The real world explained for business critics


I run peer groups of business owners and CEOs. My clients are intelligent, articulate and committed individuals.

We meet each month for half a day. Each person who attends makes a sacrifice of time, money and in opportunity cost to attend. As I facilitate the meeting, I am well aware of all the things running through the minds of those seated around the table. Often, lengthy “to do” lists are scratched out during the course of our meetings.

Each person attends to learn, to grow their leadership skills, personally and professionally.

This is the time of year when generations of families watch the Frank Capra movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” on television. It’s also where people get the idea that business people are lying, conniving, sneaking and cutthroat, all because Mr. Potter is set up to demonstrate that owners are single-minded, greedy people, ready to stomp on the dreams of others or do what they can do keep others in their socio-economic places.

The men and women in my groups are special. They have taken great risks. Most of them left a high paying, perhaps secure position with pay and perks to venture out of Corporate America into the world of entrepreneurship.

These individuals see opportunities where others see nothing. They bet initially on themselves, and when their companies grew, they bet on those they add to the payroll.

I know more than a few owners who kept employees on the payroll long after the employee stopped making a significant contribution to the company.

Why did the owner make this decision? Perhaps a sense of loyalty and obligation for years of service; maybe the decision was made out of compassion because to let someone go in a bad economy might well mean the loss of a home or the dissolving of a family.

These kinds of decisions are quietly made every day. They don’t make the pages of the any paper and people don’t tweet about them.

Most owners work hard, put in long hours, and make contributions to their community in more ways than they understand. Yes, they pay taxes and owners vote in elections, but dollars are invested in hiring, buying goods and services and in buying and renting space.

Owners often serve on nonprofit boards and write checks to local causes. Or provide in-kind services.

It is easy to criticize owners; they can be an easy target. I heard a person say unkind things about a local company, punctuated with “They never give to the community!”

I have news for those with this attitude: if someone has a business in your community, they are contributing plenty each day before they open the doors. The utilities and services a business uses helps to provide plenty of jobs. Have you looked at your water, electric, telephone, cable or natural gas bills lately?

Most owners don’t take credit for their contributions. Most don’t seek attention. Some aren’t even aware of their impact. Many remain focused on clients; the management of scarce resources and making sure there is a profit to reinvest in growth.

Despite good and bad, owners rise early, work hard during long days and return home exhausted, often seven days a week.

On April 23, 1910, former president Teddy Roosevelt gave a 35 page speech titled “Citizenship in a Republic” at the Sorbonne in Paris.

This is the part most remembered—

‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’

In America today, everyone is a critic. Everyone has an opinion, even when they know absolutely nothing about the subject at hand.

Every one of our Founding Fathers was an entrepreneur of some type. These brave men risked all they owned, including their lives, when they signed the Declaration of Independence.

I’ve heard a lot of grumbling about the “evil corporations” in this country. Every one of those companies started out small and grew through hard work and by taking risks. If the so called “evil” people are referring are the profits that are generated or the ability to take advantage of a market opportunity or the ability to raise prices, the critics need to go back to school and take just a couple of business and economics classes to understand how the real world works.

Business owners risk everything by starting, growing and building a business. There is no group of people who know better than business owners about having no guarantees in life.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Support your local business owners.

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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