Decision-Making and Implementation: What Can We Learn from Dion?

Dion Friedland is a South African businessman residing there, in Miami and London.

Thirty some years ago, Dion was a client. Ever since then, he has been a close friend. I have been with him when he negotiates, when he deals with employees and spends time with his family. I have been watching him from close and I realize that there is much to learn from him.

Dion is a very successful businessman. He started a retail store chain in South Africa, moved to the USA to build a sales training firm, then a store chain to sell lighting fixtures. Next, he became an art dealer and then established a fund of funds to manage money invested in hedge funds. He also has a company that has a patent on machines that convert water into disinfectants or detergents. In between all of this, he built, owned and sold one of the top ten resort hotels in the world, located in the Caribbean.  By and large, most of his endeavors have succeeded.  How did he do it?

One thing I’ve noticed over all these years is that I have never ever seen Dion angry; upset for few seconds, yes, but never angry, despite many warranting situations. He solves problems with no apparent emotions.

The guy simply has no “internal marketing”, which I define as internal conflict.  Internal marketing leads to symptoms of paralysis, inconsistent decision-making, reversal of decisions already made and by and large causes great anguish and loss of energy.  Dion exhibits none of that; he decides and executes. I have never seen him not implement a decision. Simply stated, Dion has the strongest self-discipline I have ever encountered.

Many of us decide but then waver on implementation. With Dion, implementation is prompt and swift and reflects exactly the decision taken.  Here is an example. He is now 67 years old. He decided that he will reverse his aging and his goal is to look and feel, at 70, better than how he looked or felt at 60. So? He has a regimen on what to eat that he follows religiously. There are zero deviations. Once he decided to live in this way, that is it, the decision is enforced.

He also spends three hours, every day, in the gym pumping iron and doing his aerobics.  He works four hours a day leading his vast holdings, managed by professional managers, using the Internet and Skype. The rest of his time is dedicated to family and friends that he chooses carefully- people that add rather than subtract his energy– people he can learn from or laugh with.

Ichak Adizes and Dion Friedland

I have never seen Dion in bad mood. “Why waste time brooding. Act on the problem or forget it,” is his motto.

He sold many of the businesses he started. “Today no one should fall in hopeless love with any business.  Move on when it does not work.  Stop beating a dead horse if the business is no good, and if it is good, stop digging when you hit oil”.

In a sense everything seems simple black and white with him. Very   (P) but also lots of (E) but without all the confusion (E)s bring to the table. He is an (E), having started so many businesses, but not done like a typical Arsonist, which is to erratically jump from one idea to the next. He (P)s his (E), kind of. If you ask him what his main priority in life is, his response is his health and the health of his family, followed by the health of his businesses.  His goals are simple and well focused.

I think the cause of his lack of “internal marketing” is his level of commitment. Or maybe I am wrong.  I am actually wondering why most people I know do not walk their talk; they decide but their implementation is weak or often non-existent.  With Dion, the uniqueness is that he implements his decisions totally and swiftly, almost effortlessly.

George Soros, a renowned businessman and investor, apparently has the same character because in his book Soros on Soros: Staying Ahead of the Curve, he says that the secret of his success is that he identifies and corrects his mistakes sooner than most people. This is the same principle of implementing decisions without hesitation. I find that surgeons, especially heart surgeons, have the same characteristic: there is no wavering between deciding and implementing. It is the artists and so-called intellectuals who “decide” but then have second and third thoughts, and their execution, if any, resembles only vaguely their initial decision.

I know I am terrible in implementation. All the excitement is in the decision-making. That is where mind is fully engaged. Implementation is pure hard work no fun.

Can someone enlighten me what is going on? Why is Dion so special? Do you know people like him? What makes them so different?


Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes


  1. Posted August 21, 2010 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    I think you already identified what makes Dion special. He acts immediately on his decisionss and moves forward. He is a businessman and his goal is to make money.

    Speakingfor myself, I love the “idea development” phase. I have had tons of good ideas I never implemented, partly because I knew there was a better idea coming along and I didn’t want to be laboring in the fields when it did. The other part of that is plain old laziness.

    On the other hand, why glorify implementation? I take pleasure in having ideas and creating the end result in my mind. I don’t want to feel compelled to act on every idea I have, or to believe that not acting on it is a bad thing.

    I’m not sure any of this makes any sense, but it’s what I have come to understand about myself after 70 years.

  2. Ed Legum
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    I can understand why you elevate heart surgeons, but why denigrate artists and intellectuals? Architects implement. And your written words speak volumes about an intellectual’s ability to decide and then produce.

  3. Posted August 21, 2010 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Your insight has made me think hardly.

    Why do I procrastinate good decisions? Even being quite strong in (P)?

    Why do my clients usually make greate decisions and then loose planty of time, which ends sometimes in loosing an opportunity?

    Yes, it’s about being focused and understanding priorities. Yes, it’s about integrity. Yes, it’s about commitments.

    Being a man of action is huge responsibility, which stops many people who know that every action has consequences. They are afraide of uncontrollable part of these consequences.

    Such people as Dion allow themselves be responsible only for what they CAN control and influence and not more than this. And then they just let things happen, learning from every situation. Because time from time they still review what they do, where they go and what to do next.

  4. Rafa
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    A purpose + sense of urgency + a recognized need (by the executor) – all suported by a good decision making process otherwise all the hard work will drive you to the wrong place.

  5. Posted August 21, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Dion is committed to the manifestation of his Vision in the world and then on to another newly created vision and its manifestation etc. He is the way he is out of choice, a pure act of his will. We all can do this if we choose to do this. Understanding is the Booby prize because nothing changes or grows or expands because we understand.

    Now listen to all our “internal marketing” that resists what I wrote. Could we imagine what we could create/manifest in the world if we said I will Implement and then we thought and acted like a great implementer. …..isn’t that how great actors manifest/create/expand their characters?

    We are what we tell ourselves we are! We have total control over how we talk to ourselves. The invitation of Life/Business is to be conscious of what “our self talk” is and change it according to what we really want to manifest in the world.

    Is the desire to understand a form of resistance pushing against our creativity?

  6. Posted August 21, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Dion is so special due in part to having completed tests by himself in what works for him and what does not.

    He’s an independent thinker as most self-made men usually are who have had to build up from nothing utilising the need to activate the urge to success in business and creation.

    His gifts are numerous and he has a proven ability that has led to business wisdom.

    ‘Definitely-Maybe’ is within his vocabulary but the ‘Maybe’ is well considered.

    It is the well thought out ‘Maybe’s’ that have made him a correct enforcer in his strategy in various businesses.

    Best wishes,

  7. Posted August 21, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Dear Izhak,

    As you know from Dr. Tolkachev’s model, Dion has strong brown (anal) & red (urethral)character vectors,
    having them both in high level & harmonic! is gods blessing, these people are the treasure of the nation


  8. Posted August 21, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Having spent a fabulous 10 days with Dion, his wife Hilary, and two close friends I too experienced the power of “personal definition”. Many people live their lives in the shadow of social norms and expectations but not Dion. What amazed me was his daily mental freshness. A challenge for some of us and an enigma for most. He was always first to offer solutions (where to dine that day), how much carbs to eat, fish over meat, and the best shops to buy at. I found myself staying up to the wee hours of the morning with him in awe at his focus and persistence in resolving the smallest of problems quickly. The fact that the satellite internet failed on us was resolved in hours and not days. Although this has been a little tongue-in-cheek, Dion enacted qualities that we could all emulate for a more successful quality of life. Just look at him.
    Thank you Dion and Hilary.

  9. mohd faris muhammed
    Posted August 22, 2010 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    Dear Dr Ichak,

    Perhaps Mr Dion Friedland is the kind of man who is truly committed to his every word. Maybe he is a man who speaks and writes of things only when he intends to follow them through with actions until they come to fruition. Truth be told, unless and until there is commitment, there is no decision.

    HOWEVER, commitment comes at a personal price. At the time when the sacrifice is called for but we are not willing to make it, then we know that we are not really committed.

    MF Muhammed

  10. Allen Katz
    Posted August 22, 2010 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Hi Ichak,

    Dion was a retail legend in his own time in South Africa, long before the household goods discounting was thought of in the USA, in the form and style and customer relations that he promoted and imparted. His chain of stores, Dion’s, was a safe place to buy quality products at a price. As a customer and thereafter an executive retailer, he always remained a model to emulate and he shared this knowledge with those that wished to learn.

    I had the opportunity of participating in the trainers’ instruction course for sales training at his Mandev International company which he established. This was avant-garde at the time.

    Dion has the amazing talent of keeping business simple and his success is definitely a sum of its parts. Developing models and theories around his business approach and behavior would only spoil the sophistication and complexity of his ‘simplicity’. Dion simply walks the talk… all the way to the top… and if he doesn’t make it …..tries another time. If he does make it, he obviously doesn’t sit brooding away at the top, but looks for another peak to reach. The formula of his innovation is: What to do? How to do it? and Do it!


  11. Carlos Valdesuso
    Posted August 22, 2010 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Dear Ichak,

    A value is a prefered state of affairs and both Dion and Soros seem to have
    a cliear vision of what they want (That is the decision part)

    On the other hand, as Jerome Kolhberg (Founder of KKR)once said:
    “Every value, has a Cost; No cost no Value”

    Thus, when it comes to implementation most people, organizations and even nations
    are not so willing to pay the tangible or intable costs required by their stated values.

    My recommendation: pay the cost or give up the values.

    Carlos Valdesuso
    Adizes Brazil

  12. Stephen Pistner
    Posted August 22, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    No man i’ve ever known has the combination of smarts, drive, ambition and desire for success as does Dion!

  13. Posted August 22, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Dear Ichak, I agree with you a 100% on what you say about Dion, who I have also known nearly 30 years from the YPO days. In fact we are both currently in Saint Tropez and when I saw him this week a certainly looks younger than last year. Infact when I invited him & his family for lunch last week, throught the lunch he spoke about what we should eat & also what we SHOULD NOT eat, and how important excercise is etc. In short Dion is a GREAT GUY and I love spending time with him.

  14. Posted August 23, 2010 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    I think the main point is Dion is one of those persons that controls his mind instead of letting his mind control him. Hence you never see him angry.
    Once you control your mind, with well defined goals and commitment (to not procastinate for example) you can get those results.

  15. Tom G
    Posted August 23, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    My Father was much the same way – He had an wavering internal compass that told him what to do in every situation. There was only one way to do things and that was “the right way.” Now there could be multiple right ways but at the end of the day, the solution had to work or it was a waste of time. He was his own worst critic and was tough but fair on everyone around him; he was admired and respected for this.

    As you have stated above, his greatest asset was that he would never lie to himself. He would always figure out what was necessary and sufficient to achieve an excellent outcome, do that amount of work and no more. I would argue that this frame of mind places (I) at the center and only gets pushed off into pragmatics of short term compromise when there is meaningful (real) time pressure to accomplish the mission.

    Just like Dion, my father was raised in a Christian environment (From his age, I assume he was raised in South Africa when Christianity was the state religion) and that he was taught a solid work and truth ethic that has served him well. There is an element of individual personality that makes this hard to duplicate. The strategic (I) element to see the long term in the immediate decisions is not learnable according to Tom Rath in his Strengths Finder 2.0.

    At the end of the day, I believe that the internal marketing (lying/self-deception/pragmatism) that forces most of us to take the short cut and miss the key issues is a blight fed by modern society that can’t stomach what it takes to produce excellence. We want microwave solutions; the road that leads to excellence is often labeled “perfectionism” and derided. Thank God for the exceptions who can still do, “the right thing for the long term” and do what it takes to make planes fly, hears pump and business endure.

  16. George Carademas
    Posted August 23, 2010 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Nature is exponential in many respects. The simplest form of that observation in business is the 80 – 20 rule. What practically exponential means is that as 100% is being approached the effort that needs to be invested in order to gain another 1% is 10 times higher than the effort that needs to be invested in order to gain the previous 1%. The same holds true for the next 1% as well. As therefore perfection is approached more and more energy needs to be available to go a bit further and therefore less and less can compete in this process at very high levels. The target itself seems to be unattainable since the amounts of energy required from a point onwards does not even exist in the universe. That can possibly explain why so few are on the top and their difference from the immediate followers is always so huge.

    It now seems that some people are able to subconsciously identify shortcuts. They seem to be having the talent or the charisma meaning the innate capability to feel instead of to see and to manage all the relevant details of both decision and implementation, details that are however less and less visible but which at those orders of magnitude of energy that is required play an absolutely critical role. Interestingly enough, most of those people usually face difficulties in explaining explicitly what their secret to success is. At the same time others cannot manage to compete even at much lower levels of performance and even after investing in training and development for years and years. They simply seem to be out of synchronicity with the powers of the universe.

    In the case of the particular example and in the context of PAEI, I can certainly see excellence in all P, E, A and I. All of them seem to be in the right proportions and in the right balance. The same P, A, E and I ingredients in the right proportions and balance I have been able to see in the case of Warren Buffett, the biography of whom I am currently reading, although in this case it seems tat he had to train himself for the I. Probably those people can be the exception to the rule that the perfect PAEI does not exist. Nature seems to love exceptions, at the subatomic level at least. Probably this is how talent or charisma could be functionally defined.

    Under the circumstances explained above the internal marketing of the people that are gifted with the talent and the charisma to be able to use the invisible to most powers of the universe for their benefit is normally very low. That is so profound to me that I tend to think that in their case internal marketing is the output and not the input in the success equation.

  17. Randal Arno
    Posted August 23, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Dear Sir
    I strongly recommend the book BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell. Great book and it provides insight to how people think/make decisions.
    randy arno

  18. Leann Messer
    Posted August 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Wow! Sounds like a pretty amazing individual. It’s hard to tell from just this little bit of information, but similar “golden” people whom I have come across would share these commonalities:
    1. Enormous Ego.
    2. Clear conscience about who comes first.

  19. Posted August 26, 2010 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    I think Dion has what we call “integrity within himself”. What you are describing here is a whole person, having no conflicts inside the mind-body and soul trio. As you also mention, we lose a lot of energy with those conflicts inside and I also name it as “not being able to beat the ego which always says “I want it now…and now” and it also sticks to the plan no matter what. Here in Dion’s case, we see that he is able to “give it up” when it doesn’t work-most people can not just let go… that is why they are angry, anxious and nervous all the time. First, they hold on to what they have-power-prestige-status so badly that they are first: 1. Nervous and fearful over losing it and 2. When they lose it they are angry or upset because they so much define themselves with what they do and what they hold as a position in the society and not with what they are being. Beingness is I think secret to success in the be-do-have paradigm.

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