Who is your hero? (In business, life, or both.)
My heroes in life have always been the men in my family. Both of my grandfathers were great men and well respected in their fields. One worked for the space program and helped develop the Saturn V craft. He went on to become the Dean of Engineering at Mississippi State University. The other was a 62-year Methodist preacher. My father was the first entrepreneur in our family. Watching his ambition and drive paved the way for my success. I am indebted to each of them for the countless hours of mentoring and support provided over the course of my life. My belief is that heroes are those who affect positive change in people’s lives through investment in relationships.
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
I’ve spent much of my life playing baseball, which I believe is the ultimate failure sport. In baseball, if you succeed 30 percent of the time, then you are considered an above-average player. The best advice I ever received was to learn from failure and embrace the process. Without failure there can be no success, and success is something that is built over time. I try to view a failure as an opportunity to learn a new way to adapt. It may be a slower process development than in sports, but the focus remains the same. Business is about trial and error, adaptation and forward thinking.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
I would be here all day if I wanted to list out all the failures I’ve encountered in business! I would also be remiss to enter into this exercise without stating that every failure along my journey has led me to where I am now. In other words, were they really failures? Or are “failures” merely decisions that push us towards another course? My father always told me, “The choices you make dictate the life you lead.” I believe in learning from the past, focusing on the present and building for the future.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
I had an opportunity to take a Lean Management course a few years ago. We learned about a Japanese practice called the “Gemba Walk.” The Japanese perform a Gemba Walk each day to start their day. They walk around their company and check in with employees to see how their lives were going, how the company could help them. They ask for one item or piece of advice that may improve a work process.
I try start each day by visiting those I work with to check in and see what I can do to help in any way. Just as customers provide feedback on your product, employees are valuable assets for feedback on your company and its processes. They are the ones working day in and day out in the business. I always try to listen to as much positive/negative feedback as I can.
What’s your best financial/cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
Shore up your accounting processes as fast as possible. This sounds like a no-brainer, but all business owners are susceptible to being so focused on growth that they neglect the backbone of the business. As revenue streams grow and pricing programs become more complicated, it is more important than ever to focus on the numbers. Accounting and invoicing is the backbone of your business. Understanding your numbers is key to being able to communicate the success of your business to investors and other businesses. I learned this the hard way early in my career, but the transition from small company accounting to specialized company accounting has paved the way for me to become a more streamlined business owner.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Never lose focus on people and the value of relationships in the workplace. This is tough for our generation as business becomes mobile. Find a way to separate yourself from the competition by thinking outside of the box. If your focus is to have the “best” product on the market, then you’ll always fall flat. Innovative products are being developed every day and at some point you will be passed. However, if you invest in your customer relationships, you won’t be in jeopardy of clients jumping ship when the next “hot” item hits the market. People want to do business with good people. Early in my career I was told: “Price is only one factor of many that make up value. Relationships will always trump price.”
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
In my personal life, I view success as the number of days I am gifted to be alive on this earth. No day is guaranteed and we are all blessed to live in this great country. The freedom to be an entrepreneur is not available in many countries. In business, I measure success by growth and bottom line. For my business, success includes adding value to improve lives. Is what you offer to your employees and to your customers geared to improve their lives, personal or professional, in some capacity? If so, then I believe you are a success, regardless of size or profit.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.