Elements of small business success – Part 1

Filled with the holiday spirit, we drove south on country roads listening to the blues of Sheryl Warner and the Southside Homewreckers. The Virginia countryside appeared wet and somber through sheets of pouring rain, but we had the roads to ourselves and I was able to take note of the scenery.

Beef cattle grazing on green hills alternated with isolated business enterprises, some bustling, some abandoned. After a while, my blogging instinct was aroused by the endless panorama of prosperous farms and business interspersed with failed farms and abandoned commercial buildings.

I decided to see what elements were common to successful enterprises and which were common to failing enterprises. After several hours and more than a hundred miles of weed-filled parking lots and broken windows, no single factor stood out, but I was beginning to see some interesting relationships.

It was easy to see which businesses had failed because they were bypassed by new highways, but I couldn’t see a visible cause for so many prosperous looking farms being left shuttered and vacant.

Prosperous businesses and farms, on the other hand, all gave the impression that a strong personality was in control. Everything about these successful places showed a kind of extreme focus that other enterprises lacked. Many were neat and tidy, but some appeared cluttered.

What I saw in those business that succeeded, whether junk yards, lumber mills, or manufacturing plants, was that everything in sight would make money for the company. Everything that was visible had a clearly understandable purpose. That alone would support the idea that someone was firmly in charge of the operation and oversaw every detail.

From my own experience, I know that strong personalities are not always successful, nor are they always pleasant to work for. On the other hand, I have never encountered a successful business of any size that did not have a strong personality in charge. When the person in charge is also a sane and social individual, the company prospers and is a great place to work.

Ron Assaf, President of Sensormatic Electronics, was one of these people and it was a great pleasure to work for him. I wish I had worked for more companies that were run by people of his caliber. I have worked for many managers who were sane and social individuals, but we often worked for top executives who didn’t have both oars in the water.

So, if strong personalities at the top are an essential component of business success, what are the other essential components?

I decided to find some successful small business owners and see what I could learn. The reason for focusing on small/micro businesses is that is where my interests lie and where much of our nation’s economic growth is going to come from.

Stay tuned for results from several interesting interviews.               

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