Quick Links: Return to Plain Talk from Ed Lowe

You set the pace for employees

It may just be me, but I think that entrepreneurs make lousy golfers. I’ve tried golf, but I feel like the time spent playing 18 holes — plus that extended 19th one at the end — is better spent elsewhere. I even built a golf course on my Big Rock Valley estate, complete with inverted pickle barrels for cups to accommodate my atrocious putting, but I hardly ever take the time to use it, except for occasionally entertaining my distributors and salespeople. Though everyone needs to kick back once in awhile, you can’t effectively run a business from the country club or beach.

Heart and soul

“Run” is the operative word here. Entrepreneurs and business owners aren’t always the same thing. While each may hold title to a company, the firm itself will have an equally tight grip on the entrepreneur. An entrepreneur may work long weeks and carry big debts, but there’s nowhere in the world he or she would rather be. Not only money, but heart and soul ride with the enterprise.

Some people are more interested in accumulating wealth than in building a successful business. Minding the store is a chore to them, unless it’s to stop in and collect the week’s receipts. The personal enrichment of the business journey means little; they just want to get to the pot of gold at the end. And sometimes even the most dedicated entrepreneur can burn out. At that point, many of them may sell their company, take a breather and start something new.

Making money is certainly not a crime, or else I’m a very dangerous criminal! But don’t forget that your behavior sets the tone for your entire organization. And while I can’t guarantee that your employees will emulate your every minute at the grindstone, I’ll bet the farm that if you’re goofing around, everyone else is going to slack off as well.

Making it happen — or not

I saw a successful, 100-year-old family business collapse under owner apathy. The founder’s grandson was interested in little more than supporting his ritzy lifestyle, and everyone knew it. The marketing team finally dragged him into a major strategy session, which he opened by huffing that it was cutting into his ski trip to Aspen. After an hour of watch glancing, he cut the meeting short by declaring that he had a plane to catch, and the staff could do whatever they wanted. They did exactly that, following the owner’s example and skipping work. Within a year, the once-strong company went belly-up and was acquired at a fire-sale price by a competitor.

For me, I’ll take a pathetic golf handicap over a dysfunctional company. To tell you the truth, what I really enjoyed was making my golf course. I have this old bulldozer on my property, and moving earth around is more my idea of a good time. I feel like I’m really making something happen.

But like most entrepreneurs, I have the most fun at work. From developing new products, to meeting customers and building plants, I truly get a kick out of running a company. I can’t relate to business people who achieve moderate success, then rest on their laurels. The more I’ve accomplished, the more doors have opened for new possibilities. My work is more energizing than draining, and it is never boring.

If you can’t say the same, perhaps you should cash in your chips and move on to something else. Because employees will always match your effort when it’s nothing.

This column is one in a series that will explore the thoughts, ideas and unadorned advice of an entrepreneur who made it, Edward Lowe. When he “brought the cat indoors” with a revolutionary cat-box filler, Kitty Litter, he created an industry that changed the lives of millions of cat lovers, not to mention cats. During his life, Ed Lowe used “plain talk” to speak about the bottom line from the bottom of his heart. We believe these writings, revised and updated after his death, offer value for both your business and personal life.

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