Being a part of a team, part of something larger than you are, is really how success is created. The only thing you can do by yourself is to fail. So, when you get out there thinking you’re “it” and that you’re the most important member of the team, you’re headed for failure.
I founded Famous Amos in Hollywood, California, with a freestanding store on Sunset Boulevard. Two years later, I went to Hawaii to sell cookies. I had always loved it there and wanted to live there, so I decided to move to Hawaii. In those years, if I wanted to do something, I just did it, without thinking of the consequences or of the people who were involved. At the time, I wasn’t making a profit. But that never stopped me. I figured I could just manage the business from Hawaii. Boy, was I wrong!
What happened to me is that I lost Famous Amos. In 1985 I was the majority shareholder, and by 1989 I had no equity at all. Cash flow, bills and debts just caught up with me, and with poor management, one can operate for only so long. With each ownership change, my equity became less and less, and finally I was left with nothing but an employment agreement. It was clear that the new owners didn’t want to work with me, and I didn’t want to work with them either, so I left.
Examine Your Daily Mis-takes
Moving to Hawaii was one of the biggest business mistakes I ever made. I was 2,500 miles away from the business, which was only two years old, without a seasoned, strong management team. Even if I had been living in Los Angeles, I would not have been able to manage the business, because those are not my skills.
My forte is promotion and marketing—I was great at that—but we were not expanding the distribution. Everybody was hearing about Famous Amos cookies, but it was difficult to find them. We weren’t adding new flavors, and we just weren’t growing the business in a responsible way. We also made an unsuccessful attempt at setting up franchises.
Yet another mistake was not listening to the people I had advising me. I got carried away with myself and thought I was Famous Amos—and I was, much to my detriment. Everybody said I couldn’t launch Famous Amos. My mother said I couldn’t do it. And I was so convinced I could that I forgot I didn’t really know what I was doing.
The failure of Famous Amos gave me an insight into the meaning of the word “mistake.” During the 14 years I was in show business, I went to many recording sessions. Each time a song is recorded, that’s called a “take.” Let’s say you do 90 takes. Everyone who’s involved in that effort listens closely to Take 90. They do not condemn, judge or criticize, because everyone is listening for ways to make Take 90 a better take. Then they go back into the control room and do Take 91. So, Take 90 was just a mis-take.
Success Is a Team Effort
Our “takes” are the various experiences that we have on a daily basis. We need to examine those experiences that don’t work well, extract whatever we can learn from them and apply that to the next take. I was always impulsive and a little big-headed, and I always thought my way was the way. Now I know that my way is just one of the ways, and not always the best way.
Looking back on my past mistakes and realizing what I did wrong, I attempted to correct them by finding people who could really run my new company. Now I partner with them, and I can support them. After I started Uncle Noname–which became Uncle Wally’s last year–a great young man called Lou Avignone became president and CEO. Lou used to be the distributor for Famous Amos cookies—he worked for Drake for a bit, and then he had his own distribution company. He handles the business day to day. I have input wherever necessary, but mostly I do what I do best: market and promote the company.
It’s been a process for me, because it was not my nature to sit back and let other people run things. It was my nature to run things. But I have learned, and now I’ve got the patience, and I’ve withdrawn. I trust the management team to do what they do best, and that is working out very, very well. We just hired a CFO, so the team is even stronger now.
Keep an Open Mind
I believe that if we grow through our experiences, we get the lessons and rise to a higher level. What helped me grow through my experience of losing Famous Amos was the fact that I had begun to develop a spiritual understanding. I had the opportunity to see that I was not just a cookie, I wasn’t a name, and I wasn’t a company—I was a spiritual being, and no one could own that.
God is the source of everything in my life. I literally said to myself, “If God gave me the idea for Famous Amos, surely he will give me at least one more idea.” That understanding has helped me move forward. It also helps to look back at founding Famous Amos and say, “I did that. If I did that once, I could do it again.”
Today, things have come full circle. I’m being open-minded and doing things differently. I never thought I’d rejoin Famous Amos—but I did, last year, as a spokesperson for the brand at Keebler Foods, doing trade shows and radio 45 days a year. Uncle Wally’s, in which I’m a shareholder, is an independent company that bakes and sells muffins. In my negotiations with Keebler, I won the right to use “Wally” for Uncle Wally’s, and to use my picture, if I choose to. That gave me the freedom to access my energy and devote it to food.
Let It Go and See What Happens
At Uncle Wally’s we’re sensitive to the needs of our employees—we want to cultivate and develop people and remember the times we have made mistakes because, in the big picture, everything that happens is just a “take,” and we all get additional takes. If you take responsibility for your actions, your thoughts and your deeds, you can make adjustments and move forward.
You need to have patience, trust and faith, and listen to other people, even if someone does something you’re opposed to. So what? Let it go and see what will happen! Nine times out of ten, you’ll get great results.