I’ve had an interesting week meeting and talking with directors of private companies. A real mixture of small and medium-sized businesses: retailers, manufactures, brand owners, financiers and service providers.
And the directors themselves have been a mixed bunch: young and driven, older and more circumspect. Some struggling from payroll to payroll, others generating strong cash profits as the business is mature and they’ve stopped investing.
Given that the common element in running a business is the profit motive, the thing that struck me about all of them is just how widely differing their other needs were from their businesses.
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Here’s a flavour of the things said, or often just alluded to, by some of these directors:
“I had no job, and no money after an overseas trip, and my friend’s dad found me a job in the warehouse. That was nine years ago and now I am the MD, bought equity and want to grow it to $40 million in the next five years.” – Thirty-something female MD in retail distribution.
“I was 53 when l lost my job running six factories across Australia in a restructure. I bought a small company, it went backwards, then forwards and it’s now debt free. I need to retire in six years’ time, and need to think about selling it.” – 61-year-old male MD in import trading company.
“I bought this business form my dad. It took 10 years to buy him out. It’s doubled in size in that time, and now it funds me and my family’s life.” – 38-year-old male MD in a production company.
“I’m 72. Retired from this business eight years ago, and the dividends allow me to travel with my grandkids. It’s good to stay involved though.” – 72-year-old non-executive director of a food company.
Now each of these directors of each of these companies has one thing in common. They own it or some of it. But depending on their phase in life, they look for different things from it: growth, wealth creation and excitement; stability and ease; consistency of income with less risk.
One of the first questions I ask of anybody who asks me for advice on or input into their business is: “What do you want from your business?” There is usually a long pause, as it sounds at first blush to be a dumb question. “A job with an income?” My answer is: “No, you chose for it to be more than that when you bought equity in it.”
You see you can walk away from a job. You can call a recruiter or jump online and look for a new job if this one isn’t enjoyable or if a better one comes along. But you can’t easily walk away from ownership of equity, or director’s responsibilities. They are a legacy or lag to any decision you make.
But with that responsibility comes a different kind of choice. The choice to create your “job” around your own needs at each chapter of your own in life. It’s a nice choice to have.
Kevin Moore is a retail expert and the chairman of Crossmark Asia-Pacific Holdings.