Seventeen years is a long time.
I don’t even remember what life was like before.
In my opinion, Founders start a business with a cause.
Last week I was conducting a company training session with a great group of new and seasoned employees. The topic was culture; we strive to be real and honest in ours. We call it “being from the heart.” People want to be around others that are honest, authentic, and genuine. They want to be around people who are comfortable in their skin and comfortable in where they work. They want to buy from, accept work from, and spend time with people they like and trust. This is an immediate impression, a gut reaction. It goes back to a time when we may have feared for our lives when the hair on the back of your neck would stand up, as we walked through tall grass thinking we might be big cat food on the Serengeti.
When we do something new or out of comfort zone, our discomfort may show to the world. If I know you, that is ok. I will comfort you and give you the benefit of the doubt. Our shared experiences mean I will “trust the middle.” The more we experience that feeling of ick, the more new people experience it. What they see and feel from you determines whether they like you, are comfortable with you, and generally are willing to see you again. This holds true for friendship and business interactions. So, I encourage you to “be from the heart” at all times. I encourage you to be vulnerable and humble. Generally, no one likes cocky, arrogant, bold, disingenuine people. We all know them, just as we all you know a few great people that are confident and accomplished but also remember where they came from.
So why this lesson in “being from the heart”? Because today my company turns 17! My third child that I have given over 48,620 hours of my life to cultivate and grow. This was my attempt to bend and make my reality. I had grown up in a business family and learned to lead, sell, train, and frankly act a certain way that made me an impossible, unattractive hire. I was too glib and strongly opinionated to work for someone else. So I made a company built around core values and a clear, distinct purpose at a time when folks did not run businesses that way. I know that now. Prospect and clients alike told us that they wish they could be culturally led but it was not their path. Thank goodness they hired us. Thank you to each employee, contractor, supplier, customer, and vendor that took the risk to help us along the way. Without them, we undoubtedly would not be the success we are today.
Again, you ask why “being from the heart”? Because today I want to be open and honest and share the most important lessons I’ve learned while building CBI Group and Placers.
I spent many years trying to build a new and unique business model but, I was way out in front of the interest of buyers. Today, we are much more in tune with what customers want and need. We are in a staffing and recruitment space that feels like it is the right place at the right time; the intersection between today’s workers looking to navigate today’s workforce realities and employers looking for answers to the same!
I tried to be the Owner, President, and Leader that I thought I was supposed to be. I was not owning, leading, and being an entrepreneur from the heart. I was playing the role the way I thought it should be played. I apologize to all of the good employees that had to go through the years when I was learning with leadership training wheels. The recession changed many of us. It changed me profoundly. What I built in years crumbled in 93 days. I had no choice but to get comfortable with myself because 50 employees became 12. My wife Kim knows me best. She says that when I am not my authentic self it never works and she is right. Today we employ hundreds, if not thousands, of temporary associates and we are proud to say that we employ Delaware. I am true to myself and know what circles I do not fit in and try to avoid them at all cost.
I wish I knew in 2001 what I know now; hindsight is 20/20! Nothing can replace the value of adversity and experience. These are life’s great teaching moments if you can remember the lesson. I have had theft, floods, and a fire in the office on SuperBowl Sunday. Big moments, where I had a chance to practice and refine my leadership skills, and I grew. These big moments are when I could tap my reserves and establish my own leadership identity. But, surprisingly, the big moments were much easier than the daily trial and error process of growing and scaling a business.
My first business plan was 88 pages. What the heck was I thinking? That plan served us well as I purged my soul of all that was wrong in our industry. Today, that founder’s reason for being is evident in our core purpose around service and treatment of customers. Today, I am a huge proponent of a One Page Plan that ties our three-year strategy all the way to the execution of each employee’s job. This alignment is a huge advantage for growth companies.
The key to success is not having limits or a governor on your skills, knowledge, and capabilities. I am where I am today because I approached each day as a 24-hour sprint. No one was going to outlearn, outwork or out practice me. All of those “learns,” books, hard projects, difficult challenges, leading, speaking engagements, and sales calls add up to something. My advice to any college grad would be to go string three years of great days together, let them build on themselves exponentially, and growth will follow.
In that same training class from last week a great leader in our organization shared the story that she was the first and only employee in a new unit of Placers, that is now six people. Everyone in training could not imagine what that was like. There were many questions. Some employees felt they could not have achieved or even survived the experience. Unless you take this superstars approach- this was the opportunity of a lifetime to learn, to build, to be herself, to leave her mark on our little company that can. And she did. And she still is.
When things got quiet, I shared when I walked into our office, 17 years ago, and I was the first and only employee. I reminded them most companies start like that, one person, a lengthy business plan, and many, many 18 hour days. Almost nothing I accounted for happened the way my plan mapped it out! I think I am still the same deep down as that young man. A little older. More hair! Maybe less patient. But what I like best, is the more I am from the heart. Authentic. Direct. Humble. Honest. The more successful we become. Just like people, we like our companies the same way.
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