It takes a lot to impress a journalist-at least this one. I'm skeptical by nature. I roll my eyes at executives who boast about doubling company revenues every year, but won't produce concrete numbers to back up those assertions. I loathe talking with self-absorbed business leaders who throw their credentials around and name-drop in a fruitless effort to dazzle me. It doesn't work. In fact, I find it rather disgusting.
I relish the business owner who is confident enough to cough up the details. I admire the ones who are so secure in their achievements that they'll admit their own fallibility, who aren't ashamed to bare the scars they've suffered on their entrepreneurial journey. To me, those are the genuine signs of success.
This summer, I stumbled across one such character-a business owner whom I fully expected to be cocky and armed with elaborate stories about his company's flawless growth pattern. After all, he'd won plenty of awards and even attracted national media attention for it. His ego just had to be inflated. Nevertheless, his company's ever-growing revenue figures made him a perfect source for an article I was pursuing, so I swallowed hard and set up the interview.
When I arrived at his place of business nearly an hour late (thanks to a missed turn and my keen inability to allow enough time to get anywhere in this town in the late afternoon), I was sure he'd be in prime form-rude and indignant at best, calling off the interview at worst. I certainly would've understood; I was shamefully late. As I waited for him to appear, I prepared to grovel. I hated the thought of having to kiss this guy's butt.
I never had to. I was stunned.
Even though he was ready to wind down his workday, even though he had plans for the evening, even though I'd kept him waiting, Bob Juniper never made me work to win him over. In fact, he freely talked about Three-C's aggressive, but near-fateful, growth spurt. When I prodded him for more details about how he lost control and how far behind he fell financially, he held nothing back. We talked until well after closing time. I was in awe.
This guy is not the egotistical, in-your-face jerk his ads had led me to believe. He's personable, intelligent, confident-but not in any way arrogant about his success. Perhaps that's because he knows how close he once was to having it all slip away.
Bob has clearly learned from that experience, too. Three years ago he didn't have the slightest notion how to gauge the financial health of his company. Now he can rattle off the past eight years of Three-C's revenue and profit figures from memory.
He knows he's successful today because he acknowledged his errors and did something to correct them. He's not afraid to share his story either. Maybe his raw honesty will help others realize what ugliness can emerge when rapid growth gets away from you. Perhaps other business owners will be able to avoid the well-meaning, but dangerous, actions that led Bob's company into a sea of red ink.
Nobody told him what to expect when he pulled into the fast lane. I bet he wishes someone had. I sure wish someone had told me what to expect from Bob. I would've done this story months ago.
Nancy Byron, editor of SBN Columbus, welcomes your comments by fax at (614) 842-6093 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.