A few years ago, I had a conversation with a client who, years earlier, had left a very promising corporate career to branch out on his own and start a business.
By the time I met him he had assembled an international organization doing business in 12 countries, employed more than 2,500 people and was in the process of beginning two new start-ups in different industries.
I listened carefully as he told me the story of how he had built such a successful organization and why, at this stage of his life, he was venturing out into new territories and risking much of his hard-earned wealth.
To this day, whenever I think back to this conversation, his answer to my next question always brings a smile to my face.
I asked him what had prompted him to walk away from a position that had him on a trajectory to the top.
Moment of Truth
He explained that he had spent 21 years working for a large, multinational, family-owned business and had risen to the point where he had become the most senior non-family member of the organization.
The owner, grandson of the founder, had called him into his office for a meeting where he had outlined lavish plans for the future growth of the company. These plans included significant real estate acquisitions and many other tangible assets.
Accomplishing this plan would have required my client to massively increase his contribution to the company by way of time and effort and, if successful, the wealth of the family would be magnified six fold.
With a smile on his face his boss had pointed to the map showing all the locations where he wished to grow his business and acquire assets and then had looked at my client. “If you work with really, really hard, one day all of this will be mine.”
Later that evening, as he sat at home long after his family had gone to bed, he reflected on the conversation and particularly that statement. While he understood that the comment was meant as a joke it brought home to him the realization that if he truly wanted to be compensated for what he was worth, to get there he would have to walk away from the security he presently enjoyed and risk everything he had worked for.
He thought of all the wonderful experiences he had enjoyed over the years with this company and the friendships he had made. He also thought of the challenges when, at times in the past, the survival of the company had been in doubt and he, like all other employees, had accepted pay cuts.
He remembered the hours away from his family, the missed kid’s recitals and soccer matches and asked himself whether he wanted to continue this lifestyle in return for a paycheck, the size of which would always be determined by others.
That night he chose to do what many others have contemplated, yet never do. He decided to honour his family in the best way knew how by going into business for himself where they could all share in the rewards of his success and would all bear the burden should he fail.
Time to Start a Business
The next evening, he assembled his family and shared his plans to start a business with all of them. His wife was, understandably, filled with doubt and concern while his children, 11 and 13, urged him to “go for it, dad.”
His boss was stunned when, the next morning, he informed him that he was leaving the company and warned him that he would soon be back begging for his old job.
He described to me the size of the knot in his gut when he walked out of that building for the last time and yet he knew he had made the right decision.
The next four years were “hell on earth.” The first year after he chose to start a business, losses equaled his initial investment. In the second year he was forced to sell his house and move his family into a small rental apartment. In the third year and managed to barely break even in the fourth year he showed a small profit.
But his conviction that he had done the right thing never wavered and his family never lost faith in him and never pressured him to give up.
And then it all came together. After that point the business began to grow and prosper and has never slowed down. He still works harder than anyone else in the company but, as he explained, he also earns the biggest rewards.
He is also acutely aware that he is responsible for the livelihoods of 2,500 people and it is his responsibility to ensure that 2,500 mortgages are paid every month.
His employees share significantly in the profits of his company and he has personally helped more than 50 of them leave the company to start their own businesses. Many of those new businesses obtain their initial financing directly from him.
He is a humble man and when I asked permission to write this blog he agreed on the sole condition that he not be identified. He does not see himself as unique or special but rather as a person who pursued a dream by risking everything he had in order to gain everything he dreamed.
What he did is not for everyone but those of us who do have private-sector jobs must remember that the jobs we have are all the result of people like him for they are the folks who started the businesses so many of us who work for today.
And those folks are the heroes we should all be inspired by.
Till we read again.