“Hello? Is that Michael? This is George, George Blankenship… From Tesla Motors.” said the voice on the other end of the cell phone call.
That’s how I met George Blankenship – “Director of Smiles for the Blankenship Family.”
At the time he was working for Tesla Motors and, he was asking for my help. Yes, that’s right, I know exactly how Bat Kid felt the day that Batman called by to ask if he wouldn’t mind helping him save San Francisco!
George Blankenship, born in the 50’s, started his real career at the end of the 70’s when he joined Donald G. Fisher and Doris F. Fisher at their modest San Francisco based clothing store, GAP. As a store manager, responsible for the simple day-to-day operations he quickly rose through the ranks from operations through real-estate and store design to company wide strategy. In his 20-year tenure at GAP he oversaw the growth of the company from a healthy 500 stores to a global retail presence of over 3,000 stores. His particular talent was clear and was felt throughout the retail clothing industry – GAP and its different brands from Old Navy to Banana Republic was and is, a cool place to shop.
In 2000 George retired… briefly, before being called up by Apple mid year to help Ron Johnson with the, at the time, shaky Apple brand. Ironically, Johnson had been suggested to Apple by the then CEO of GAP, Millard Drexler. Ron and George set about their tasks of redesigning and locating new stores respectively. Georges’ experience with GAP led him to locate stores in busy high-end Shopping Malls instead of following the big-box electrical retailers such as CompUSA (Remember those guys?) and BestBuy into outdoor consumer electronic focused locations. Together, Ron and George created exciting stores right where the people were.
In late 2006, George retired again. This time it almost stuck but, in 2009, he teamed up with Microsoft to look at their failed retail operation however, it didn’t seem to be a great fit so when Elon Musk invited George, in 2010, to take the reigns at Tesla Motors, to do with Tesla what he’d done with first GAP then Apple, “How could you not?” he said.
George took Tesla to the world doing exactly what he’d done with GAP and Apple; he put retail stores in high-end Shopping centers. Madness or Genius? Well, when George started at Tesla, they had already sold more than 2,000 cars into the US, Canada and Europe as well as Hong Kong and Australia yet, Joe Normal had little clue that they existed. By placing stores exactly where Joe Normal shops, he now, not only knows who Tesla are but probably looks longingly through the store front each time he passes… or is that just me?
George has taken Tesla into so many new countries, including his final triumph, China so, why did George ask for my help? Well, that’s his style, “Trust people until they give you a good reason not to, they usually don’t.” He was reaching out to me as a partner at Tesla Motors Club – I look after the engine, tending to the machine that powers the site along with my partners, the founder Daniel Sacks and the real hard workers; an army of real EV devotees managed by Doug King, the head moderator. George was looking for our input on some significant site change that they were making in readiness for the Model S launch. “You guys comb over everything we produce and I know if we make the slightest mistake, it’ll surface so, I wondered if you might take a look at the site before we go live?”
Was it a genuine request for help and support or a backhanded critique of our obsessive nature? I learnt that, it was the former. George was already a regular member and commenter on the TeslaMotorsClub forum – a valuable link between enthusiasts and company and, the call was the first of many that united fans and company culminating in our getting to meet Elon, to rapturous applause, on stage at our first annual members meet-up. “I couldn’t miss it!” said George at the after-party that night after he’d flown thousands of miles to be there before departing for the other side of the world on Monday.
George called me to let me know he was leaving Tesla and thanked me and the whole Tesla Motors Club team for the good times – a mark of how George does business and a fascinating insight into how and what makes a proven leader like George so successful. I’ve written that down.
I, we, wish George the very best in his latest retirement. Maybe this one will stick.
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