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Marconi: Reality Check

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Last September, a good friend of mine (we’ll call him Jim), received troubling news from his doctor. Jim, a shop owner, was diagnosed with a serious intestinal infection that would require surgery.

Although the first surgery was scheduled for mid-October, the infection got much worse and within a week he was rushed to the hospital to undergo emergency surgery. As the nurses were attending to him he could hear the surgeon pleading with his team, “Let’s get him into surgery now or we’re going to lose him!” Jim realized at that moment how serious this was. Jim would require another surgery within three months to complete the repairs to his large intestines. He was sidelined for more than three months, and it will take at least a year for him to fully recover.

A few weeks after his second surgery the reality of life and business began to flood back in. Jim was not the same person he was before his illness and he began to set new goals and new priorities. He’d been lucky for decades; he rarely got sick and always had the energy that was required to run a 10-bay repair shop. He also had solid systems and policies in place, along with a well-trained staff, and clearly defined job descriptions. While the business did not have banner months in his absence, it did survive. What did not survive was Jim’s desire to put in those 12-hour days anymore.

I took Jim to lunch last week to catch up on things. Jim revealed to me that as he was being wheeled into the operating room for the first surgery, his business never entered his mind. For the first time in more than 30 years, his focus was on two things only—surviving the surgery and his family. He did a lot of thinking after his surgeries. Mostly about life.

Jim’s situation made me think about other shop owners. Would their business survive without them if they were sidelined for an illness or something worse? Would your business survive? We never know when life will throw us a curveball. Just look at what COVID-19 did to so many businesses. Being prepared for the unexpected is your responsibility not only to your business and your employees, but more importantly, to your family.

Jim did a good job preparing his business to run without him. So, while he was recovering, the business operated just fine in his absence. However, he realized that preparing his wife and family is equally important, if not, more important. Jim quickly worked on all the things that mattered to his wife and family—things like adequate life insurance, disability insurance, and an updated will. He also wanted to make sure his wife and family had access to his phone, bank accounts, laptop, email account—essentially, a written plan to not only ensure that the business would continue in his absence, but a plan to ensure that his wife and family were well-prepared and protected also.

As a business coach, I’m in contact with a lot of shop owners and I tip my hat to them each and every day. They are among the hardest working people on the planet. Their commitment to their craft, their community, to their employees, and their business should be admired and respected. While I want to see shop owners achieve success in their business, they must realize that their business must never consume them, but serve to enhance their life and the lives of others around them.  

Shop owners: Understand that the balance between business and life needs to be weighed more to your life than to your business. Spend time away from the bays and the day-to-day operations and get into your office to work on creating a plan (or updating your plan) that will prepare both your business and your family should anything happen to you. Get your life in order. Speak to an attorney, a financial advisor, your business coach, your accountant, and other key advisors about how to properly prepare for unforeseen events. I know many of you reading this are young and may not see this as something immediate, but we’ve all heard stories about serious things happening to people of all ages.

At lunch with Jim, he told me the advice he now gives to others. “The automotive business can be truly rewarding. Work hard. Build your empire. But always remember the thing that matters the most. Life itself.” His words reminded me of a quote by author Harold Kushner, “No one ever said on their deathbed, ‘I wish I had spent more time at work.’”

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