People First, Profit Will Follow
The year was 1980—the year I founded my company. And, like many new business owners, I didn’t have a clear understanding of what was needed to grow a successful business. I thought that success would be determined by my technical skills and my willingness to wear the many hats of the typical shop owner. It wasn’t until I began to let go of trying to do everything that I realized that success is not just dependent on what I do, but by the collective work accomplished by the team. I eventually discovered that I was not the center of my universe. After a few years in business, I began the transition from simply owning a job to becoming a businessman. And, while technology has reshaped our industry throughout the years—and will continue to do so—there is one constant that will never change: success in business rests largely on the people you have assembled around you.
By the late '80s it was obvious that I was doing way too much. I looked at each role I had my hands on: shop foreman, service advisor, shuttle driver, bookkeeper to lot attendant. And, as long as I’m confessing all this to you, I need to disclose that I was also the shop’s maintenance person; making repairs to the bay doors, the slop sink and equipment. You name it, I did it. I was literally too busy to be successful.
In order to lead my company, I had to first clearly define my responsibilities. These are working on the business, recruiting and hiring the best employees, becoming a leader of people and making sure that my business was successful. I also needed to fulfill the obligation I had to my employees. I realized that this required a deep understanding that putting people first is the best strategy for success. This was difficult at first because it requires working on things that have no immediate impact on the business. Unlike working in the trenches and having your hands on everything, working as a businessperson means that you need to spend time building for the future. The things that are most important to your success in business are the things that have a payoff down the road.
I also clearly defined the duties I should not be doing and assigned those tasks to others. This is a critical step for any shop owner. Warren Buffett says that in order to be successful in whatever you do, it’s crucial to focus on the things that generates the greatest return and that you can’t do it all, and that means sometimes you have to say, “no.”
By the late '90s it became clear that the most valuable role I played in my business was that of coach. All the best marketing plans and the best business strategies mean nothing without a team of great people around you all pushing in the right direction. And that takes a strong leader. Not just a boss, but a leader. Leaders inspire people. Leaders get others to reach down deep inside themselves and perform at their best because they are aligned with the leader’s vision.
Leaders inspire others through praise and recognition for the work they do. When people feel their work matters, they have a purpose. People are motivated by the heart, not the wallet. That’s not to say earning a decent wage isn’t important. But a focus on money alone is not a strategy for success. Focus on people first and profit will follow.
Spend time with your employees. Get to know them as people, not just the role they have in your company. Find out what their dreams and goals are. And then find a way for others to achieve what they want out of life. People cannot be motivated until they realize that what they do every day helps them to achieve what they want in their personal life.
There are other people in our business world that we must never forget. And that’s our customers. If you were to ask me, who is more important, my employees or my customers? I would answer, “They are equally important.” You cannot have a successful business without the right employees and the right customers.
One last bit of advice I can give you is to focus on your success, no one else’s. Be very clear about the pathways you take and never forget about the obligation you have to others. Build a company culture of teamwork, quality and integrity. Focus on what’s in the best interest of the customer and the people around you. Put people first, and everything else will fall into place.