It took me nearly 40 years to build a business that eventually employed some 80 people, and a little less than three to lose it. Let me share with you what I did that you should not do if you have a business.
The year was 1962 when I quit a job I liked—I mean really liked, so much that I couldn’t wait for Monday morning to arrive so that I could go back to work. Although I was earning good money and able to provide for my wife and two-year old daughter—the first of three children—the promise of a new opportunity with the potential of doubling my income was just too much for me to pass up. So I accepted a franchise selling tire repair material to independent automotive repair garages, tire shops, and eventually car dealerships. The Lord blessed me with the ambition, determination, and stamina to build this one-man, one-truck operation to the point of employing the 80 people mentioned above.
Not that it was easy! Especially in the first few years, when my income dropped to less than half instead of doubling, we had a difficult time of it. And then when I started making money, it all had to go back into the business; since I hated borrowing, all expansion was self-financed. For about 20 years the traditional suppliers to the automotive trade (our competitors) referred to us contemptuously as “those wagon peddlers”, and many bona fide wholesale suppliers to the trade refused to sell to us. So, yes, it was an uphill battle all the way.
How sweet the victory, then, when we finally grew to the point of building a 33 thousand-square-foot office and warehouse facility in a prestigious part of the city! At its opening, several of those very suppliers who had disdained us at first—and who were now supplying us—congratulated us on having brought “dignity” to our method of going to the market.
The Lord continued to bless our efforts, and life was good. When I was in my late 60s my general manager identified a promising market niche he suggested we take advantage of, so we did, and it proved to have a potential far beyond our most optimistic hopes and dreams. I was now approaching the age of 70, and we were advised that borrowing was justified to finance rapid expansion in order to capture this new segment of the market. Being a Grade 8 dropout, and never having borrowed, I felt uncomfortable and thought it prudent to hire a highly educated business grad with a master’s degree as our new president.
Just short of three years later, this grad had put the business into receivership. What, in hindsight, were my errors?
First, hiring someone who had no knowledge of our market or corporate culture. Second, agreeing to his request for autonomy, as a consequence of which I failed to monitor him. Third, trusting his promise that he would never let the company run short of money—a promise he failed to keep. Fourth, ignoring my gut feeling that I had hired the wrong guy and should fire him, though I eventually did so when it was too late. By then we had sunk from a healthy, debt-free company to a heavily debt-laden one, at the mercy of a bank demanding payment. We ended up in receivership.
What should I have done instead? If I were going to hire someone, it should have been a humbler person with some knowledge of our market. Alternatively, I should have promoted from within, as we had staff who knew the market and our culture, whom I could have sent to some business courses. I should also have set limits on our borrowing, slowed the expansion, and kept monitoring, monitoring, monitoring. And maybe some other things that you can think of.
So take a lesson from my experience, and don’t make the same kinds of mistakes in your business. My mistakes were costly, but I learned from them, and God has allowed me to flourish again in their wake. “He who loses money loses much; he who loses a friend loses much more; he who loses faith loses all.” Thankfully, my faith remained! So, what do I do now? You’ll find the answer to that at www.lifeworkproject.org.