As author John Steinbeck said “Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.” And when it comes to business in Texas, you don’t mess about. Here are 6 unmistakably Texas-style business lessons – unwritten codes of behavior that everyone notices and no one forgets – to stand the test of time.
- A handshake is a binding contract. This small-town maxim is true on a Texas-size scale. I have watched men sprint across large auditoriums to shake each other’s hands for the privilege. The simple handshake – that revered and ancient symbol of greeting and goodbye — is still the “king of connecting” in Texas. And never go back on a handshake – a reputation precedes you from San Antonio to Austin to the Oklahoma border.
- Oil is discussed over Bourbon. Martinis? No. Scotch? Wrong again. Real business people in Texas still drink “Bourbon and branch” to close a deal. The biggest business – oil – is always negotiated with a good bottle of Kentucky Sour Mash on the table. There is something about this uniquely American creation, uncluttered and honest, that makes it a Texas oil man’s drink.
- More deals are closed on the golf course than anywhere else, and nearly all business connections are made here too. This can true in the other 49 states as well, but in Texas, there is this: one’s golf game is a measure ofcharacter. If someone is fair and good on the links, then that person is likely a fair and good business partner. Golf is like fishing- it lends itself to telling stories and bending rules. But golf in Texas is played strictly “by the book.” You think no one is watching your play in Texas? Think again. The common assumption is that a cheater on the golf course, or someone who tries to cheat or embellish his game, will do so in business. That’s a big red flag, pardner!
- Serious contracts demand serious dress and first impressions are everything. If you are ever in Texas, be sure to dress well. Armani suits for the men; Dolce & Gabbhana for women, with Prada hanging off the shoulder. Even in casual dress, true Texans wear Tommy Bahama shirts and khaki shorts. People who travel to Texas from New York get schooled in how to dress. Trust me.
- A woman never signs a contract without wearing a good pair of stilettos. As a symbol of power and sex, stilettos and big business partnerships go hand in hand in a Texas woman’s world. And this is “old school” thinking: you can tell everything you need to know about a person by looking at the shoes. New shoes, sharply polished, means that someone cares about attention to detail and first impressions. It is part of a larger convention by which someone advertises confidence and competence. As for stilettos, I own 375 and my favorite designer is Christian Louboutin. So there!
- “Go big, go long or go home.” This old saying still applies in Texas. “Go big” means doing everything larger than anywhere else. This is Texas, after all. If something isn’t big, it means that someone isn’t really trying. “Go long” means having foresight, perseverance and resources that are sufficient to “stay the course.” This means bearing up under adversity with grace and good humor. Finally, if people cannot “go big” or “go long,” then they most certainly should “go home.” And it is unlikely that home is anywhere in Texas. The con artists who try to make a quick buck in Texas are found out pretty quickly by their lack of ability to “go big” or “go long,” and so they are sent packing.
In short, Texas is not for the faint of heart. The bigness of Texas dominates nearly everything in it, including its attitudes on life and play. If I had to sum up these six points, it could be this: “Talk is cheap. In Texas, you still need to walk the walk.” And this is especially if you need to wear those stilettos!
Theresa Roemer is the CEO of Theresa Roemer, LLC and a small business owner who specializes in business philanthropy. She owns several home goods companies in Houston, Texas and is a partner in Roemer Oil.