Bitter-Sweet-Laughable-and Everything In Between (by Mark St.Cyr)

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Whether you’re a veteran entrepreneur or just making the plunge one thing will remain constant. You’ll have a lifetime filled with moments of reflection in self-analysis. Some will come out of the blue years or even decades later that will make you stop, think, and ask yourself;  “Was that the right decision at the time or not?” A truly informative, and useful self-analysis should also include this question answered honestly; “Would I make the same decision today if all I knew was what I knew then?”

Woulda, shoulda, coulda, is for amateurs and parlor game discussions. Shoulda bought shares in Apple® at $60.00 then you coulda sold them at $600.00 and you woulda made a killing is worthless chatter. If something you invested in went to ZERO and you lost a near fortune would you have still made the same decision based on what you knew then is more relevant, and useful. Sometimes knowing that yes you would, or no you wouldn’t and why is the only significant question to be answered regardless of the final outcome. I have done this countless times over my career. It never ends.

Entrepreneurialism is a way of life, a mind-set. You can be employed by someone else yet still be an entrepreneur. In my view it’s the business of you! Regardless of the name on your check. When you take ultimate responsibility of where and how your going to work, and under what conditions, in my book you’re an entrepreneur with the proper mind-set. Forget about text-book definitions for the moment because for me most books on business aren’t worth jack.

I had one of these such moments today with something that happened over 20 years ago. This is a little lengthy post but in view of the summer doldrums I just thought I’d share it at length.

Years back I had just sold my business and went back to work for a company that groomed me and gave me opportunities to become much of what I am today. It was more than a company to me, they became my adopted family. Yet it was the time of financial crisis with the S&L scandals happening everywhere and banks and business were closing left and right much like we see today. As circumstances emerged that were unknowable or even correctable by us the company was forced to close and I found myself out of work, and unemployed within a year of selling my building and business. I was frustrated, mad, and a few other emotions all rolled in at the same time.

So I set my sights on the #1 company in my profession. If I was going to prove to myself I was any good I wanted to be associated with a company so large that it dwarfed anything I had ever been associated with. Safety in size I believed then. I had been working in the equivalent of a grade school play. They were “Broadway” the big time and had just recently been bought out by an even bigger company. I knew nobody that could help me get in so I did the unthinkable. I circumvented everything and anyone whom could have stood in my way (HR to be exact) and directly called the person whom could hire me and nearly demanded that he speak with me about possibly hiring me. (Call it a sales pitch) He reluctantly agreed.

When I walked in for my interview I had to cross a sales floor approximately an acre in size with hundreds of salespeople desk to desk in what looked like an ocean of people. I never seen anything like it and nearly rescinded my appointment out of sheer panic as I was escorted through to his office. My pitch was simple. I would bring in only new business, be paid solely based on commission of 1 cent per pound sold, and only paid on actual dollars collected. If they didn’t get paid for any reason, I didn’t get paid.

No one ever made such an offer, (based on the math alone it seemed like inevitable starvation to everyone) yet there I was a nobody making my pitch to someone overseeing his sales staff of this one department of $500 million dollars in annual sales. The other division that handled the produce side also did a little more than $500 million. So the combined area division I was applying to work within was just over a BILLION dollars in yearly sales. And this was only the New England division. They were a national organization. His answer? “OK, let’s see if you can do what you think you can.” I was in, but that’s not the end of this tale.

After 12 weeks I received a call from him stating he needed to speak with me at his office. (They were in Rhode Island I was just outside Boston MA.) As I sat he told me that the accounting department is up in arms because they tallied my expected yearly earnings based on my current sales. I was going to earn more than the President of that division. I was not only producing, I was producing far above what anyone thought was possible, and I was just getting started.

He himself was ecstatic for me and applauded me, but accounting would have none of it. They said; “If we do this with him, everyone will want the same deal.” He told them they should. His answer to this was; “Anyone whom wants to give up their salary, start from zero, be commission only, and incur all their own costs we should not only say yes to in a heart beat, but should encourage it company wide.” They wouldn’t listen. They demanded if I wanted to stay on they were willing to make me an employee an offered me a generous salary. If not then everything would be terminated as of now. He was outraged.

The salary was more than I ever made on salary, The alternative was I would once again be unemployed but now with no unemployment benefits available to apply for. My answer? To him I expressed my complete gratitude and thanked him for taking the chance on me to begin with. Then I told him to tell them to “Stick it!” He laughed and agreed with my answer. He also confided to me that this brought to light things that made him question his own situation and if he himself should stay.

Within a year of this incident he would also leave to take the helm at a competitor. He crushed them. Within one year this division went from half a Billion dollars in yearly sales to less than half and has never recovered. That company was SuperValu®. What brought all this back are the headlines involving them today. The financial outlets are a buzz for reasons they would rather not see. If a picture tells a thousand words than below is an encyclopedia of what happens when the wrong departments are allowed to make important decisions.

“Been Down so long..Down is looking Up”

So the question stands. After all the headaches and turmoil I went through after my experience there, would I still make that same call and decision to go there based on what I knew then as compared to what I know now?


© 2012 Mark St.Cyr