The O’Brien File

Born: Circleville, 1954

Education: Bachelor’s degrees in accounting and finance, MBA, The Ohio State University

First job: Working for Ashland in the accounting department

What is the greatest business lesson you’ve learned?

I think the greatest business lesson I’ve learned is never let your competitor get the customer that you don’t want to lose.

As I sat and watched some competitors as they got into trouble, they would analyze the situation, and a lot of times, they blame the customer because they’re too demanding or they just can’t meet their needs or do it at a profit, so they feel it’s necessary to relinquish that customer.

But, what I’ve found is that it’s so difficult to gain customers, the real objective is you need to find a way to run your business to truly meet the customers that you want to serve. That’s not to say you don’t ever lose a customer, because you do. Some of them you got, but they’re really not the customer you want to serve.

But those customers that are truly in your sweet spot, you’ve got to figure out a way to keep them with your business. Change your business to meet the customer demand, and don’t try to get the customer to accept the way you run your business.

What is the greatest business challenge you’ve faced?

Seems like every time I wake up, I get a new one. The one I face today is most important to me.

Whom do you admire most in business?

I admire the people that truly understand their customers and try to serve them, truly understand their people and try to help their people get better and improve the business. They’re not out trying to make a big deal about it. They’re just gutting it out, day-in and day-out, not looking for publicity, not trying to have the spotlight shown on them.

They’re doing it because they like it, love it, and they truly respect everybody around them and truly have a service mentality. There are a lot of people out there that you never read about.