Cabbies Offer Tips On Management

A comedian once joked that the only people who know how to solve management problems are too busy cutting hair or driving taxis to tell us. So I decided to test this theory. During my business trips to New York City, I made it a point to ask cab drivers how they would handle specific business problems. Here is a sampling of the street smarts I collected from a random selection of New York cabbies:

  • "You want my advice? Why me? You should ask one of those big-shot consultants. They get big bucks to answer stupid questions you already know the answers to but wish you didn't. So I'll make a deal with you. Tell me what to say and I'll say it. Then you can give me a big, fat tip for telling you what you wanted to hear, and we'll both be happy."
  • "Mister, I'm no genius. But I know this. The greatest quarterbacks complete only six out of every 10 passes. The best basketball players make only half of their shots. And major-league ballplayers get to first base only once in every four at bats. Making mistakes is part of every business. Even driving this hack. So, you ask me? I got to be straight with you. Expect people to make mistakes. They happen."
  • "Let me tell you how driving a cab works. Day after day, the cab stays the same but the people don't. At the end of the day, everything comes out the same, no matter whether I make it hard on myself or not."
  • "You have to look at it this way. You have this guy on one hand. And that guy on the other hand. You got a choice. You can wring your hands or wring their necks."
  • "You got to keep your eye on his mouth. The mouth is the most dangerous part of a person. A guy can do more damage with his mouth than Muhammad Ali with his fists. You gotta be a mouth watcher."
  • "The best bosses have to be smart. Like the center on a football team, they got to know what's going on behind their backs. Especially the hanky panky. Sometimes there's more panky than hanky."
  • "One thing I've learned from driving this cab in this nutty town: There's a lot of wacky people in New York. But they're the customers. No one but you can make yourself angry or upset."
  • "Try to see the funny side of things. Read cartoons. Go to funny movies. Read funny books. Surround yourself with funny guys and gals. And laugh at funny things, especially yourself."
  • "You know something, my fare's voice is what's important. The way they say things, that's more important than what they're saying. That's how I learn about people, when they're saying things and how they're saying them. I can guess how big my tip is going to be from how they say things."
  • "I'm a cabby who don't talk much. I listen. I learn a lot more when I listen. When I talk, I don't learn nothing -- unless I ask a question."
  • "Millions of Americans aren't working . . . but thank God, they've got jobs."
  • "Driving this hack has taught me that there ain't no proof a guy's tongue is attached to his brain."
  • "My dad told me this old proverb: Don't approach a goat from the front, a horse from the back, or your boss from any side."
  • "Why am I driving a cab instead of holding down a decent job? Because I couldn't find a decent job that was decent. I never felt needed, appreciated, or respected. I wanted to feel like I was an important part of something. Instead I was a small part of a nothing."
Since 1937 there have been only 11,700 taxi medallions allowed in New York City. Many are owned by taxi firms. The others are owned by individuals. The going price for a medallion is $180,000. So some New York cab drivers are entrepreneurs with the business savvy to give management advice. My biggest problem? I had to flag a lot of cabs to find drivers who were willing to answer my questions. As the old saw says: They're too busy! Sal F. Marino is chairman emeritus of Penton Media Inc. and an IW contributing editor. His e-mail address is [email protected]
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