I was recently inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame, an honor that will forever humble me. After the induction, I was approached by many young people wanting to know the principles that have allowed me to succeed during 40 years in business. Although I have no plans to retire just yet, now seems to be the perfect time to share this knowledge with future generations. Given the chance to leave a legacy of advice for future business leaders, my most sacred commandments would have to be the following:
Know Your Business Model
A little bit of strategic thinking goes a long way, and this has not changed over the last four decades. You must really analyze and understand your concept and business model. For instance, what will it take to capitalize on your idea and make it successful, and what will you do if you cannot get the resources you need? You really must have a clear vision for your business and roadmap for how you want to get there.
As chairman of Solera National Bank, I can tell you that the business model is one of the key items we look at when assisting our business customers. Many of our clients are new business owners, and we always recommend that they fine-tune their business plan, because we know it will keep them on the right path to success.
Stay on Top of Business Trends to Identify New Opportunities
You can always find opportunities if you know how to look for them. Being able to analyze what’s around the corner is the most valuable business sense you can have.
Back in the early 70’s, after a great deal of research, I concluded that plastics were the wave of the future, so I went in business with a good friend. After 18 years in that industry, I started PlastiComm in 1990, a firm that provides integrated solutions to companies in different industries. It serves as a warehouse where components are custom-made and/or integrated,, then delivered to the job site ready for installation. I sold the company in 2009 and it is now called Linkmont Technologies, which provides the same services.
In the late 90’s, I noticed the trend towards communications devices and determined that the next big trend would be that the line between telecom and computer technologies would become blurred, so I started Innov8 in 2000 to provide cable products and electrical supplies to address the needs arising due to this new trend. Because I was able to monitor and – to some degree – predict industry trends, my businesses have thrived.
Give Back to the Community
One of the biggest commitments I made early in my career was to give back to the community that’s allowed me to thrive. Be as involved as you can, because a stronger community lifts everyone in it. Throughout the years, I have been involved with many different community organizations, and this experience taught me many things I never would have learned if I had just stuck to business as usual. It’s also opened up lots of doors, business-wise, so there are other benefits – but it all starts with giving back.
First and foremost, treat people like you want to be treated. Having respect for your workers, customers and business peers creates good karma, which I strongly believe in. It will come back to reward you someday. Your employees will work harder and better if they genuinely like you and feel that you care about them. If your customers have a great experience dealing with you, positive word-of mouth will bring you even more clientele.
Exemplify Strong Ethics
Be ethical and moral in every facet of your business. Do the best job you can and never cut corners. I know this sounds like common knowledge, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t follow – or don’t know – this rule.
Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t easy. In my case, it has even resulted in financial losses on a couple projects. But my clients have recognized and rewarded this integrity with additional project work. In the end, those losses turned into gains.
Family Comes First
One of my biggest regrets is that I spent 11 years pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees while my children were very young. Even though my wife did a great job raising them, I still wish I had devoted more time to being there.
When it comes to an employee’s family affairs, I always tell them to put that first. If, at the end of the day, you haven’t given up something for your family, then you’re doing something seriously wrong in life.
Listen to Your Elders
I’ve been fortunate to have some really great people in my life. If I look back on my formative years, I’d say the nuns at my school really did a lot for me in terms of building my character. In fact, I still work with Sisters of Charity. They’ve always been a great support.
When I entered the workforce, Math Brunner was my biggest influence. He’s probably the most ethical person I ever met. He’s the one who taught me about the importance of relationship-building and community. He took me in as a son, really. In fact, he was there when my kids were born so I certainly do consider him family.
However, throughout it all the biggest influence has been my wife, Naomi. She’s been with me every step of the way.