Monday, September 10, 2012

Starting A Company - Lessons Learned

Having worked for very big companies, this Blogger never really thought about starting a company.   The opportunity came when our parent company announced in early 1991, that they would sell our subsidiary, one way or another.   I was 40 years old at the time and a Senior Vice President.   I had worked in senior management for several years; but I was soon to learn that this was very different from founding and running what would one day become a global company.  

Could I do it was the real question.   I had my doubts; that's for sure.  The answer came on an airplane trip from California to New York City.   I was able to upgrade so I was in First Class for the 6 hour trip.  Sitting next to me was a gruff, New York business owner and entrepreneur.   We struck up a conversation that lasted the entire trip.   I described my predicament, which included the opportunity to buy the division of the company that I had founded from our parent company.

While I had worked in business in the US and Europe for more than 10 years and in doing so gained great experience both selling to and providing Consulting Services for some of the largest firms in the world, I had never managed an entire company.  And, before working in business, I was a teacher with a degree in both History and Political Science and a Masters Degree in Education Administration and associated credentials, but I did not know a balance sheet from a sheet of music.   And, then came this angel on an airplane.

This gruff businessman sitting next to me in First Class, on a trip to New York City, assured me that I did have the Focus, Passion and Discipline to succeed in business and those attributes were all that I needed.   By the time that flight ended,  I realized that I did have the power within me to establish and run what was then a national company.   It was really a miraculous revelation from God.   I have had many more revelations, or so it would seem, since then facing many challenges in business during various Recessions,  9/11 and during and since the financial collapse that began in 2008.  When times are tough, the tough really do get going and rise to the occasion. 

In any case, when I got off that airplane I called both my wife and the President of our parent company and advised them that we wanted to buy the division of the company that I had founded.  After some very tense negotiations, we ended up with two notes totaling several hundred thousand dollars that required repayment first in three years and then in five years.   So, I signed my name for the first of many times taking on risk like I had never done before.  

I soon realized that the difference between working for a large company and owning a company was in fact the willingness to risk it all in the event of failure because I was signing my name to pay off huge debt and it involved personal guarantees.   Everything my wife and I had worked for during our first 16 years of marriage was on the line like never before.   This was a defining moment for me and for our company.   Signing your name and taking on risk is the moment of truth and it is either a sign of guts, or blatant stupidity depending on whether you succeed or fail.  

The other thing that hit me like a ton of bricks was the need to not only support my family, which I knew I could do, even if I had to sell apples on a street corner; but now with founding our company, I felt the weight of 13 additional families since we left our parent company with 13 employees.  I realized for the first time in my life that my actions and decisions in running our business could impact other people.   And, that if I failed, it would not only impact my family, it would impact 13 other families in a negative way.   Many more employees later and around the world, I still feel that responsibility as I always act to insure the survival of our company as Job One.

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