A business owner friend of mine compares the struggle he’s in today with the years he fought in Vietnam. Survival was the goal. Even when he saw people slaughtered all around him, he knew his only choice was to keep going and to protect the survival of others in his platoon. He sees it as clearly today as he did then.
That’s why Jim is one of my heroes. He keeps engaging the battle—not because it’s making him rich—but because he wants to protect the enterprise of human capital that’s his business, promote confidence in the marketplace, and rise to the new competitive challenges.
A few years ago, Jim was providing jobs for hundreds of people inside the $20M-a-year business he founded. The business was to be his legacy; he would pass it on to his children one day.
Last year, Jim determined he was no longer winning bids because of marketplace pressures for the cheapest price. His company couldn’t win against competitors who were willing to use inferior materials and take dangerous shortcuts. Jim wasn’t willing to compromise the quality his reputation was built on.
Come June, the work runs out. Today, he’s down to fewer than 100 employees. The head count will slide below 40 within 60 days.
But Jim perseveres, determined to stay in the game and keep thinking through new ways of rebuilding or reinventing to succeed within the fundamentals of this new competitive environment.
Diane is another one of my heroes. She owns a small 20-year-old manufacturing company that’s hanging on, thanks to a niche that’s not going away. She could probably play it safe, continue to weather the recession and come out the other end with a company she can rebuild.
But Diane has developed an eco-friendly product that she’s passionate about bringing to the world—and it’s going to take significant capital to make that happen. If she brings in an investor, she could do her part to create a healthier planet and secure the jobs of her people. But it’s risky. She worries that making the change could take longer and cost more than she anticipates—it almost always does.
Although she’s cautious about the implications of the accountability that comes with partnership capital, Diane knows it’s in the best interests of survival and creating a significant future for her business. I’m betting she’s going to make the bold and selfless choice. Heroes tend to do that.
Bob’s a hero, too, although he’d find it hard to see it that way. Bob hopes to do $3M in business this year; two years ago, he was at $13M. He also faces the dilemma of maintaining quality or churning money by lowering his standards. He’s tried reinventing his business model; he’s held on to as many employees as possible. But the low bidder keeps winning.
A less savvy business owner likely would have faced bankruptcy a year ago. Bob responded to his circumstances by embracing simplicity for his life and putting his shoulder to the plow the way he did in the early days. Like Jim, he’s choosing to stay in the game, determined to discover a new formula that will create opportunities for his business.
Here’s how I define a hero: Heroes look beyond themselves to embrace a greater cause or purpose and have the guts to sacrifice for the well-being of the greater whole.
And here’s how to spot the business owners and leaders who are the new American heroes. New American heroes:
· Recast vision even during uncertainty. Even in the face of so much evidence optimism may not be the most realistic outlook, they breathe life into possibilities.
· Fight to generate new opportunities for others to work. They feel a deep sense of responsibility for the people they bring around them.
· Risk boldness when it would be easier to hoard what they have and let somebody else take risks. Often that means they run counter to the culture of risk aversion that’s especially strong in times of uncertainty.
· Fight for standards of quality in a world where cheap seems to be king.
People like Jim and Diane and Bob are heroes precisely because they are committed to making the right choices to restore their enterprises to health in this new economic era. They’re doing what few others will do. These three and others like them have had to dig deep into their souls.
From that place in their souls, the question is no longer, How do I get mine? The questions they’re asking are, What do we stand for? Where is our strength? What is our responsibility to the world, to our nation’s economy and to our employees, today and in the future?
Getting Healthy Enough to Create Jobs
We will not get out of the economic mess we’re in without creating jobs.
But how? How does a business get healthy enough to provide jobs? A business in today’s economy will point itself in that direction by focusing on the following key components of the business.
Leaders/team: Do we have the best leaders in our inner circle, the ones who can be counted on to think and act boldly in the service of extraordinary results?
Niche: Have we compromised our unique brilliance for the sake of another sale, another contract? If so, we’re spending extra energy in places where the best we can hope for is to be as good as the next guy. Never chase cheap.
Capital: Have we cultivated a capital partnership, or do we just hope we can get by without it until the banks come back around? Not going to happen.
Brain power: Do we have what it takes to unleash a new level of creativity and innovation in our businesses? Or are we too close to the problem to see solutions?
Customer/client success: Are we making our customers/clients more valuable on their battlefields?
Content provided by Sam Frowine, founder and owner of The Performance Group, which works with business owners to build the value of their business asset, and Performance Capital Group, a boutique investment bank. For a complimentary copy of Enterprise Capital 2011 about implementing a successful capital strategy, contact him at 704-597-5156 or firstname.lastname@example.org.