After 31 years
After 31 years in an Army uniform and over 20 in a 3-piece suit running businesses, it’s occurred to me that I’ve learned as much from that second experience than the first. People say working for the government and running a business are much different. They aren’t. Here’s what I learned in business I never knew while I was in the Army.
1. A consultant is someone who saves his client almost enough to pay his fee. I was a consultant. That’s how it usually works.
2. When times are bad, the real entrepreneur emerges. It’s the time to innovate and the time to take risks. We bought a good bit of Medicine Park during bad times; best investment I ever made.
3. Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny. Or they call it “bad luck”. It’s not. Businesses fail because they are poorly managed and survive and thrive when well managed with proper attention paid to costs and expenses. Labor forces fluctuate; it’s part of managements responsibility.
4. If you see a bandwagon, it’s too late. Success comes to those who anticipate or envision a trend. If it already exists, you’re too late to capitalize on it in almost every case. You don’t want to “climb on the bandwagon”, you want to build one of your own and let others climb aboard. That’s one way to get rich.
5. In your work, under promise and over perform. As consultants, my partner and I knew this was the way you please clients and gain renewals. Do better than they expect you to do. Better than you tell them you will.
6. The buck stops with the guy who signs the checks. In any business, at the end of the day the guy who signs the checks makes the decisions and pleases or displeases the employees. The guy who signs the checks is almost always the one who takes the risks. He’s entitled to the rewards, if there are any.
7. Inside every organization, there’s an old boy network. Or an old girl network. But usually, an old boy one. Fight it if you like; learn how to get inside it and you’ll succeed. Not all boys are in the old boy network. Some girls are.
8. Buy the cheapest house in the most expensive neighborhood. Finance it for 15 years and make double monthly payments. The big expensive house will come. And you will get rich, and be secure. Nothing spells security like escaping a mortgage.
9. Punctuality is one of the cardinal business virtues. Always insist on it from your employees. After a few failures, fire the outliers and move on to a punctual employee.
10. If it were easy to be a boss, everyone would be one. It’s hard to make good decisions, employ the right people, have a solid business plan, be sufficiently committed, and be in the right line of work. Not everybody can do that.
11. Leaders who ask the wrong questions get the wrong answers. Too many conversations in the work place are social and meaningless in terms of production. Good leaders ask tough questions and expect accurate and meaningful answers.
12. Leaders should never rush into confrontation. Take time to cool down, ask and receive answers, and don’t shoot the messenger. But if you have to confront, know exactly what you’re doing and what you expect or want from the confrontation.
13. An organization of one ancestry and race is weak. I never wanted diversity for the sake of diversity, I wanted it for the disparate views and experiences that diversity brings to our organizations. And diversity is not simply race or gender. It’s everything which gives us views based upon different experiences than our own. Perfect.
14. Sweat rules over inspiration. The ultimate key to success is often just plain hard work. Those who work the hardest, place the longest hours and sacrifice the most for the business are usually more successful than those who seek to achieve greater balance in their lives. So, if your goals are tied to success in business? Just work harder than everybody else.
15. You need a banker, a lawyer and a CPA. Get to know and select each before you need them. Expect to be sued, expect to need a lawyer you might have to pay more than your income justifies; and expect an audit by the IRS. Have the people already selected who are going to help you before you actually need the help.
16. Write like you speak. The legalese your lawyer writes for you is what the law requires. When you write, do it briefly, with clarity, and in terms the reader understands. Not like a lawyer.
17. Your income will be the average of your five closest friends. It’s a rule of thumb and says a lot about the social pattern in our society. In my experience, it’s very close to the truth.
18. Few people can achieve real and lasting success or “get rich” by conforming to “the system”. You must think of ways others don’t, take bigger risks than others are willing to take, and dedicate yourself to not conforming to the norm. Take the road less traveled and the unpredictable Y in the road.
19. Figure out what you want. Then figure out how to do it. Little is absolutely unachievable. It may take time; a lot of time, or it may come quickly. Have a detailed plan tiered to accomplishment of particular steps; not a required time line.
20. Every day work toward and get close to your end goal. See that end goal every morning when you get up and as the last thing you see before you sleep. Get closer every day. Soon you’ll be there.
Success in every endeavor is worth the hardship and pain of getting there. Just keep going.
Lee Baxter is a former commanding general of Fort Sill.