Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing

No-nonsense rules from the ultimate contrarian and small business guru

By George Cloutier
Harper Business, 192 pages, paperback $14.99, e-read edition $13.99
Reviewed by Chris Wendel

In a Nutshell: Hard-nosed business advice from an old school businessman.

Who’s it for? Small business owners, aspiring entrepreneurs.

Author Quote: “There is no $ in team, just mediocrity and excuses.”

Imagine your business was struggling to make ends meet. You call in a well-recommended business expert to turn things around. Now imagine that this person shows up and demands that you fire the majority of your staff, ignore your family, and dedicate your entire life’s effort to your business.

Meet George Cloutier, a self-annointed business guru who lives in a world of absolutes and maligned sports slogans. The book’s title is derived and twisted from Vince Lombardi’s famous quote: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

Cloutier has credentials to back up his philosophy, saving countless companies from the brink of bankruptcy and from his work as a lecturer, coach, and sought-after commentator on major business TV programs.

Credentials aside, I must stop here and make a confession; I first listened to portions of this book in an audio format several years ago and I nearly threw it out of my car window. Cloutier starts his book with a flourish of “tough questions” that sets the tone for his preachy, in-your face rhetoric, sounding the wakeup call that many are not receptive to hearing.

Eventually, I read the book version and realized that reading Cloutier’s advice in printed form is more palatable than listening to it in an audio context. With that water under the bridge, “Profits Aren’t Everything” is a true paradox. With a series of chapter headings labeled “Profit Rules,” Cloutier systematically goes through his process of demonstrating how a successful company should be run.

Profit Rule 4: “Love your business more than your family” will be a deal breaker for many. Cloutier’s summary sounds like he’s never lived in a world where spouses both work and someone has to nurture, love, and pick up the kids after school. Yet the following passage from the book actually states: “If you’re not focused – if family, friends, community, and church fill up your busy schedule – you are probably failing to deliver real profits for your company.” Get the picture?

Profit Rule 10: “You are not in business to pay your vendors.” The strategies in this chapter detail ways to delay payment to your suppliers and states: “Your vendors are your best source of interest-free financing. “ It’s clear that the author never lived in a smaller community where the payment withheld from a local business vendor might also be the salary of one’s friend or neighbor.

The book does contain some sound summaries and strategies on topics such as the importance of cash flow (minus the slow vendor payment concept) and managing a sales force.

It also offers insight into the mind of a hyper-competitive business owner who possesses a “take no prisoners” attitude that can ultimately reap huge financial gain. But, this no-compromise mantra comes with the high costs of alienating one’s family, friends, employees, suppliers, and community. I’d challenge Cloutier with examples of modern day business owners that strike a balance between financial success and “having a life.”

The problem with this book is that Cloutier provides no middle ground. His “my way or the highway” rules go back in time when there was a wide divide between management and employees.

Today’s workforce is more engaged with small business success and clearly doesn’t deserve to be treated as interchangeable parts. Regardless of one’s own philosophy of the owner-employee relationship, today’s world seems to be enthralled with polarizing controversy, which “Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing” clearly delivers.

Chris Wendel is a business services consultant with Northern Initiatives, a community development financial institution that offers business lending and assistance for economic development projects throughout Michigan. Wendel lives and works in Traverse City and can be reached at