OfficeMax’s Feuer has write message for entrepreneurs

Cleveland Jewish News
Carlo Wolff, Staff Reporter and Michael Feuer
Friday, March 20, 2015

OfficeMax’s Feuer has write message for entrepreneurs
CARLO WOLFF | STAFF REPORTER | Posted 3 days ago

You can tell Michael Feuer is a mover by the way he talks. He’s always on to the next thing. Even though he just published “Tips From the Top,” a collection of his columns from Smart Business magazine, Feuer already is focused on his first work of fiction, a novel tentatively called “Shakedown.” For Feuer, a co-founder of OfficeMax who is managing director and CEO of the private equity and consulting firm Max-Ventures, time is of the essence.
In a telephone interview from Naples, Fla., Feuer said he thinks there is crossover between fiction and real life, and with fiction, he has the advantage of his imagination. The novel, about the CEO of a public company “who is mad as hell and is not going to take it anymore,” lets him enjoy “kind of a fun canvas on which to do my painting,” said Feuer, who splits his time between homes in Naples and Hunting Valley.
At the office supply products company OfficeMax, where he was chairman and CEO for 15 years until he sold it in 2003, management had to deal with problems such as a lawyer threatening to sue over a problematic fax machine, Feuer recalled. The lawyer told OfficeMax he wanted $1,000 to settle, otherwise he’d file a class-action suit. That attorney advised OfficeMax it probably would win but it might take five years and cost $50,000. The company lawyer advised Feuer to settle for $500; Feuer said no, and ultimately, “we had the guy disbarred.”
In his novel-in-progress, “the scenario is a lot more draconian, and as a consequence, there is violence, things like that,” Feuer said.
“I’m my own best entertainment,” he added. “In business, you can do about anything you want to do except bore people. In my writing, my job in these columns, even if they get mad at me, it makes me feel good because I get people to think.”
“Tips From the Top,” Feuer’s second book, collects more than 100 columns he has written for Smart Business since 2004. Organized thematically by Dustin S. Klein, publisher and vice president of operations for the Smart Business Network and Feuer’s longtime editor, “Tips” is an outgrowth of “stupid letters” Feuer inserted into his employees’ paychecks when he helped launch OfficeMax in 1988. Klein is a member of the board of directors of the Cleveland Jewish News.
Feuer’s first book, published in 2011, is called “The Benevolent Dictator.” Published by business specialist John Wiley & Sons, is about building a business and the creation of investor wealth, among other topics.
Those OfficeMax letters were how Feuer communicated pre-Internet, and when he suspended them for two months, the employees protested. As CEO of a company, “You got to be a cheerleader and a pot stirrer,” he said. “I’ve always wanted people to hear the good, the bad and the ugly in the business.”
Writing these columns takes discipline and a degree of formula.
The 18th of every month, when Feuer goes running, “in my mind I decide what I want, then I write the headline, the first sentence, and the last sentence,” he said. “Then on the 20th of the month, I sit down at my desk and I use (speech recognition software) Dragon NaturallySpeaking and dictate a draft. Then what I do is put it away for a day or two and pick it up again and edit it two or three times. That’s it. What I do is try to make sure that what I’m talking about is relevant; I’m giving my perspective in terms of empirical experience.”
With such themes as leadership, building value, innovation, and overcoming challenges, “Tips From the Top” is not primarily a business book, Feuer said. It’s “one about how to get stuff done in life and have fun doing it.”