Words of wisdom Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008
Words of wisdom

Tom Jackson enjoys the freedom that comes with running his own business.

But, he says, there is also a responsibility that goes hand in hand with that freedom.

“Most business owners like the flexibility and the opportunity to make good money,

but if you don’t have a plan in place, that’s going to dry up and you won’t have those benefits,” says the co-founder and CEO of Jackson Systems LLC, an HVAC manufacturing and distribution company.

To help him create that executive game plan, Jackson meets every other week with a business coach.

Smart Business spoke with Jackson about how those meetings — and the lessons he’s learned from them — have helped him grow his business to 2007 revenue of $8.2 million.

How does having a business mentor help you become a better leader?

You sit down together, and the coach’s questions drag things out of you. It makes you realize that if you don’t get your act together here, it’s not going to be a good thing.

My business coach is very into all of the proper things, whether that’s developing long-term goals, mission statements or core values statements. While sometimes people don’t like all that touchy-feely stuff, it makes you think about what you want to do. It doesn’t have to be touchy-feely if you don’t want it to be, but it makes you think about the long-term goals of the company, and that’s probably the most important thing.

In my case, I met my business coach through a colleague here at work, and the relationship developed that

way. My business coach is a small business owner himself, so he has a lot of knowledge to draw upon. Just sitting

down with him and having him ask me a series of questions is a good deal, and sometimes he has a specific topic that we cover, like increasing sales or how to develop the culture at work.

Having someone there to ask you questions, someone who’s an outside sounding board, is really important because

that person’s not there at your company every day, and that person can give you a different perspective over what everyone else in the operation sees.

What lessons have you learned to help you grow your company?

Have your goals written out — people who write out their goals are much more successful than those who don’t have them articulated on a piece of paper.

It’s just the power of the mind. If you take the time to write down the goals, and you review them every once in awhile, your mind just automatically starts working on those things. It knows that is the ultimate endgame, that you’re trying to get to this goal.

The other thing I’ve learned is being smart about borrowing money. We’re not over-borrowed in any way, but one of my goals within the next few years is to have no debt.

If times get bad and you have no debt, it’s a good thing. But, if times are really good and you want to grow the company a lot more, if you’re not saddled with a bunch of debt, you can grow even quicker.

Smart debt management is a key thing. The best thing that we’re doing is tracking it every day. My chief operating officer wrote scripts that automatically generate all of this data for me; every morning I get a dashboard report e-mail that shows me exactly how much money we have borrowed, our accounts receivables and our accounts payables.

We have very defined goals on how much debt we’re trying to get paid down each year, and it all ties back in. If you have the goal and you’ve written it down and everyone knows what those goals are, you start working toward that.

How do you share those goals with your employees?

Every quarter, we have a company staff meeting, and we have these little booklets that are our 10-year road map that we read together. It’s our mission, our values, our strategic position, our target customers, our themes and all of our visions.

We go through those every three months so everyone is in tune with what we’re trying to do. It’s got an objective of lowering debt, and we talk about how we’re doing. I don’t put up a bunch of financials for them to try to figure out, but everyone in the company knows that we’ve got money borrowed, and they know it’s one of our goals to lower the amount of money. Everyone knows what our sales objectives are and who we want our core customers to be.

In the beginning, there were a lot fewer people in our business so it wasn’t as big a deal to share those goals. It shows them that we’re sincerely interested in moving everyone forward in a positive way. It allows our employees to advance their careers and get raises and bonuses.

HOW TO REACH: Jackson Systems LLC, (888) 652-9663 or www.jacksonsystems.com