Thomas J. Peters and zRobert H. Waterman, Jr (1982) Warner Books
Making Ethical Decisions by Michael Josephson, (2002) Character Counts, Inc. publisher
Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, by Peter J Drucker, (1974) Harper & Row
Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Principles and Practices, (1992), Harper-Collins Publishers
Megatrends, John Naisbitt (1982) Warner Books
The World is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman, (2005), Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books

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