Why She Buys: The Lesson of Ryland Homes

Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers by Bridget Brennan is a fascinating book which provides a different perspective on selling to women. Below is an excerpt from the book:

The Lesson of Ryland Homes: If the woman doesn’t want it, the man doesn’t get itWhy She Buys.jpg

Myth: Men drive all the big decisions in married households.

Reality: Women are the deal breakers.

You’d be hard-pressed to find an industry more male-dominated than home building. The average home-building company is staffed like a World War II aircraft carrier, at least in its management ranks. But times are slowly changing. While most senior executives are still white and male, these companies are waking to the fact that their real customer are women, and that they’ve been leaving money on the table by creating and selling homes from a male perspective, from underdesigning closets to using sell sheets that focus purely on technical data and architectural blueprints.

The Ryland Group is a $2 billion, publicly traded home-building company-one of the top in its industry-that has changed the way it designs houses, based on a new understanding of who rules America’s roosts. In one of the world’s biggest housing downturns, the company is leveraging its knowledge of the alpha consumer ever way it can.

If you’ve never thought of a home as a product before think again–a new home is the ultimate consumer lifestyle product. For most people, there is no bigger purchase, literally or figuratively. As is the case with all major consumer product categories, women dominate.

“Women influence 91 percent of new home purchases,” Eric Elder, the senior executive who has championed most of Ryland’s female-focused efforts, For several years now, single women have been the fastest-growing segment of the home-buying market, buying twice as many homes as single men. I worked with Ryland on a two-year research project to understand what: women want in a new home. As a result, the company implemented a variety of covert, female-friendly efforts across the company. The goal was to make these changes imperceptible to home buyers, so that women would feel drawn to Ryland’s homes but men would not feel excluded.

DESIGNING WOMEN

As discussed in Chapter 3, when a woman goes off to the workforce, she changes her personal traffic patterns, along with those of everyone in her family. As such, working mothers were the biggest catalyst for modifying Ryland’s floor plans. The company redesigned the common areas Of many of its models so that multitasking moms could keep one eye on the kids and eye on the stove. Windows were built over kitchen sink to provide a direct line of sight to the backyard. Open kitchen/family room layouts were designed with nooks for decks, so that kids could do their homework on the computer or watch TV while Mom looked on from nearby. These designs were an acknowledgment of the “time compression” that occurs within families when both parents work. Instead of parents spending an hour or two helping kids with homework and then making dinner, both activities are now likely to happen at the same time.

Time compression and the blurring of boundaries between work and home means that home isn’t quite the sanctuary it once was. With cell phones, BlackBerry devices, laptops, and the Internet, work is “part of the furniture” at home, too. In an effort to replace what’s been lost, Ryland redesigned its master bedrooms as oases for stress relief. New master suites were designed as retreats for the adults in the house-and in particular, women. “A private, relaxing, reenergizing space is especially important to single mothers, who don’t get much time on their own,” says Elder. Many of Ryland’s master bedroom suites now feature a coffee bar, mini fridge, and lounge area.

WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Modifications to Ryland’s floor plans were just the beginning. The company also embarked on design changes to its neighborhoods. It learned that women don’t view themselves as buying just a house with four walls; they feel like they’re buying an entire community, a neighborhood, a school district, and a lifestyle. Women believe a new house is going to improve their life, along with the lives of everyone in their family. If it won’t, they might as well stay where they are. Subsequently, Ryland began creating more female-friendly amenities in its neighborhood designs, including cul-de-sacs, better street lighting, pocket parks, electronic garage doors as a standard feature, better lighting around home entryways, and secure gated entries in townhouse communities.

EMBRACING PERSONALIZATION

As part of the female-friendly process, Ryland completely overhauled its design centers, the places where customers pick out their options and upgrades after signing a contract for a new home. These centers had a history of being housed in the bare garages of model homes.

“In our industry, picking out home options and upgrades used to be a back-office function,” says Elder. “We’d have a hodgepodge of display cases given to us by random suppliers, with a few samples of products here and there; bad lighting … the whole experience was an afterthought.” It couldn’t be more different now. “We actually embrace the personalization process, when we used to fight it,” explains Elder. “It’s one of the biggest changes that’s occurred at the company, and it’s wholly driven by women.” A senior female executive at Ryland, Diane Morrison, was the force behind the company’s new design centers. She recognized that for many women, the appointment at the design center is the most exciting part of the home-buying process: it is here that they get to pick out all the things that will make the home distinctly their own.

Ryland also broadened the color palettes on its home exteriors, to help women feel that their new home has a unique, personal identity, and to diminish the dreaded “cookie cutter” effect. Instead of offering three exterior colors in a one-hundred-house community, Ryland now typically offers from nine to fifteen.

LESSONS FROM THE COVERT APPROACH

Ryland is a great example of a masculine industry that’s responded to women with subtle design changes that benefit both sexes.

“Every architect that’s designed homes throughout the history of this company has been a man,” says Elder. “Closets used to be leftover spaces that were essentially a door and a hole. Now they are a design element of the home, with functionality built into them. Our sales lobbies, which used to be fairly bare, now have places to sit down, with inspirational reading materials, like home design magazines, and toys for kids. And we’ve changed our merchandising displays so that they are more emotionally charged and filled with pictures of people.”

When the covert approach is done right, men don’t even notice the design elements that have been added for women. , It turns out that men like the idea of having a hot cup of coffee in their master bedroom, too. “From a consumer stand-point, men would live in the garage if they had to,” says Elder with a grin. “Women want the home, and men want the women to get what they want. The great thing for us is that the changes we’ve made have been driven by women but are appreciated by men, too.”

When you appeal to women in a covert fashion, the men find themselves on the receiving end of things they never knew they wanted but are happy to get-and maybe even pay more for the next time. The lesson is this: when you make women happy, you make everyone happy. Women are the leading economic indicators of what people want. Key learnings from Ryland include:

  1. Never underestimate the influence of women in a couples” purchase. Women are the veto vote for buying decisions large and small, from deciding what home to buy to where to eat. The individual who conducts the financial transaction (which can often be the husband) is not always the primary decision maker. If you sell to a lot of couples, figure out the “hot buttons” for both your male and female customers. They may be very different.
  2. Study how the divorce rate and the increased spending power of single women may be impacting your industry. The phenomenon can open new opportunities in product design, as it did with Ryland and its master bedroom retreats, and also in the services that support your product offerings.
  3. A well-crafted, subtle approach attracts women and pleases men, too.
  4. It’s socially unacceptable for men to buy products that are overtly feminine. By being subtle in your appeal to women-through a covert approach-you have the ability to attract both sexes without alienating either one. Married women never want to see their husbands alienated or emasculated. (Not if they’re happily married, anyway.)
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Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance is funny and deeply moving. He also talks about the struggles growing up as part of the in Appalachian working class. I would recommend this book to anyone. Below is an excerpt:Hillbilly elegy.jpg

Hillbilly Elegy

Today downtown Middletown is little more than a relic of American industrial glory. Abandoned shops with broken windows line the heart of downtown, where Central Avenue and Main Street meet. Richie’s pawnshop has long since closed, though a hideous yellow and green sign still marks the site, so far as I know. Richie’s isn’t far from an old pharmacy that, in its heyday, had a soda bar and served root beer floats. Across the street is a building that looks like a theater, with one of those giant triangular signs that reads “ST___L” because the letters in the middle were shattered and never replaced. If you need a payday lender or a cash-for-gold store, downtown Middletown is the place to be.

Not far from the main drag of empty shops and boarded-up windows is the Sorg Mansion. The Sorgs, a powerful and wealthy industrial family dating back to the nineteenth century, operated a large paper mill in Middletown. They donated enough money to put their names on the local opera house and helped build Middletown into a respectable enough city to attract Armco. Their mansion, a gigantic manor home, sits near a formerly proud Middletown country club. Despite its beauty, a Maryland couple recently purchased the mansion for $225,000, or about half of what a decent multi-room apartment sets you back in Washington, DC.

Located quite literally on Main Street, the Sorg Mansion is just up the road from a number of opulent homes that housed Middletown’s wealthy in their heyday. Most have fallen into disrepair. Those that haven’t have been subdivided into small apartments for Middletown’s poorest residents. A street that was once the pride of Middletown today serves as a meeting spot for druggies and dealers. Main Street is now the place you avoid after dark.

This change is a symptom of a new economic reality: rising residential segregation. The number of working-class whites in high-poverty neighborhoods is growing. In 1970, 25 percent of white children lived in a neighborhood with poverty rates above 10 percent. In 2000, that number was 40 percent. It’s almost certainly even higher today. As a 2011 Brookings Institution found, “compared to 2000, residents of extreme-poverty neighborhoods in 2005-09 were more likely to be white, native-born, high school or college graduates, homeowners, and not receiving public assistance.”  In other words, bad neighborhoods no longer plague only urban ghettos; the bad neighborhoods have spread to the suburbs.

This has occurred for complicated reasons. Federal housing policy has actively encouraged homeownership, from Jimmy Carter’s Community Reinvestment Act to George W. Bush’s ownership society. But in the Middletowns of the world, homeownership comes at a steep social cost: As jobs disappear in a given area, declining home values trap people in certain neighborhoods. Even if you’d like to move, you can’t, because the bottom has fallen out of the market-you now owe more than any buyer is willing to pay. The costs of moving are so high that many people stay put. Of course, the people trapped are usually those with the least money; those who can afford to leave do so.

City leaders have tried in vain to revive Middletown’s downtown. You’ll find their most infamous effort if you follow Central Avenue to its end point on the banks of the Miami River, once a lovely place. For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, the city’s brain trust decided to turn our beautiful riverfront into Lake Middletown, an infrastructural project that apparently involved shoveling tons of dirt into the river and hoping something interesting would .come of it. It accomplished nothing, though the river now features a man-made dirt island about the size of a city block.

Efforts to reinvent downtown Middletown always struck me as futile. People didn’t leave because our downtown lacked trendy cultural amenities. The trendy cultural amenities left because there weren’t enough consumers in Middletown to support them, And why weren’t there enough well-paying consumers? Because there weren’t enough jobs to employ those consumers. Downtown Middletown’s struggles were a symptom of everything else happening to Middletown’s people, especially the collapsing importance of Armco Kawasaki Steel.

 

Irresistible

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter explores behavioral addiction, how it compares to substance addiction and what causes it. There’s a good mix of research and anecdotes in this book. Below is an excerpt from the book that you might find useful:

IrresistibleIrresistible.jpg

Gamification is a powerful tool, and like all powerful tools it brings mixed blessings. On the one hand, it infuses mundane or unpleasant experiences with a measure of joy. It gives medical patients respite from pain, schoolkids relief from boredom, and gamers an excuse to donate to the needy. By merely raising the number of good outcomes in the world, gamification has value. It’s a worthwhile alternative to traditional medical care, education, and charitable giving because, in many respects, those approaches are tone-deaf to the drivers of human motivation. But Ian Bogost was also wise to illuminate the dangers of gamification. Games like FarmVille and Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood are designed to exploit human motivation for financial gain. They pit the wielder of gamification in opposition to the gamer, who becomes ensnared in the game’s irresistible net. But, as I mentioned early in this book, tech is not inherently good or bad. The same is true of gamification. Stripped of its faddish popularity and buzzwordy name, the heart of gamification is just an effective way to design experiences. Games just happen to do an excellent job of relieving pain, replacing boredom with joy, and merging fun with generosity.

 

Three Traps: Complacency, Cannibalization, Competency

The Three-Box Solution: A Strategy for Leading Innovation by Vijay Govindarajan is a great book to help leader innovate with simple and proven methods for allocating an organization’s energy, time, and resources across the three boxes:

Box 1: The present—Strengthen the core

Box 2: The past— Let go of the practices that fuel the core business but fail the new one

Box 3: The future—Invent a new business model.

Below is an excerpt on the three behavior traps. How do you manage them to the lead your organization to innovate?

Three TrapsThree Box Solution.jpg

While there were many within IBM who clearly understood the implications of both nonlinear shifts, their insights had difficulty penetrating the entrenched logic of the past. The dominant logic of the past exerts its hold on business cultures and practices in three distinctive but tightly interlocking ways. I think of their dynamic effects as traps that snare the unprepared. All three have common origins in mind-sets that focus excessively on past values, behavior, and beliefs.

The Complacency Trap

Current success conditions a business to suppose that securing the future requires nothing more than repeating what it did to succeed in the past. This is the complacency trap. Complacency shrouds the future in a fog of misplaced confidence, hiding from view a clear understanding of the extent to which the world is changing around you.

IBM’s extraordinary success driving revenues in its Box 1 mainframe business masked difficulties to come. Rather than face up to looming threats to the mainframe business, IBM applied temporary patches. One such patch ‘was to change the revenue model from leasing mainframes to selling them outright. S This produced a pleasing surge in near-term revenues that postponed IBM’s day of reckoning.

The loyalty of successful organizations to the past is often so potent that they become quite ingenious at ignoring the onset of fatigue in the Box 1 business. Instead of building the future day by day, IBM prolonged it’s past with what amounted to an accounting change. The resulting years-long period of bolstered revenues made it easy for the company to think that everything was just fine-four words that fairly summarize complacency.

Another way to understand how IBM fell into the complacency trap is that the company’s continuing Box 1 profitability delayed development of a sense of urgency that might have motivated a more prescient Box 2 judgment: that it was important to invest aggressively in the new enterprise model of client/server computing.

This is the dark side of success. No matter the industry or company, each great innovation spawns a steady accumulation of Box I-based structures, processes, and attitudes of the kind that blinded IBM to its predicament. IBM mainframes were not simply smart machines; they were smart machines that over the years had created at customer work sites whole new layers of enterprise management that had never existed before.

Mainframe computers were island fortresses, secured and operated by a newly empowered IT function and inaccessible, except through IT proxies, to the rest of the enterprise. If a technology can embody a governing philosophy, the mainframe’s philosophy was exactly opposite that of the open, accessible internet that was yet to appear. Even before the internet emerged as a business tool, there were pitched battles within almost every company about making valuable mainframe data accessible to and usable by employees with networked PCs. This increasingly loud demand clashed with the mind-set of IBM’s IT customers, who saw their mission as protecting the security and integrity of corporate data: allowing liberal access would lead to data corruption and to proliferating unreliable versions of the “truth.”

In fact, customers can play an important role in deepening a complacency trap. IBM had collaborated with its customers in creating what became an entrenched system of governance for computerized organizations. That system’s structures and attitudes were a self-reinforcing feedback loop amplified by IBM’s large-enterprise customers.

Ultimately, a more modern version of the mainframe emerged and made peace with the rest of the IT infrastructure. Today’s version powers big data analytics and other applications in many large enterprises. But in the IBM of the 1990s, mainframes cast a long shadow over the emergent model of more open, democratized network computing.

The Cannibalization Trap

The cannibalization trap persuades leaders that new business models based on nonlinear ideas will jeopardize the firm’s present prosperity. So, like antibodies attacking an invading virus, they protect the Box 1 business by resisting ideas that don’t conform to models of the past.

At its heart, the fear of cannibalization reflects a wish to keep the world from changing. It is perhaps easy to understand that wish, but it’s much harder to excuse it. The glib answer to those who suffer from this fear is to remind them that change is inevitable and the world will change either with them or without them. When a business allows worries about cannibalization to interfere with its strategy, it has overinvested in its past and is doomed to undermine its future.

Cannibalization is typically understood-and feared-as a near-term threat. As foresighted as IBM was in developing its personal computer in the early 1980s, forces marshaled within the company to protect the legacy business. Those who feared the PC believed it had the potential to threaten the mainframe computing model, perhaps by feeding the growing appetite to liberate enterprise data or by diverting attention and investment away from the company’s dominant business.

People who fear new technology are usually more right than wrong about its potential to supersede legacy products. The truth is, every Box 1 business has reason to fear, sometimes even hate, whatever shiny new thing is being launched. When Steve Jobs gave a big push to the Macintosh launch toward the end of his first stint at Apple, the group in charge of the incumbent Apple II felt threatened and undercut. It was as if cofounder Jobs had sponsored an insurrection.”

In reality, however, cannibalization should be understood as a long- term benefit. The new Apple Macintosh embodied features that soon enough would make its predecessors obsolete. If Apple hadn’t moved quickly, a competitor-maybe even IBM-would have filled the vacuum. Given its history, IBM’s embrace of microcomputing was unexpected. But it quickly set the standard for PCs and legitimized them as tools for both home and business users. While IBM’s marketing of the PC initially tilted toward home users, the real revenue bonanza came from businesses. Suddenly, at least part of IBM had reason to root for client/ server computing. No matter what anyone in the mainframe business thought about it, the client/server model had the shine of inevitability.

So, while companies must take the fear of cannibalization seriously as a problem to manage, it can’t become a reason not to act with foresight when new nonlinear strategies or business models present an opportunity.

The Competency Trap

The competency trap arises when positive results the current core business encourage the organization to invest mainly in Box 1 competencies and provide little incentive for investing in new and future-oriented competencies. In established companies built around a spectacular success, such as IBM’s industry-defining mainframe computers, it is natural to want to create a workforce whose skills dominantly reflect the legacy success. But a competency trap is a double- edged sword. IBM’s investments in Box 1 competencies helped its mainframe business. But Box 1 logic asks, why invest in skills not vital to the company’s current profitability? That is why Box 2 is necessary.

IBM eventually recognized that the dominant computing model it had exploited to achieve such great success was changing. Yet, despite having made significant investments in a robust R&D function, it was having chronic difficulty incubating new ventures. It struggled to find what IBM insiders called “The Next Big Thing.” The organization appeared to have succumbed to a “four monkeys” value system.

Believing that there were indeed systemic problems, then-CEO Louis Gerstner commissioned an internal inquiry to identify root causes. The inquiry, led by Bruce Harreld, IBM’s head of corporate strategy, confirmed Gerstner’s fears. Looking at a number of recent examples of flawed new-business incubation, Harreld’s team concluded that the company’s dominant Box 1 systems, structures, processes, and culture had:

  • Created a powerful bias for near-term results.
  • Encouraged a focus on existing customers and offerings to the extent that new technologies and nonlinear trends were either underestimated or escaped detection entirely.
  • Burdened new businesses with unreasonably high performance goals-especially damaging to ventures that targeted newer, riskier, but often more promising markets.
  • Motivated an unimaginative approach to market analysis that impaired the company’s ability to understand the sorts of “embryonic markets” most likely to spawn nonlinear Box 3 ideas.
  • Interfered with development of the skills necessary to adaptively transition a new business through its emergent and growth stages until it finally became an established enterprise.
  • Caused assorted failures of execution, many owing to the inflexibility of Box l=driven organizational structures, which leaders of new ventures “were expected to rise above … Voicing concerns over [such challenges], even when they were major barriers to new business initiatives, was seen as a sign of weakness.”

What the report didn’t say is important to note. IBM’s problem was not caused by a lack of research competency. On the contrary, its workforce possessed at least some expertise in a wide array of disciplines and technologies. Among its research projects were some that were quite promising and others that were highly speculative, unproven, and obscure. But for all the reasons listed, even ideas that managed to get traction were being ineptly developed and executed. What IBM needed was a well-designed process for enabling, supporting, and rewarding its maverick monkeys and likewise for managing new ventures onward through their developmental stages.

Such a process typically should incorporate a range of structural, cultural, and leadership remedies. At IBM-first under Gerstner and later Sam Palmisano-these distinctive remedies came together under the emerging business opportunities (EBO) framework, which created new structures, changes to the buttoned-down IBM culture, and more versatile and adaptive leadership behavior.

A TRIPOLITAN TRAGICOMEDY

This is a funny story about chopping down a flag pole from the book Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade, Don Yaeger.

A TRIPOLITAN TRAGICOMEDYThomas Jefferson.jpg

Three days later, the bashaw (Yusuf Qaramanli) made good on his threat. On May 14, 1801, he dispatched his men to the American consulate; the party of soldiers arrived at one o’clock that Thursday afternoon.

(James Leander) Cathcart was ready to make one last offer to keep the peace, to avoid what had begun to seem inevitable. He approached the seraskier, the leader of the squad and the bashaw’s minister of war, and asked that the promise of a tribute of $lO,OOO be conveyed to the bashaw. A messenger departed for the castle, but returned minutes later. The bashaw had rejected the offer.

(James Leander) Cathcart knew any further attempts at diplomacy would be futile, and stopping the bashaw’s men by force was impossible. Helpless, he stood watching on that bright, hot Thursday as the Tripolitans began hacking at the flagpole.

The bashaw’s men shouted encouragement to one another as they swung their axes but to their dismay, felling the pole was harder than it looked. Chips flew, but the flagpole refused to fall. As if to mock the men, the flag fluttered with each stroke of the ax, its staff staunchly in place. A gesture meant to humble the Americans was rapidly becoming a humiliation for the Tripolitans.

The bashaw had ordered that, if the men had trouble dropping the pole, they should pull on the halyard, the line anchored at the top of the pole used to hoist the flag. He thought they might be able to break the pole in half by doing so. To the dismay of the men, that strategy failed, too, and once again, the resilient flagpole refused. to fall. The men who had arrived to dishonor the flag were proving singularly inept.

More than an hour passed before the Tripolitans finally caused the pole to splinter just enough to lean against the consulate house. The American diplomats looked on, darkly amused by the whole episode. (James Leander) Cathcart wryly recorded the events in a dispatch to Secretary of State James Madison.

“At a quarter past two they effected the grand atchievement and our Flagstaff was chop’d down six feet from the ground & left reclining on the Terrace …. Thus ends the first act of this Tragedy.”

 

Why Winner-Take-AII Is Winning

Is the building supply industry going to turn into a winner-take-all market? Do you have a strategy if technology disrupts the distribution of goods and service? The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

Why Winner-Take-AII Is WinningSecond Machine Age.jpg

Why are winner-take-all markets more common now? Shifts in the technology for production and distribution, particularly these three changes:

  1. the digitization of more and more information, goods, and services,
  2. the vast improvements in telecommunications and, to a lesser extent, transportation, and
  3. the increased importance of networks and standards.

Albert Einstein once said that black holes are where God divided by zero, and that created some strange physics. While the marginal costs of digital goods do not quite approach zero, they are close enough to create some pretty strange economics. As discussed in chapter 3, digital goods have much lower marginal costs of production than physical goods. Bits are cheaper than atoms, not to mention human labor.

Digitization creates winner-take-all markets because, as noted above, with digital goods capacity constraints become increasingly irrelevant. A single producer with a website can, in principle, fill the demand from millions or even billions of customers. Jenna Marbles’s homemade YouTube video “How to trick people into thinking you’re good looking,” to take one wildly successful example, garnered 5.3 million views the week she posted it in July 2010.13 She’s now earned millions of dollars from over one billion viewings of her videos around the world. Every digital app developer, no matter how humble its offices or how small its staff, almost automatically becomes a micro-multinational, reaching global audiences with a speed that would have been inconceivable in the first machine age.

In contrast, the economics of personal services (nursing) or physical work (gardening) are very different, since each provider, no matter how skilled or hard-working, can only fulfill a tiny fraction of the overall market demand. When an activity transitions from the second category to the first the way tax preparation did, the economics shift toward winner-take-all outcomes. What’s more, lowering prices, the traditional refuge for second-tier products, is of little benefit for anyone whose quality is not already at or near the world’s best. Digital goods have enormous economies of scale, giving the market leader a huge cost advantage and room to beat the price of any competitor while still making a good profit.” Once their fixed costs are covered, each marginal unit produced costs very little to deliver.

Perfect Horse

Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis by Elizabeth Letts is a charismatic book. Below is an excerpt from the book about General George S. Patton:

Perfect HorsePerfect Horse.jpg

The door to the black car swung open, and stepped General George S. Patton, now secretly in England, where he was participating in a mock mission to confuse the Germans about the Allied invasion. Resplendent in high brown cavalry field boots and a gleaming helmet, he, walked briskly down the hillside toward the ten-man guard of honor, who stood at attention. Patton passed slowly in front of them, looking each soldier up and down and then peering into each man’s face. From there, he walked straight up onto the platform.

The corps chaplain stepped up to the microphone to give the invocation, asking for divine guidance so that the Third Army might help speed victory to an enslaved Europe. Next to speak was Lieutenant General William H. Simpson. “We are here,” he said, “to listen to the words of a great man, a man who will lead you all into whatever you may face with heroism, ability, and foresight. A man who has proven himself amid shot and shell.” Most of these soldiers were awestruck, having never seen the famous commander in person, but this was not the case for Patton’s fellow cavalryman Hank Reed, who had been acquainted with him for many years. Since the invasion of North Africa and Sicily, in which the general had played a starring role, George Patton’s name had been familiar in every American household. But Reed had known him as a rough-and-tumble polo player possessed of a foul mouth and a fierce competitive spirit.

Though Patton was eighteen years Reed’s senior, the two officers shared a strong tie. Each had been a member of the prestigious War Department polo team, Patton in the 1920s and Reed in the ’30, Patton’s ferocity on the polo field was an army legend. He seemed to go to war every time he galloped out onto the pitch. Even among tough competitors, the general was renowned for the particular bellicosity with which he approached the game. Once, while playing at the Myopia Hunt in Massachussetts, he was hit so badly in the head with a mallet that blood started streaming down his forehead. Patton wrapped a bandage around his head, shoved his helmet back on top of it, and continued to play. Another time, he fell so hard that he sustained a severe concussion. His daughter, Ruth Ellen, who was watching the match, knew something was terribly wrong because it was the first time she had ever seen him let go of the reins when he fell off a horse.

Patton, like many others in the army, had believed that in peacetime, when men had no chance to experience combat firsthand, the horseback battles played on the polo field were the best way to train a man for combat. If Patton’s theory was right, then the ace polo player Hank Reed was among the best-prepared soldiers at Camp Bewdley that day. None of the 2nd Cavalry men had seen real combat before, including their leader, Colonel Reed.

The general approached the microphone and looked out over the great mass of soldiers standing at attention on the hillside. “Be seated,” he said. His amplified voice echoed out across the hillside, high and clear. His tone was firm and commanding. In an undulating wave, the men sank back down onto the grass.

“Men, this stuff we hear about America wanting to stay out of the war, not wanting to fight, is a crock of bullshit! Americans love to fight-traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. When you were kids you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the big league ball players, the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win-all the time….”

Up on the hillside, the men of the 2nd Cavalry listened intently. All of them knew that General Patton was the one who got called in when the going got tough. Indeed, the general then strictly admonished the crowd that his presence in Bewdley was to be kept top-secret. Nobody knew exactly what was coming next; they just knew that they would be part of something bigger than all of them.

From Patton’s vantage point up on the platform, the assembled men of the Third Army looked like an enormous sea of humanity gathered with a common purpose. Despite the uniforms that made them resemble one another, every man sitting there that day had his own life story, his own pathway that had brought him to that place. Born in 19I5, blue-eyed Jim Pitman was one such soldier. He had the face of a sprite, all upturned angles, quick to smile, his smooth skin radiating youth. Hank Reed had had twenty years to prepare for this moment; Jim Pitman had just four. Graduating from West Point in 1940, he joined an army gearing up for war and had been swept right into the heart of it.