Use the Gift of the GAB to Drive Business

Conor CunneenA few years ago, the evening before St. Patrick’s Day, Conor Cunneen was driving in his adopted home of Chicago.

After driving through traffic lights that were “slightly red,” he saw flashing blue lights behind him, he told the Irish Executives (@IrishExecutives) conference in Galway, Ireland.

The story was part of his very entertaining talk, “Effective Leadership through the Gift of GAB: Goals, Attitude, Behavior.”

As he pulled over in to a parking lot, Cunneen (@IrishmanSpeaks) realized there would be no point arguing with the police officer. So, he adopted a positive attitude while hoping for a cop with an Irish name combined with the proximity to St. Paddy’s to get him out of the bind.

The policeman, however, had a German name. But when the car was called in, everything checked out — until the cop asked for proof of insurance.

The police officer advised Cunneen the insurance certificate was out of date to which the  Corkman replied, “My wife looks after that!” (She had! He didn’t put the cert in the car.) The policeman told him to get it sorted immediately. As Cunneen sighed with relief at that escape, he saw the cop was writing up a ticket for running the red light.

Chancing his arm, the Irishman asked the cop if he knew how much Guinness the $75 fine could buy him the following day. The policeman got a genuine laugh out of the remark but reminded Cunneen that he had already dodged the more serious offense.

Ticket in hand and encounter over, Cunneen then had to turn around and drive past the squad car to continue his journey. The policeman smiled and waved, and Cunneen found himself doing the same as he passed.

The lesson: “For only $75 I got a really powerful anecdote about a really powerful question about what should you do if things go wrong,” Cunneen told the conference.


A former VP of Marketing at the €46.5 billion ($60 billion) consumer-goods behemoth Unilever, and now a motivational speaker, Cunneen said the key was his attitude. It was right for the situation he found himself in.

It is unrealistic to expect people to have the right attitude all the time, Cunneen said. But they should prepare and have the right attitude when required, he said. This could mean adopting the correct outlook for Sales, Customer Service or any number of other sitautions, he said.

And when things go wrong, ask yourself, “What do I want my attitude to be?” Cunneen said.


Cunneen described himself as “keen imbiber of a famous black drink.” He enjoys nothing more than ordering one with “music and chatter filling the background” while waiting for the drink to settle. He was, of course, talking about Starbucks coffee.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, opened the chain’s first store outside Seattle in Chicago, Cunneen said. At that opening, Schultz looked up and down the street, and predicted that within five years everyone would have a Starbucks cup in their hand, Cunneen said.

“Do you have a clear goal and a clear vision of what success will look like?” he asked. And, if you do, does your staff share it and can they articulate it?

The late Jim Cantalupo is credited with turning then loss-making McDonald’s around in 2003. Quoting Cantalupo, Cunneen said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had clean restrooms and hot, fresh food served in our restaurants?”

“He drove that goal and that vision deep through the organization,” Cunneen said. Now the chain has twice as many customers as it had at that time. Businesses need to get certain things right or customers will boycott them, he added.


Your behavior creates your brand. It also determines what people say about you. And what they say about you is your brand, Cunneen said.

To find out what people are saying about you, Cunneen advised businesses to set up Google Alerts to monitor web-based chatter.

One important behavior is curiosity, he said. Jim Sinegal, former CEO of the US-based Costco chain, made a point of visiting competitors like Sam’s Club or BJ’s Wholesale Club once a week, Cunneen said.

When asked in an interview what cars they drove, the CEOs of America’s “Big Three” auto manufacturers showed brand loyalty. But Ford’s CEO Alan Mulally offered a twist. “I drive Ford cars but every night, I drive a different competitor’s car,” he said.

Daily Reminder

Listening to a Corkman talk at a conference is all well and good. So Cunneen had some tips to help people remember their GAB.

  • Goals: The next time you see a Starbucks or McDonald’s, ask yourself what is your goal and vision.
  • Attitude: The next time you see emergency lights, ask what you want your attitude to be.
  • Behavior: At the conference, Cunneen told people to write on a business card three words that they would like their customers to say about them after they have left the room. He then suggested keeping that card in a wallet as a constant reminder of how to behave.

“It will help you to build relationships, then to build business and then to accelerate business,” Cunneen said.

Images of Conor Cunneen nabbed off his website