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Cancer Leaders: Value Statements

Updated on February 10, 2016

May Your Tribe Increase!

In the February 2001 issue of Town and Country, author Janet Freed Carlson writes of fashion designer Vera Wang’s husband, financier Arthur Becker, who likes to tell the story of the couple’s first date. According to Becker, Wang expressed a preference for choosing the restaurant. When the couple arrived, every member of Wang’s immediate family was seated at a table awaiting them.

The preceding may be an example of an Asian custom, but its astrological spirit is also pure Cancer. To Cancer the primary foundation and focus of one’s life is the essential values-affirming, supportproviding cultural unit, the family. Generally, Cancers will consider nothing more important and nowhere will they place greater allegiance than this heritage-bound repository of personal source and communal destiny.

Thus it is hardly surprising that the lives of Cancer business leaders are often literally predicated on close family relationships. Whether one addresses business inspiration, early instruction, start-up financing, entrepreneurial legacy, or chief purpose, Cancers are inclined to cite family as the chief source of involvement and consideration. With an inflexible sense of rectitude Cancer leaders will take care of their own and expect that you will do likewise for yours.

For good and/or bad, there is something quintessentially parental about Cancer leadership. On the upside there is an understanding of the need for instruction, nurturing, and patience. As Howard Schultz, who claims his own father’s work tribulations inspired the laborfriendly policies at Starbucks, writes in his book, Pour Your Heart Into It (New York: Hyperion, 1999):

There are a lot of similarities between rearing a family, where the parents imprint values on their children, and starting a new business, where the founder sets the ground rules very early.

Less fortunate implications arise, as they often do in families, when the dad or mom is inclined to emotional imperialism. Working for H. Ross Perot meant observing total loyalty to a creed that was articulated on the fly by a very stubborn and ethically inconsistent man. Even that ultimate father figure, Bill Cosby, put his foot into it when he began to publicly bash black families for the problems of the black community, and when it was subsequently discovered that his own morality had a touch of green around the gills.

Ultimately though, the trick to “getting” Cancer is to accept that their chief ambition is to take care of and go home to the ones they love. Thus it was true of John D. Rockefeller, who basically spent the last four decades of his life entertaining grandchildren, attending church, and playing golf on his own estate courses. Thus it is true of Palm Computing’s Donna Dubinsky, who has commented that her chief goal is to retire and spend more time with her family and to maybe teach a bit.

It may not be sexy, but it is a whole lot thicker than water.

The Best Offense Is a Good Defense; the Best Defense Is a Pile of Cash

When one sees the world in terms of “us” and “them,” there is inevitable worry about vulnerability, be it from actual threat or the result of good old-fashioned paranoia. Either way there often seems to be some palpable sense of fear in the lives of Cancer individuals regarding openness to attack. Often this fear simultaneously becomes both “the enemy” and a weapon in the Cancer’s own arsenal.

Sometimes this manipulation by and of fear is just not pretty. One encounters Leona Helmsley illegally shoving the prospect of imminent home loss (the greatest of Cancer catastrophes) at apartment renters with the temerity to resist going condo. On a much larger stage there is the role that fear of homeland destruction has played in the evolution and conduct of Cancer George W. Bush administration’s War on Terror, notably coordinated by Cancer Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Lest this last seem too much a political comment in what is essentially a business text, let it be noted that many Cancer-led organizations tend to run on a military paradigm, with tight behavioral codes and strict conformance expectations. George Steinbrenner says he learned all about leadership from his military experience. Annapolis graduate H. Ross Perot demanded his employees adhere to rigid standards in everything ranging from dress to marital fidelity, and specifically sought out military veterans to staff his various enterprises. He even engaged some of them in paramilitary operations— most famously in southeast Asia in a hunt for missing Vietnam-era prisoners of war and in Iran when some of his EDS executives were kidnapped during a business deal.

Maybe just a bit more obvious in business than in the military, though, is the awareness that the chief weapon of defense is money.

The Cancer’s simple rule regarding competition and allies is that you crush the resources of the one and purchase the allegiance of the other. That morality doesn’t always figure into it can be surmised from the write-your-own-rules/take-no-prisoners styles of Rockefeller (monopolistic practices), Milken (insider trading), and Perot (heavy-handed political contributions).

Of course, the very notion of “morality” is a bit weak-kneed in the context of what Cancer leaders might see as a business-based “holy war.” In such a worldview greed may not be good, but it is necessary. As Vera Wang coolly observed to Town and Country (February 1, 2002):

It’s grow or die, as they say on Wall Street. It’s about the bottom line. Anybody who says it isn’t, isn’t really in business. As a Cancer always seems to appreciate, a healthy bank account calms many fears.

Empathy Trumps Intellect

A common theme among Cancer leaders is how relatively few have taken an institutional education especially seriously. John D. Rockefeller, George Eastman, Richard Branson, Estee Lauder, and Leona Helmsley are just some of the phenomenally successful Cancer leaders who never attended college. Others who did, like Juan Trippe and George W. Bush, were pretty much there to have a good time, gain credentials, and make contacts. Even famed Cancer inventor William Lear, who gave the world products such as the car radio (on the back of which Motorola was built) and the Lear jet, did not matriculate past the eighth grade.

Of far more visceral and educational importance to most Cancers is their first salaried job, generally taken at an extremely early age. Cancers tend to make an early connection between hard work and money, as well as early discovery about the miracle of dividends and compound interest. Institutions of higher education sometimes just muddy these fundamental points besides serving as hotbeds of dogma, a portion of which will generally not conform to the Cancer’s tightly maintained definition of desirable cultural values.

Just as relevant here, however, is the fact that the Cancer genius rarely resides in the formal intellect. Rather, Cancers are the masters and mistresses of deep feelings. They may not know what you are thinking, but they do know what you want.

Thus, the Cancer genius traditionally manifests in the product and service arena as both an anticipation of and an improvement upon deeply held consumer desires. For example:

■ Photography was enormously popular before Kodak, but it took George Eastman to figure out how to make it a portable everyman process, “as easy as using a pencil.”

■ Cosmetics existed before Estee Lauder, but it was this great entrepreneur who appreciated that “touching the customer” through expert demo counter application, sampling, and free gifts needed to be part of the beauty package experience.

■ Overseas air travel was once the sole province of the elite, but it was Pan Am’s Juan Trippe who saw it as an experience that should not just be reserved for the ultra-rich.

■ People were drinking coffee in coffee shops and diners long before Starbucks, but Howard Schultz saw the upside of offering premium product and a creating a truly inviting “third place” for socialization.

■ Bridal gowns certainly pre-existed Vera Wang’s work, but she made her fortune on an understanding that to a bride true fashion on a wedding day is more important, not less, than on any other day.

Similar insights abound regarding Robert Rich and Rich topping (in a world of wartime shortages, how great to have an appealing substitute for whipped cream!); Merv Griffin and shows like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune (people wanted TV quiz shows that were more honest and easier to play than the tainted 21); Judy McGrath and the growth of MTV (style-conscious young people wanted to see their music); and Donna Dubinsky and Palm Computing (computer users required a constant electronic companion).

Or maybe the Cancer genius is best summed up by P. T. Barnum, a promoter of outrageous attractions that eventually morphed into the modern circus, who appreciated that nineteenth-century America was eager to push past its Puritanism. Interestingly, one thing history now knows is that Barnum, who invented such customer friendly policies as the rain check and the outrageous publicity stunt, never uttered his alleged observation that “there’s a sucker born every minute.” Cancers are way too smart to ever let on in public that they feel that way.

Howling at the Moon Is Optional

The discrete way to get at this touchy point may simply be to point out the astrological symbolism. The heavenly body most closely associated with Cancer is the moon, constantly phase-changing by reflected light so that its countenance is never quite the same from night to night. The stellar constellation/animal icon of Cancer is the crab, a creature who lives through alternative seasons of thick shell and shedding, and who by nature would rather lose a claw then let go of the prize.

The less discrete way to put this is that inside every Cancer, even the best of them, there seems to live a creature who is part crabby lunatic. It’s Leona Helmsley screaming at busboys, George Steinbrenner changing Yankee managers twenty times in twenty-three seasons, H. Ross Perot independently hiring a bigoted mercenary named Bo Grits to travel to Laos and look for POWs. It’s the fine line that exists between tenacity as evidence of one’s patience and courage of convictions, and tenacity as evidence of hysteria—and it is a line with which most Cancers have some familiarity.

The smart ones recognize this quality in themselves and make a keen effort to remain as private as possible. Capable of great emotional chemistry with a crowd, Cancer leaders will rarely choose to place themselves in unscripted public circumstances. It’s Rockefeller being deadly serious about avoiding chance meetings, Branson refusing to maintain a personal corporate office, and Eastman declining to have photographs taken of himself.

To put it bluntly, these are not the folks to whom you want to recommend thriving on uncertainty.

Charity Starts at Home

It would be unfair not to mention all of the impressive philanthropic work undertaken by Cancer leaders. As hard as they compete in the business arena, they bring an equal measure of commitment to aiding the downtrodden. And while there is often little sympathy for passive charity, the contributions to causes that encourage others to help themselves in realms such as education are frequently profound.

Where one may encounter the best of Cancer leaders, however, is in their loyalty to and support of their own workforces, which the best of them see as extended families (and which sometimes are). It is almost hard to comprehend the goodness and generosity of a George Eastman, who set awesome precedents with respect to salaries, retirement annuities, life insurance, and disability coverage, and who in 1919 simply gave one-third of his stock to his employees as a thank you.

Today, similarly, much deserved praise is heaped upon Howard Schultz, with Starbucks being one of the first big restaurant companies to ever offer stock options to hourly employees, health benefits to part-time employees, and fair trade prices to its Third World coffee suppliers. Schultz is also of the belief that his company generally benefits much more through local cause marketing that supports a community rather than major media marketing that supports an ad agency. He proselytizes about “relationships”—with staffs, suppliers, stockholders, and customers—and there’s real meaning in the word. Schultz once observed:

There is a direct link between how I grew up and how we tried to build Starbucks.

That is something any Cancer understands.


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