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No Brown M&Ms

April 25, 2017

The checklist for a Van Halen rock concert has an item requiring a bowl of M&Ms with no brown M&Ms according to Atul Gawande in his 2009 book The Checklist Manifesto. The purpose being that if there are brown M&Ms it would signal the tour manager that the checklist wasn’t followed carefully and then everything that was supposed to have been done would need to be thoroughly checked.

Rock group tours are businesses employing upwards of 200 people with expensive equipment being used under dangerous settings with performers on small cluttered stages in front of tens of thousands of fans. If you’ve been to such a concert it is easy to lose sight of the meticulous preparation and care that goes into the supposedly spontaneous performance.

Last week I read a NY Times obituary of Joseph Rascoff who was the tour master for the Rolling Stones and many other groups. He was a partner at a Manhattan CPA firm in 1974 when his firm declined to take on the accounting for the Stones because they had a history of drug abuse and mismanagement. He immediately took a leave of absence from his firm and became the Stones’ road accountant and eventually tour producer. He never returned to the firm.

Rascoff found out that the rock and roll business never had real professionals attempting to get the groups under control. The groups’ tours had myriad complexities of long road trips through many cities, arena scheduling, transporting, feeding and housing the performers and support staff, engaging temporary help, making sure the equipment arrived, was set up and taken down properly and timely, that there was adequate rehearsal time, arranging for proper insurance, initiate contracts, and sponsorship, merchandising and promotional activities and interviews. They also needed monitoring of royalties and box office receipts. Attention was also needed to offer lower cost alternatives to expensive details in the performances. Once the Rascoff-types came on board the performers only had to concentrate on their artistic responsibilities. The costs of the financial managers were quickly offset with a more effective and efficient operation that permitted the artists to devote their efforts to their creative exploits.

The takeaway here is that commercial pursuits, regardless of the products or services offered, are serious businesses that need sound management techniques to attain a smoother and more profitable operation. Another takeaway is that checklists can be effective to assure compliance with carefully thought out and effective procedures.

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