Saturday, August 04, 2007

Obsessive-compulsive house flipper, Jeff Lewis, and his staff: classic brutal boss and prey? Part II

"I’m selling a lifestyle. You either live like me or you want to live like me."
-Jeff Lewis, Flipping Out (Episode 1, Bravo TV)


RECAP OF PART I: Real estate speculator Jeff Lewis is the Queen B. of Bravo-TV's new show Flipping Out. Despite cash flow and marketplace challenges and conventional wisdom, he is obsessively, compulsively committed to mining more gold from them thar California hills, and to doing so in the same vein he always has. [Pun intended.] He will maintain his flimsy financial footing by accelerating the sale of a residence he renovated and currently lives in.
Jeff's determination, despite the real risks of bellying-up, channels two iconic American images. One is of "California or bust!"-chanting prospectors during the Gold Rush era. Historical accounts indicate: some forty-niners, especially early on, struck it rich near San Francisco. But many others risked, and lost, everything.

I'm not wishing that on Jeff Lewis, or predicting he'll go bust. Because there's that other image: Debbi Fields. Some called her crazy, too.

Exactly 30 years ago, the young mother with no business experience ignored conventional wisdom , which warned: "no business could survive just selling cookies." Today, Mrs. Fields®, is "the premier chain of cookie and baked goods stores."

Jeff Lewis shares some traits that made Mrs. Fields wildly successful and a "worldwide celebrity." These common traits, as described by, are: "headstrong determination" and a mission to "create the highest quality product possible - every time." Mrs. Fields' mission, which aptly describes Jeff's stated philosophy, "has yielded products like no others, deeply satisfying personal indulgences that consumers just can't get enough of.

The following advice from Mrs. Fields also applies to Jeff: "The important thing is not being afraid to take a chance. Remember, the greatest failure is to not try. Once you find something you love to do, be the best at doing it."

A major difference between Lewis and Fields, however, is their personalities. states: "A dynamic personality. A sincere concern for people. They [and the above-mentioned factors] all played a role in Debbi Fields' success."

Ironically, Jeff's less appealing personality may be a key success factor for his Bravo TV show. What distinguishes Flipping Out from competitive shows is the zoom in on Jeff and his staffs' interpersonal dramas. For example, Lewis' staffers show and tell why they think he is "crazy," and the cameras capture the sometimes-brutal boss browbeating and manipulating his prey, e.g. by threatening to fire them.

In fact, Jeff admits to having fired every member of his staff at one point or another. Usually, they come back aboard. But Brandt, the assistant Jeff booted for no good reason in Episode 1 ensured the split was mutual by quitting. Screwdrivers to sawdust, that split will stick.

Some may wonder how much Jeff pays people to put up with him. It doesn't necessarily have to be much; brutal, bullying and a**hole bosses abound in poorly-compensated job sectors as much as they do in highly-paid posts. "Trash Guy" Chris Elwood and his wife Jenni, actors both, describe non-cash benefits working with Jeff provides.

Still, if Hornstein, Crowley and Elster decided to seek new stories for their books, I'd bet all of Jeff's staff, past and present, would spill the beans on that boss.

SHAMELESS COMMERCE: The banners below link to pages containing reviews and purchase options for the TV shows and books referenced above.