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CEO Journal: Coming to Grips With Risk and Reward

“CEO Journal: Coming to Grips With Risk and Reward”

To build your company, you often have to grow personally. This department tracked three entrepreneurs’ journal entries through the first half of 2003. To display the other stories, enter “ceo journal” in the keyword search blank.

Kelsey August is founder of Lone Star Direct, a $2 million direct-marketing company in Austin, Texas, as well WorkplaceToolbox.com, a Web site that provides human-resources and management tools.

When I started Lone Star Direct in 1993, I was a perfectionist who was driven to succeed; failure didn’t even cross my mind. Little did I know that it isn’t until we succeed that failure is possible.

In college I had been taught to create a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). Mine was to be the youngest female to make the Inc 500 list. During my first five years, I worked harder — not smarter. I spent at least six days a week, 12 hours a day, trying to achieve my BHAG.

In the past decade I’ve learned how the state of one’s company can change drastically. You strive for the perfect mix of clients and recession-proof products. You think you’re doing all the right things — and then the human element goes to work. No one warned me about salespeople fudging lead-generation reports, a key executive not taking accountability or, worse yet, an employee becoming terminally ill.

Things changed for me — no more ego-driven goals, no more long hours. As a seasoned entrepreneur, I’m now looking for more security — and trying to have fun.

Today my BHAG is different: Instead of expanding my services or going after a different market segment, I want to create or find a product that Lone Star Direct can service. In essence, I want to provide the company with its most stable client.

I now have a healthy respect for failure. In my early years, I was too focused on obtaining my goals — and too exhausted — to fear anything. Then after being blessed with success for so long, I came face-to-face with failure last year. After riding the economic downturn, I was forced to downsize my staff. The thought of layoffs was debilitating. The best I could do was to give my staff 60-days notice.

Looking back, I regret getting so emotionally involved. I spent months feeling paralyzed. I thought that because it was my company, the layoffs were my fault. Now I know differently. I gave people wonderful opportunities for many years.

Leaders need to be fearless. We can’t let intimidating forces stop us.

Another recent change has been to delegate more responsibilities. I spent 10 years training and developing my staff. Both my controller and director of operations have been with Lone Star for more than eight years. Who better to pass on the duties to? It was time to let go. Delegating has been extremely liberating for me, although I felt some initial guilt about having them handle the big stuff while I was relaxing.

Today I’m no longer a slave to my company. I now have the time to be the visionary instead of getting bogged down in the details. It’s wonderful to know what the reward in the risk-reward equation feels like.