business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Like many Baby Boomers, I have trouble remembering a time when the Rolling Stones didn’t exist.

I can vaguely remember when they burst on the scene in the 1960s, challenging the Beatles while at the same time seeming to contradict their performing and lifestyles.  And I remember the Stones being studied as a business case in the 1990s when they reinvented their touring style to boost their financial power to unheard of levels.

In one interview at that time, I recall guitarist and icon Keith Richards saying the band was essentially a “mom and pop business,” with Keith as the pop and singer Mick Jagger as mom.

But in the past two weeks, we were reminded they were far more than the two faces up front.  That's a business lesson for all of us.  

In late August, Charlie Watts, the Stones’ long time drummer, passed away and the tributes and obituaries made something unexpectedly clear. Sure, Mick and Keith are the faces of the Stones, but Watts, the unsung drummer who long rejected the rock star lifestyle, was the backbone of the world’s most famous rock band.

In fact, if the articles about Watts are accurate, the drummer was in fact the pivotal reason why the Stones are THE STONES and the reason so many of their songs are instantly recognizable. Through the years, the line-up of Stones’ members has shifted due to death and retirement, but it’s possible that Watts passing may create the hole that cannot be easily filled.

The truth about rock groups, including the Stones, is that they are always more than the faces and singers we seem to know. There are teams working with them to make performances and recordings take life in ways we can and cannot see. The wonderful documentary, “20 feet from Stardom,” focuses on the backup singers whose abilities and voices frequently provide the sound we listeners actually enjoy.  We know Mick Jagger far more than Darlene Love or Charlie Watts, but in countless ways the latter two are the reason we sing along with songs.

As I read the tributes to Charlie Watts, it made me think of how his experience is so often overlooked and repeated in business. Nearly every business team features front line performers who might have the flash or personality to make things fly, but whose efforts would be for naught without countless unsung heroes making everything possible.

Like Charlie Watts, they provide the backbone that is essential to success.

And with that in mind, I think Watts’ passing provides companies, managers and even team leaders with an opportunity to think about, highlight and most importantly, celebrate the contributions of the unsung heroes among us. It might even be time to create “Charlie Watts” awards to focus on those who make broader success possible, but do so in a less flashy way.

What we might well find is that our teams include far fewer folks with moves like Jagger and many more who simply know how to get the job done and deserve the spotlight a lot more.

As the Stones’ say:  You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.

Even among your team members.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.