Four times when risk was rewarded


More than fifty years ago, key family members who owned a business worked with an advisor to develop a growth plan to expand their manufacturing facility. When the plan, including financial projections, was finished, they made an appointment with a loan officer of a major bank.

The loan officer took one look at the financial statements and told them to sell the assets and close the business because they would never make a go of it, despite having already been in business for more than a decade.

Wisely, they went elsewhere for a loan and different advice. That company now has fifth-generation members of the extended Goelitz family working in the business, with production facilities in California, Illinois, and since 2008, Thailand. The name of the firm is Jelly Belly Candy Company, known around the world.

The lesson learned: avoid naysayers and find other ways to make success happen.

In 1984, a man left his comfortable teaching position at a state university and headed into uncharted territory, selling franchises. He had never sold before, and he knew little about the franchising industry. He freely admitted that the first week and half of his new career were miserable; one reason was because he had never heard the word “no” so often in such a concentrated period of time.

On the tenth day of his new career, running late for an appointment, he fell into the mud wearing a brand new suit. He got so mad that he decided that if life was going to keep knocking him down, he was going to get right back up because he couldn’t go any lower than he was at that moment. If that was the worst thing that would happen to him, he could not only take it, he was going to prosper.

Tom Hill became a very successful RE/MAX regional owner and now teaches others about getting knocked down and the importance of getting right back up again.

His lesson learned: sometimes you need to get mad at yourself before things happen.

You start a business based on values and doing the right things the right way. When the company grows, it tends to become more bureaucratic and institutionalized, taking on the attributes and characteristics of larger, slower moving organizations.

Often, the small company loses its way when success comes. One owner fell into this trap, his business no longer fun or enjoyable. For the first time, he felt it was moving in the wrong direction, having lost sight of the core mission, vision and values.

The owner went back to school and studied theology instead of business. He rediscovered what kind of entrepreneur he wanted to be, and what kind of company he wanted to run for his customers, vendors and employees. What Tom Chappell discovered has now become Tom’s of Maine. The company had not previously been profitable in spite of being socially and environmentally responsible; but the refinement of the core values brought the company success beyond expectations. In 2006, Colgate-Palmolive paid $100 million for an 84 percent stake.

Tom’s lesson: a values-based business has a strong foundation that can be relied and built upon.

It took about 30 minutes for the two owners to come up with a name for their new business. As a start-up, there were some mean and lean days, weeks, and months. But the joy and satisfaction was in the faces of the owners when serving their customers, who became fanatical advocates.

At their very first strategic planning meeting, they set the goal to be best in their world: Arizona and Colorado. When they opened their tenth store, the old plan went out the window when expansion took them to Alaska.

Three years later, with 74 stores open, they set a goal of having one thousand profitable stores open in five years. That goal was achieved in June 2005, when number 1,000 opened in Columbus, Ohio.

Perhaps you have heard of Cold Stone Creamery; perhaps you’ve enjoyed their fine product and enjoyed how each item is individually crafted.

The lesson learned: if you think you are thinking big enough, think again, you probably aren’t.

These stories come from a wonderful book filled with inspiration, motivation and education: “Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur’s Soul.” It is a must read, filled with short stories that are both enjoyable and easy to read. I share them with you as you make plans for the next year, you might do so differently and have better results.

Ken Keller is an executive coach who works with small and midsize B2B company owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs. He facilitates formal top executive peer groups for business expansion, including revenue growth, improved internal efficiencies, and greater profitability. Please contact him at [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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