Michael Houlihan is a leading business strategist, keynote speaker, consultant, and corporate trainer. He was the founder, president, and CEO of Barefoot Wines and is co-founder of Business Audio Theatre. Houlihan is also a C-Suite Network member and trusted advisor and the author of the bestselling business book The Barefoot Spirit.

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

I grew up in Oakland and attended catholic schools. I got a great education for the times. I had one sister and two brothers. I was #2. Oakland, even then, was gritty. You had to know how to behave. You had to be a homie. I walked home past a junior high school that had bigger kids because they went to the 9th grade and our school only went to the 8th. Plus we had to wear catholic school uniforms, so we were walking targets in east Oakland. One Christmas I got a new basketball. The next Saturday I took it to the playground at the Junior High school where the kids were bigger and more aggressive. They all wanted to play with my new basketball, but I told them that I was forming a team and only wanted the biggest guys on my team. The next week I was walking home and got jumped by several kids from the junior high. As they were threatening me, I mentioned that Reggie, Eddie, Tyrone, and Elron were on my team. They backed off, helped me up, and dusted me off. They just said “Hi” after that. Lesson: There’s more than one way to do things, find strategic allies that you can help and can help you. And yes we won all the games!

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

I wish I could have learned to find out what the other guy wanted first before I told him what I had to say, sell, or do. By knowing what he wanted first, I could have been more successful sooner.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Bad: “It’s all about the product, features, and benefits. If you have a great product and a great price, you will be successful”

Good: Actually you need these things for sure, but if you can’t get it there and sell it, it doesn’t matter how good it is. People are not going to find you. You are going to have to find them.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

I had a partner in a development business who I had known for 30 years and thought I knew his values. But after a while, it became obvious that when it came to money, he was a completely different person than the one I knew. He wanted to minimize customer service and take shortcuts that caused trouble. I got rid of him finally but not before he causes a major setback to the project. Lesson: Just because you know someone for a long time doesn’t mean you know how they will behave when there’s money on the table.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

Developing a keen interest in my prospects. Ask them to tell you their stories. Listen for how you may have some commonalities and go from there.

What is your morning routine?

My alarm cat goes off every morning at about 5;30 AM. He starts with a super quiet eh, eh, eh sound you can barely hear, then after 5 minutes goes to a short but still quiet Yeow. The Yeow gets progressively louder as time goes by. By 6 it’s full throttle and I’m up! Yes, feeding the cat! Then I like to clean up the kitchen and start the coffee. Then I do some stretches and take my shower. Then it’s off for a short brisk nature walk in the nearby woods and vineyards. Then it’s back to the house to check my calendar and prepare breakfast. I usually read something inspiring during breakfast. Then I get ready for my day and start my appointments with clients and prospects.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

Listening more than talking. Asking more than telling. Thinking more than acting. And being more patient.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

  1. Prioritization. What is most important today? Identify the things that must be done or decided upon today and do them first.
  2. Work in a clean and organized environment. KP on a regular basis. I am an environmental determinist. That is I believe that our environment is screaming at us and has a heavy influence on our self-confidence and efficiency. A clean calm environment raises your expectations and opens your eyes to solutions hidden by a mess.
  3. Identify the existential realities that you can’t change, like time zones, amount of time, appointments, deadlines, and work within those parameters.
  4. Take regular breaks and go for a walk!

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

The 3 Classic bibles of American Entrepreneurship:

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Taught me the universal truths needed for business success.

As a Man Thinketh by James Allen. Taught me the power of positive thinking and how to attract the people and circumstances necessary for success.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Taught me how to work with people in a mutually beneficial way.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

“Make up your mind, do you want to make a statement or do you want to make a deposit?!” –  my Dad.
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’ll be right” – Henry Ford
“I have not failed; I have just found 100 ways it will not work” – Thomas Edison
“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill
“ Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes” based on the “Golden Rule’ – Bible