I’m blessed with a great network of friends and colleagues and we’re constantly running into each other at industry events and around the globe. A good thing! The craziest encounter was while I was vacationing in Puerto Rico, browsing through a farmer’s market in a rather remote little town and couldn’t believe when I heard a familiar voice shout my name from afar.
The most frequent question I get is, “How is the new business going? I usually give a brief positive answer as I’m more interested in hearing about what’s new with one of my contacts. Here’s the long version if any of you feel a bit starved of info on our success to date.
Earlier this year I embarked on a new startup with a former colleague. We’re running two separate business entities on the leveraging the same backbone for the benefit of both companies. Who knew setting up payroll to correctly account for different state tax and employment requirements was nothing short of a herculean effort? It is! Well worth it in my opinion because tax evasion isn’t how we plan to get into the media spotlight.
I am also happy to finally be able to be public about my Executive Chairman role for Fine Grinding Corporation. I picked up this role last year when the firm was going through a major transition of controlling ownership. I wasn’t entirely certain I was the right fit – the board and I both took a risk. Fortunately it was the right risk and the board and general management are continually affirming and thankful for my leadership. It’s very rewarding to directly experience positive results from strategy and ideas you’ve directly contributed to a large and complex business.
The biggest gripe I had about being employed by a large multi-national was that they gave you a big canvas and a box of colored markers and then firmly asserted you can only color in a small square in the corner with black ink. I think that’s why I found the last several years of servitude so frustrating. Coloring within the lines is fine for some, not me. Running your own business, and one as diverse in capabilities as ours, we have the canvas problem in reverse. It’s large, there’s more than one canvas, and we have dozens of colors to choose from – correctly picking which colors and in what area will be most successful is the real skill. One thing I can say is we continue to fail fast. I don’t care for silicon valley startup phrases like this, but in our case it’s true. We dust ourselves off and start coloring again in earnest.
The Greatest Validation
For my partners and I one thing is really evident. The network of professionals you cultivate throughout your career is extremely important. My former department colleagues thought I was strange or anti-social for not sitting with them every day at lunch. When I would offer to self fund a trip to a conference because of so called “travel budget constraints” I was met with incredulous disbelief. These behaviors and actions and many others were to build my network. That work has paid off bigtime. If you’re going to focus on one thing in your career to keep future possibilities broad and open it should be networking and cultivating relationships outside of your functional network. Oh, and you can’t be a jerk. It may be safe to be a jerk inside the large company you work for, but that won’t work for you when trying to build a business. If people inside recognize you in this way rest assured they also do outside amongst your industry circles. I’ve come across lots of unfortunate stories on this topic since starting my own company.
Winning the War on Talent
I credit Steve Valvano, VP of Human Resources at Panalpina, for the phrase “the war on talent”. He and many other leaders throughout my career have made an indelible mark on my consciousness. What Steve meant was that the fight for talent was the true war every company is engaged in with their competitors. My partners and I are now fighting this war as well. We have a great source of talent however. The same large companies, who are shedding talent constantly, are freeing up the SMEs and thought leaders growing businesses like ours need. If you are out on your own now and looking for your next opportunity we should talk. If you’re not out and want to get out…we should talk!
A Big Reward
Nope, it’s not that major client we landed. It’s not getting paid in 30 days instead of 45 or 60. It’s the people. Being part of a team again is one of the biggest rewards for me personally. Whether it’s collaborating with the board on how best to spend capital for growth or with my partners on what advertisement strategy will work, it’s made more enjoyable as a team. We have so much enthusiasm and opportunity it is exciting. Saying “yes” is one of our current growth strategies. Having a team means we say yes with a bit more information and insight. We’re usually saying yes about the right things whether it be new employees, business alliances or client engagements. When we get it wrong we support each other and share in the learning.
There’s much more to share but so long for now. Be safe and swing for the fence every time.