Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:28 pm
I have often said that successful business owners are artists. Several years ago, I was called by a small-business owner enthusiastic about having me participate in his corporate strategic planning process.
After he told me about his company (let’s name it, "Company A") and some of the challenges the partners were facing, I decided to accept his invitation for an engagement.
Company A was a small, family-owned business with 80% of its revenue coming from Company B, a large corporation with plants and facilities throughout the world. The partners had inherited the company from their father. Company A had achieved sales of a little more than $2 million during each of the last six years.
Since the founding of Company A, the strong alliance between the two companies had enabled the owners of Company A to maintain a nice standard of living for their families. Albeit totally independent, the smaller firm operated more or less as a subsidiary of Company B.
With only 20 employees, strict budget control measures and a long-term contract with Company B, the firm had been financially stable for an extended period of time.
During my first meeting with the principals, I learned that the two partners had modest financial requirements and that they were not particularly driven to further develop their company. For years, they had been quite comfortable with modest growth stemming from orders from the occasional new customer. They were content to be dependent upon Company B.
Further, the partners professed to work well together and said that their relationship was strong. "Why was I being engaged?" I wondered.
I soon learned why I had been called upon for advice and counsel. Apparently, neither of the partners really enjoyed spearheading or managing the development of the company. One was an academic type with a pleasant personality, considerable financial astuteness and a high command of the English vocabulary. The other was an outstanding applications engineer, yet he had little or no interest in marketing or management of the company.
The problem: both partners had become bored with their work at their own company. They recognized that their company was beholden to Company B, but they lacked the motivation to do what was necessary to further develop their company. They didn’t want to sell the company, nor did they want to incur the expense of hiring a full-time development person.
In recent years they had talked candidly for hours and hours about this dilemma, but they had effectively taken no action to change the course of their company’s journey. They had called me to facilitate the communication between them and to help them make some decisions about their lives and their company’s future.
I started my work with the owners of Company A with an exploration of each of their personal dreams and ambitions, and I then proceeded with the usual SWOT analysis for their company.
During this process, I noticed that the only time that any genuine enthusiasm was shown was when I asked them about the income their company had received in recent years for services provided to some of their smaller customers.
Their enthusiasm was related to consulting work done to assist the owners of other small manufacturing concerns. Because of the solid processes and systems in place at Company A, they had from time to time been asked to provide advice and guidance for other small manufacturing firms.
After considerable thought, I came to the next planning meeting with a suggestion that proved to be valuable. At the beginning of the meeting, I suggested they had a problem associated with the mission of their company, as they had defined it to be years ago and left it unchanged. I suggested that Company A was simply a tool for what they both really wanted to do for their livelihoods – consult!
Their success at building a well-run manufacturing firm, together with their educational backgrounds, interests and capabilities made for an attractive array of credentials. And they had already established a track record in consulting with some of their smaller customers.
I suggested that they draft a new mission for the company calling upon them to continue to grow their company prosperously, but not only as a manufacturing firm, but rather as a manufacturing firm with a consulting division having its own strategic plan and its own revenue goals.
When I presented these observations and suggestions, they were enthusiastically received by both of the principals. I had hit upon something at the core of their impasse.
Now, they needed to make an important decision … How to begin changing their company through a plan to diversify into the consulting services industry.
The partners in Company A selected a sound plan of action. They elected to invest time and money to promote and grow their company’s consulting capabilities and their manufacturing capabilities.
To allow them to contribute time to the development of their consulting services division, they elected to reinvest in their manufacturing affairs and hire a general manager for their manufacturing operations.
Since our meetings, Company A has achieved growth. This is not totally the result of the intervention described above, but in part because of this intervention. One partner has become a speaker at a variety of events in the area, a testament to both his credentials as a manufacturer and presenter.
The partners in Company A have acquired a variety of new consulting engagements, and the manufacturing arm of their company has added two new customers. Perhaps more importantly, the owners of Company A are now going to work each day with newfound enthusiasm.
Being a small-business owner is no easy task. Sometimes it’s difficult for an owner to come to work feeling good about the business venture in which they are involved, regardless of the success they have achieved. People change.
For small-business owners, reshaping the mission of their company to reflect their changing interests can be a major factor in assuring ongoing growth and development for years to come. A company’ assets can be seen as a ball of clay dependent upon leadership to sculpt it and carry it to the marketplace to achieve a profit. The right to re-sculpt is not just a privilege of business ownership, but a responsibility gladly assumed by astute leadership.
Richard Hellan is president of Hellan Associates, an executive coaching firm headquartered in Milwaukee. Hellan also is a managing partner of Strategic Alliance India, a sourcing and alliance development company in Milwaukee.
He can be reached at (414) 540-0160.
Rethink the mission
When business owners find themselves lacking enthusiasm in running the day-to-day affairs of their companies, here are some tips to rekindle the flame.
1. Begin annual strategic planning with a "clean slate." Insist that the
company’s mission is critically analyzed each year and reshaped to reflect the
owner’s current vision and interests. There should be no "sacred cow" in the
in this important part of the planning process.
2. Seek the assistance of an executive coach or a trusted advisor. If you are hesitant
to be completely honest and candid with someone you have gone to in the past, find a new resource you can trust completely.
3. Take advantage of the wide variety of roundtable groups and forums for business owners. Often, the first step in getting through an impasse is learning from others who have been faced with a similar challenge in the past.
4. Take a vacation. Sometimes, "getting away from it all" provides for an opportunity for self-reflection, a gain of insight and spiritual renewal.
5. Examine the personal and corporate benefits that could be achieved by hiring additional key people who can bring new contributions to your company’s development.
May 14, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI