Posts Tagged: entrepreneur of the year


Why Aren’t there Entrepreneurial Olympics?

August 1st, 2012

So, I am sitting with my family watching the opening ceremonies Friday evening (I think I am the only one I know that liked it…must be that strange, British wit!) and I kept thinking about all of the human interest stories about the athletes.  I thought about their struggles…family sacrifices…the long hours training…the obstacles overcome…and the incredible courage it takes to truly be the best in the world.  I find that is truly the best part of the Olympic experience.

All of us can identify with the moms sitting on the edge of their seats wringing their hands in agony as they watch their sons and daughters compete! Or the sense of pride that wells up inside us when our country earns a medal.  There is an emotional connection to the athlete.  All of us seem to identify at some level to the people…badminton or air rifles? Not so much.

This got me thinking about business and the world that entrepreneurs enter every day.  There aren’t any “Entrepreneurial Olympics”, but, there should be.  Yes, there are growth awards, there are special lists for your company in your industry, and you can even become Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2010, I was the Entrepreneur of the Year, and the hardest part of the whole thing was to bring the story of my success to life. My journey up to that moment  had been embroiled in so much risk.  My first office was a coat closet. My first desk, a card table. No customers. Little kids at home. A wife counting on me. Long, arduous days. Shifts in the marketplace. The emotional toll of the terrorism on 9/11. Not to mention the unexpected challenges of IT failure, theft, and flooding on the new furniture – and this was just during my first month!

I can just imagine what would happen if Bob Costas were to interview me or another entrepreneur.  Bob would ask, “How did you continue to train 14 to 16 hours a day while knowing you had put a second mortgage on your home?  What was it like to grow a business from an idea and attract that first, second or third employee to your vision?”, or maybe, “What is it like on Sunday nights when you need to meet payroll?  Does that feeling ever go away and how do you manage that anxiety when you lead and direct?” 

Would the interviews be as riveting?  Would you well up with emotion the way we do for Olympians? If you think, “Eh, maybe not”, I have some zingers for you. Like when our office caught fire and flooded on Super Bowl Sunday a few years back. How I almost lost everything, AGAIN! Video footage would help but, frankly, I am not sure if folks would get it or like it! Pop culture does not quite understand the life of an entrepreneur (unless your family has or is one!) but we all should try.

There are so many parallels, so many comparisons, so much in common between athletes and entrepreneurs.  The odds are steep. The time commitment is exhaustive.  The accolades and medals?  For professional athletes, there is a wide range of possibilities even outside of Olympic medals. For entrepreneurs? Well, they are earned only by a few.

The Olympic metaphors are so much an entrepreneur’s life story:

  • Like athletes, most entrepreneurs do not make the “games”.  So few make it to one year, five, or ten!
  • Athletes and entrepreneurs must train to win,  the athletes that don’t medal seem to lose their focus and routine.  Same for entrepreneurs.  Focus, priorities, and routine are critical to maximizing energy and using limited resources to get the result you want!
  • Playing the sport is all that matters. The lessons learned about yourself, about competition, self esteem and confidence, being a part of a team all apply to small business.  Without them no one earns a spot on the medals stand.

Now imagine your own interview with Bob. Or better yet, put yourself on the podium with flowers in hand, a gold medal around your neck and your company’s logo flying high above you as its raised above your head in flag-form. What would that be like as an entrepreneur?

“I would like to thank my mom…

Guest Post: What does it mean to be entrepreneurial?

March 30th, 2011

Chris, the Outside-In Guy: I often talk about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur or offer my advice on entrepreneurial endeavors, but today I’d like to offer another view. Let me introduce Kelly Hocutt, an employee of mine who has always had an interest in entrepreneurship and came to CBI Group because our culture encourages everyone to be entrepreneurial.

I have had the unique opportunity of not only working for Chris at CBI Group, but also working for his father, Alan Burkhard, a serial entrepreneur. Alan has long been a mentor for me and I thank him for fueling my interest in entrepreneurship. At a young age I would bounce my business ideas off him and as I got older, I started to ask questions and request more stories about his work and philosophy. Then one day in 2009, Alan asked if I would be interested in shadowing him for a week to see what the life of an entrepreneur is like.
 
I was honored, grateful, excited, and most of all, unsure how the experience would unfold. Well, that was a year and a half ago and now I work for Alan’s son Chris. During the time I spent with Alan, I did everything he typically does in a week: went to management meetings at his companies, met with his lawyers, looked at P&L’s, attended lunch meetings, was introduced to his friends and colleagues, volunteered at the hospital, had dinner with his wife… you get the idea.
 
What I learned that week answered a lot of questions and offered me a clearer path forward, but also “ruined me,” as Chris says. The Burkhard men frequently say that “you can only control your own career when you are your own boss“. So, while what I learned from Alan “ruined” me at the start of my career, I was fortunate to find a place at CBI Group because it offered me a chance to be entrepreneurial, make decisions for myself and be a leader, but also learn about business before jumping in to be my own boss.
 
I’d like to share a few quotes from Alan Burkhard that were brought to life for me at CBI Group.

    “What’s the value to you? That’s the value to me.”
    “My business philosophy is the same as my personal philosophy.”
    “Culture is defined by what we do and how we act. You must live it. Be it.”
    “It’s all about relationships.”

What I learned is that an entrepreneur’s work is a lifestyle. Work doesn’t start at 9 AM and end at 5 PM. For an entrepreneur, work is life and life is work. “You are your own boss,” is true when taken literally. But what is also important is that when it comes to work, you should be able to be yourself, make your own decisions, challenge and enjoy yourself. That is what I get at CBI Group, the chance to be entrepreneurial, even though “I’m not my own boss.”
 

Traditional business thinking vs Outside-In…What do you think?

June 11th, 2010

Thanks for the feedback, glad to hear you liked my speech at the New Castle County Chamber. As one favorite alumni said to me, I hear it was “from the heart”. Classic Chris; classic Outside-In. This is the ultimate compliment. I hope that everything I do is somehow different from what others do. This is why I care so deeply about Outside-In thinking versus traditional thinking.

Why not contrast every day business situations and compare our thinking to “normal business thinking”. Keep in mind I do not expect you to fully convert, rather consider it learning and good fodder when you are looking for ideas, innovation or that that little extra in your business.

1. Only senior employees can make important business decisions. Why not involve everyone? Autonomy and involvement breed innovation and engagement.

2. Companies should stick to a niche market or specialize to maximize profits and market share. An Outside-In company is driven by the customer. Markets can come and go depending on customer tastes and preferences. The key to success is the relationship to the customer.

3. Big business interest is in shareholder creation only. This may be true in many businesses, but what happened to the customer or employee point of view? In an Outside-In company, we try to balance the needs and wants of all constituents – employees, suppliers, customers and shareholders. This is a long term perspective versus quarter to quarter thinking.

The common themes that make sense to me all revolve around the customer. For small business I know this seems obvious. Trust me, it all depends on how you learned to run your business. Few get it from a coach who has been there before. There is so much to learn about running a business and its many facets that is not uncommon to forget completely about those that pay the bills and your salaries. That frustrating, challenging, elusive entity – THE CUSTOMER.

Drop me a line if your business could be more customer centered or if it needs “Outside-In glasses“.

Entrepreneur of the Year Luncheon – May 18, 2010

May 20th, 2010

The video of my acceptance speech is up! Thank you again to everyone who has reached out to me over the last few weeks & offered their congratulations. It has truly been an honor to receive this award from the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce.

Outside-In® Book List

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