“The 100-Mile Walk goes beyond the same old how-to rhetoric of the moment in business leadership and gets to the perennial core of the matter – how learn to cultivate and practice values on and off the job.”
Christine Poon, Vice Chairman, Johnson & Johnson
“When the mission is compelling enough, we have no choice but to take a leadership role. The 100 Mile Walk is encouragement on the road to discovering the leader inside you.”
Leeza Gibbons, Founder of Lezza Gibbons Memory Foundation and former host of Entertainment Tonight
“As a University President trying to understand how to pass the baton of leadership from one generation to another, The 100-Mile Walk proved an invaluable journey.”
Karen Holbrook, President of Ohio State University
“On its best day business is about human beings engaging to create something larger than their personal interests. The 100-Mile Walk is about business on its best day! I’ll hold it close.”
Dr. Ernest J. Scalberg, Dean, Fisher Graduate School of International Business
ONE bright afternoon when Sander A. Flaum saw that the beach near his Bridgehampton summer house was packed with sun worshipers from the dunes to the water, he thought of gigantic shade trees. Not the arboreal kind, but the corporate kind: those business leaders who grab all the credit, leaving their subordinates to wither in the dark.
On that hot summer day, and many before and after it, Mr. Flaum, the chief executive of Flaum Partners, Manhattan marketing consultants to the health care and pharmaceutical industries, walked alongside his son, Jonathon A. Flaum, the chief executive of WriteMind Communications, a public relations firm in North Carolina.
As they walked, the father, 65, and son, 36, debated the attributes of a successful, effective business leader, meeting whenever and wherever they could.
So for about six months, they trudged the beaches in East Hampton and Southampton, strolled the streets of Midtown Manhattan and the French Quarter in New Orleans, golfed some of the father’s favorite courses and hiked the Blue Ridge Mountains while discussing the topic.
Then they wrote a book: “The 100-Mile Walk: A Father and Son on a Quest to Find the Essence of Leadership” (Amacom Books), which was released this month.
The idea for the book, the Flaums say, was for each man to walk 50 miles in the other’s hiking boots while discussing leadership questions. The two of them started in the Blue Ridge Mountains, near Jonathon’s home in Asheville, N.C. Each wore a microphone for a tape recorder.
After ascending to a high point known for its breathtaking 360-degree views and stiff winds, they turned to the tape of their five-hour conversation about business leaders who had shoved obstacles out of the way to achieve success. But when they played the tape, all they heard was heavy breathing and the wind.
“It was a great lesson for us that you can’t really pin this stuff down,” Jonathon said in a conference-call interview. “Leadership, by nature, is a bit mysterious because human beings are mysterious and always in flux. And your words are always going to be on the wind.” So they talked again in their hotel room and bought better equipment.
THEIR book does not offer a complete melding of their management styles but a comparison of their similar and differing views. Take, for example, one side-by-side delineation of the father and the son — the old and the new — on Page 5.
Old paradigm: Increase revenue every quarter. New paradigm: Tithe 10 percent of profits to charity.
Old paradigm: Competition builds successful teams. New paradigm: Collaboration builds successful teams.
Old paradigm: Show company loyalty. New paradigm: Move on if recognition and growth opportunities are absent.
Under their biographical sketches, on Page 3:
Sander’s religion: Jewish. Jonathon’s: Zen Buddhist.
Sander’s formative experience: United States Army. Jonathon’s: traveling solo around the United States on a Greyhound bus.
Sander’s leadership heroes: Churchill, Lincoln, Colin Powell. Jonathon’s: Shunryu Suzuki, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi.
They agreed, however, on a favorite breakfast: a bagel with cream cheese, lox on the side. Just as they agreed on the essential qualities of the nine P’s — people, purpose, passion, performance, persistence, perspective, paranoia, principles and practice — but not necessarily on the details.
“We felt it was better to have diverse perspectives than to get a watered-down synthesis,” Jonathon said. “It’s the same in business.”
They underscored their varying philosophies with advice from some of the country’s most powerful chief executives. John Glenn, the former astronaut and senator, wrote the foreword.
The shade-tree metaphor originated with Jeff Rich, the former chief executive of Affiliated Computer Services.
“Jeff told us about people with high self-esteem who, as most great leaders should, surround themselves with people who are as smart as or smarter than they are,” the elder Mr. Flaum said. “He talked about giant shade trees. Those leaders need all the sun on them. But eventually the leaves start to fall and the company goes down. “
Hiking and talking was the son’s idea. The father hadn’t done any serious walking since 1963, when he carried a heavy backpack and wore an Army uniform. Jonathon Flaum, on the other hand, had hiked the Blue Ridge Mountains and much of the Appalachian Trail; he had one rule for the father-and-son walks: Set a thoughtful pace by putting the slowpoke up front.
“There’s a sense of awareness to be out in the open, out in nature, and to be quiet,” Jonathon said. “It attunes you to your environment and also it’s tiring. You sweat a lot.”
That’s all analogous to being a business leader. So is the chance to celebrate success, endure boredom and overcome external factors, and the need for a sense of direction. “It’s only when you can walk through all sorts of circumstances that you see what you’re made of,” Jonathon said.
The Flaums stopped measuring the distance of their walks — Jonathon with a pedometer, his father with maps and the lengths of each hole on the golf course — at 100 miles but didn’t stop walking. Then came a brutal stretch of the Cataloochee Trail in North Carolina.
“The bridge we were supposed to cross had washed out and we had to cross a creek full of rocks,” Sander said. “They went through my hiking boots and there was blood all over my socks. I lost my watch, and it started raining.”
The loss of his watch became the metaphorical signal that they were done walking and had to start writing.
“Time was up,” his son said, laughing. “I had brutalized Dad enough.”
Photo: Jonathon Flaum and his father, Sander, took long hikes to try to distill the essence of good business management.