Managing Remington Steele
THE NEED FOR A REMINGTON STEELE
For the reasons I explained in great detail during this post, Black business owners who are serious about success need to stop structuring their businesses around hopes of appealing to African-American consumers. The masses of African-American consumers are emotionally incapable of responding appropriately to any visibly Black-owned business, regardless of its quality. African-American business owners need to position their businesses as “colorless” in order to tap into the larger pool of nonblack consumers. Unless they find out otherwise, many (if not most) American consumers will assume that a business is White-owned. Making your business “colorless” means to preserve this assumption of White ownership for as long as possible.
Often, this involves having a White front person. Let’s call him or her “Remington Steele”, after the TV show character:
Stephanie Zimbalist plays Laura Holt, a private detective who appears to find that her potential clients are unwilling to hire a woman. Business picks up dramatically when she invents a fictitious male superior whom she names Remington Steele, after her Remington typewriter and the Pittsburgh Steelers football team.
In the first episode, she encounters a Humphrey Bogart-loving thief, played by Pierce Brosnan, who overhears someone calling for “Remington Steele” and, in order to escape a pair of murderous thugs, impulsively assumes Remington Steele’s identity. By the end of the episode, he chooses to make the alias permanent and assumes the role of Laura’s “boss,” an arrangement Laura accepts because of her realization that now her agency at least needs a figurehead boss.
A number of real-world business owners have realized that they needed some sort of Remington Steele in order for their businesses to survive and thrive. As a Black business owner, the reality is that you won’t even get the opportunity to provide excellent products and service to most potential customers (of any race, including Blacks) if they know your business is Black-owned. As I mentioned to a reader during an earlier conversation,
For AA business owners, it’s a difficult, hostile business environment all-around. I agree with you that things are not much better with nonblack consumers. I never said it was Paradise with them. But here’s what I feel is the (meaningful) difference:
If you can position yourself in such a way that maintains “colorlessness”—let’s be blunt, in a way that maintains the illusion of White ownership—then your business has the chance to survive long enough to maybe, perhaps . . . be judged on its actual merits. There’s NO realistic hope of that when dealing with AA consumers as a visibly Black-owned business. AA consumers won’t patronize the business, AND they’ll be more prone to rob and/or steal you blind if they know it’s Black-owned.
If your business can survive long enough, you might be able to develop a professional reputation that’s well-known enough to get you over that “racism from nonblack consumers” hump.
It’s not a direct comparison (after all, she’s a WW dealing with other White people), but this is what the Men With Pens blogger was able to accomplish with her online business. She “passed” as a WM-owned business long enough to more or less get over the sexism hump.
She came up with a decidedly MALE pseudonym, and named her blog the manly-sounding “MEN With Pens.” Her problem was that at a certain point, she had to make business phone calls. And then customers would hear her (woman’s) voice.
She talked about all of this in her post entitled Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants.
I’ve heard tales of Black business owners who do like the AA plumbing company owner who pretends to be an employee of his own company when he goes out on service calls.
The Men With Pens blogger had a virtual Remington Steele. This is often best of all because the owner has complete control over a fictitious Remington Steele. However, other types of businesses require a real-life Remington Steele. A real-life Remington Steele can be dangerous and requires careful management. You don’t want him running off with your clients or business.
MANAGING REMINGTON STEELE
Each situation is unique and requires its own careful brainstorming and analysis. However, there are some basic guidelines one can follow to reduce the likelihood of any Remingtons you employ walking away with your clients or business.
KEEP REMINGTON DEPENDENT ON YOU
From The 48 Laws of Power,
Law 11—Learn To Keep People Dependent On You. To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted. The more you are relied on, the more freedom you have. Make people depend on you for their happiness and prosperity and you have nothing to fear. Never teach them enough so that they can do without you.
The 48 Laws of Power, pg. 82 (emphasis added). The 48 Laws of Power author quotes from Machiavelli’s The Prince,
Thus a wise prince will think of ways to keep his citizens of every sort and under every circumstance dependent on the state and on him; and then they will be trustworthy.
The 48 Laws of Power, pg. 85. On the one hand, you need a Remington who knows enough about your field to be able to serve as the public face of your business. On the other hand, you need to make sure that Remington depends on you to do the actual work. How to square this circle? Answer: Have a Remington who is part of your same general field, but NOT skilled in your specific niche or subspecialty.
For example, let’s say that I’m a Black tax lawyer. I need a White Remington in order to get business, but I don’t want Remington to take my clients at some point in the future. So, I choose a Remington who is also an attorney—but one who does not have any experience in handling tax cases. If Remington ever starts learning how to do tax cases, then I need to start looking for another Remington. And get rid of the current Remington long before he gets up to speed in tax law.
Strive to maintain a situation where Remington needs you in particular more than you need him in particular. If Remington steals your clients, he’ll need someone with your specific skill set in order to service them properly. Remington needs someone with your level of skill, or he needs to acquire your level of skill. By contrast, you don’t need any specific, individual Remington. All you need is someone with a White face and matching name to serve as a Remington.
DON’T GIVE REMINGTON ANY KEYS TO YOUR KINGDOM
For example, DON’T add Remington’s name to the business. Putting somebody else’s name on your business makes it easier for that person—who is supposed to be an underling—to run off with your clients and business after you’ve done the hard work of getting it firmly established. It’d be as dangerous as a lawyer naming their law firm after a law clerk. Consider an overall neutral, non-personal name for your business, similar to how many investment management companies are named things like “The ____________ Group.” Pulling a name out of the air as an example—”The Capital Group.” This way, your business has a neutral, colorless name. And the name isn’t automatically giving the keys away to the Remington.
Use non-disclosure and non-competition contracts with Remington.
STAY ALERT AND AT THE TOP OF YOUR GAME
As the 48 Laws of Power author states,
You do not have to have the talent of a Michelangelo; you do have to have a skill that sets you apart from the crowd. You should create a situation in which you can always latch on to another master or patron but your master cannot easily find another servant with your particular talent.
. . . One last warning: Do not imagine that your master’s dependence on you will make him love you. In fact, he may resent and fear you. But as Machiavelli said, it is better to be feared than loved. Fear you can control; love, never. Depending on an emotion as subtle and changeable as love or friendship will only make you insecure. Better to have others depend on you out of fear of the consequences of losing you than out of love of your company.
The 48 Laws of Power, pgs. 86-87. This last part is essential. Remingtons often have a way of starting to believe that they are the true talents that create the firm’s success; even though somebody else is doing the actual work. You must keep your professional skills sharp, and far beyond anything any particular Remington can duplicate on his own or replace.
Tagged as: art of black-owned business