There are lots of times people will ask me how he came to have the stuff I know about what it takes for a private business to become economically and personally sustainable.
Take a few minutes and I’ll tell you some stories about where I came from and how I ended up being totally obsessed with what it takes for a privately held business, especially a blue-collar one, to become economically and personally sustainable.
You know, there are lots of time people will ask me how he came to have the stuff I know about what it takes for a private business to become economically and personally sustainable. And most of my learning has come from the school of hard knocks. Well, to be honest, the hard knocks really weren’t that hard. At least looking at them from a rear view mirror, it makes it feel like in retrospect it wasn’t all that hard. But the learning I got along the way was really important.
And I want to tell you, take a few minutes and tell you some stories about where I came from and how I ended up being totally obsessed with what it takes for a privately held business, especially a blue collar one, to become economically and personally sustainable. So let’s jump in.
Well, the first thing was I grew up in a family business. My father had a wholesale tobacco company, and then he started a vending and food service company. And when you grow up in the family business, you often find yourself working in the family business. In fact, I started when I was seven. My father used to pay me a nickel a case, now this was 1959, to put candy on the shelves. And then I would buy the candy from him and I would go and sell the candy in our neighborhood to our neighbor’s kids. So I sort of got two ways on that. But that’s how I started. And I did that sort of stuff as I was growing up. And when I was in high school, I had a band that I managed and I got us lots of gigs along the way. And I had some success doing the business thing while I was in high school and then while I was in college.
So I went to college. First two years, I didn’t do especially well. In fact, they kind of asked me to leave and I took two years off and went back to college with a lot more enthusiasm and discipline that has served me really well through today. And when I went back to college, I thought that I wanted to be a lawyer. And then I looked around, I said, “Gee, what do lawyers really do?” And I said, “I’m not really interested in serving people who are probably guilty.” So then I looked around, said, “Okay, I’m not going to go to law school, so what am I going to do?” And the family business was the path of least resistance.
But there was a bit of a problem with that. You see, my father and I were like oil and water, and after I worked for him for about two months, I was pretty sure I was going to be leaving the business and going off and doing something else, because I could not stand working with my father. And frankly he couldn’t stand working with me either. It was just, all we did was fight. He screamed at me on a regular basis and I just wanted to get away from that.
Well after a couple of months, he sent me up to a location, was about two hours away from our main operation. Said, “Look, I want you to figure out a way to close that down and get us out of there.” Instead of doing that, I went and picked up five accounts in a week. Went back to Glens Falls where our hometown was in New York State and my father said, “I don’t want to go to Plattsburgh anymore. You buy it from me.” Best thing that he ever did for me because for two reasons. One, it got me into my own business when I was 24 years old. And the second thing was, I got away from my father.
So that was kind of a good thing. So I was up in Plattsburgh, with myself and a part-time employee and we almost immediately picked up a very large account, the state university there. And then one of our competitors went bankrupt and we had the opportunity to buy them out. Now that was good news and bad news. The good news was, I went from a part-time employee the 25 employees overnight. The bad news was I was the absolute worst brat business owner of all times. I never took responsibility for anything that went wrong. I always justified my way through life. I blamed somebody else and I yelled at somebody every single day. Now why did I yell at somebody every single day? Well, that’s what I learned from my father. Now he didn’t yell every day, but everybody was always scared that he was going to yell all the time.
So, that was okay, as long I was around there and I could control everything. But about three years later after I went to Plattsburgh, we had an opportunity to buy a business across the lake in Burlington, Vermont. So then I went from one branch to two branches, and I can tell you for a fact, that if you abuse your employees, they will get back at you when you get a chance to. So when I had two branches, there are plenty of opportunities for them to abuse me because I only could be in one place at a time. Now during that period, I had lots of learning experiences and most of those learning experiences were not the most pleasant things. We almost went bankrupt. I had an embezzlement that was $300,000. People were turning over at a rapid rate. We had a person go out on workers’ compensation on purpose. It ended up costing me $100,000 or so because I didn’t understand how workers’ comps went.
The other thing that happened was with the second branch, it wasn’t twice as hard as having one branch. It was almost a hundred times harder because I had to systematize the business. I had to change my behavior. There are all these things that had to happen for us to exist. We did end up going on and prospering, but boy, that was a really hard part of the life. And I had to learn how to delegate. I didn’t know how and what I ended up doing was around five years, six years into the business, I ended up going to this new age seminar. And the new age seminar got me to look in the mirror and realize it wasn’t my employees that were the problem. It was me. I made every mistake in the book, but I learned from them all.
So what I had to do was I had to look in the mirror and I had to start taking personal responsibility for what was going on. Around that time, I also said, “I’m going to become a huge student of what makes a business successful.” I started reading a business book a week. I went and took tons of seminars. I learned finance, which I didn’t know because I was an American History major. So I went through all this work and I’ve been doing that for the last 40 years. So I’ve read over 2000 books on business. I’ve attended over 150 seminars. I have a lot of practical experience. And the truth is, that’s what made me where I am today.
So what I learned is that the mistakes I made along the way, although they were painful, I mean really painful, when I was making them, they were the best teacher of all. I’ve said this for years and years and years. You don’t learn by doing it right. You learn by doing it wrong. But only if you admit the mistake is your fault and if it’s not your fault, pretend it’s your fault. What’s the worst thing that can happen? People don’t really care if you make a mistake. What they really care about is when you make a mistake and you pretend it’s their fault that you made the mistake. Now, my first four or five years in business, that’s what I did. From then on, I tried to do my best and it took a long time from me to go blaming other people, to taking personal responsibility. It wasn’t a switch I did overnight. It took me a couple of years to get there and learn how to ask questions instead of tell and berate other people.
I’m still learning. I’m still obsessed. I still want to help other business owners and I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing. So, I would love to hear your story about how you ended up in business. Why don’t you scroll down and tell me your story, and while you’re at it, DOWNLOAD our Free eBook on the Myths of the Private Business Owner. You’re going to learn stuff that people think about private business owners, like you, and you’re probably going to say, you know something, that’s true, that’s not what I am. I’m this instead. There’s all these myths that exist around what it takes for a business owner to be successful. If you read my ebook, you’ll see some of the things that I’ve learned over the years.
So, this is Josh Patrick. You’re at the Sustainable Business. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon. And I hope you tell me some stories about how you got in business and what you’ve learned along the way.