An Entrepreneur’s Tale

Learn from the experiences of others for yourself, your family, your employees and your company.

By Heather McCune, Editor in Chief | June 30, 2003


Heather McCune, Editor in Chief


Storytelling, the oldest human communication form, carries forward the learning of one generation to improve the lot of those to come. As children we paid rapt attention to the stories of our parents and grandparents and learned of our place in the human family. Through their storytelling -- most often our first learning experience -- we gleaned glimpses of the skills it takes to succeed in the world beyond the family. Now as adults and parents ourselves, we tell our children and the extended next generation in the hope they will learn from the pitfalls, mistakes and hardships we encountered.

As professionals we do the same. Salespeople share stories about this customer or that one and, in the process, compare methods for gathering information on prospects, presenting models and moving buyers to sellers. Construction superintendents discuss their experiences installing this window, working with that trade or handling warranty issues. The list goes on and on. The following tale continues the tradition of learning from the experiences of others. I call it The Entrepreneur's Tale.

Blessed with great talent, loads of drive and a knack for annoying bosses and losing jobs, a yet-again newly fired father of two opts out of the corporate world and enthusiastically begins life as an entrepreneur. Owner of an idea he believes will attract an audience and its money, he begins work. Day, and usually night, too, he labors for many months. He taps the family's financial reserves to fund his efforts. After more than a year, he finally finishes. When it's time to debut his first production, even the birth of his third child just days before pales in comparison to the excitement he feels.

Critical acclaim overstates reaction to his first product, but market acceptance doesn't. He gains enough of a toehold early in the game to develop a fledgling customer base. Passionate about his offering and possessing a personality that could move mountains, he grows his business. He moves from the basement to leased office space, hires first one employee and then another. Employees generate more business, which necessitates hiring managers.

What began as an alternative to unemployment took root and now employs more than 20 people producing three well-regarded products. He replenishes the family finances, builds a house with all the required toys of the newly wealthy and funds the desires of his family to compensate for too little time spent at home.

The enterprise grows, weathers economic ups and downs and earns recognition from the clients and industry it serves. The next generation, though lacking every attribute of the founder, joins the business. Prosperity continues, but dissension grows among the company's all-stars. They're doing more with less during a recession that many characterize as a depression. Morale plummets.

For the entrepreneur, work for the first time resembles its name. He thinks about getting out, rekindling a relationship with his wife, spending time with the grandkids. He thinks of these things and so much more as he leaves for lunch after a bad morning meeting.

He never returns. Years of stress, steaks and smokes catch up. Chaos follows for the family, both immediate and corporate. This larger-than-life man never planned for a future without him. Employees flee as the grieving spouse tries to transform herself into a business owner. Customers loyal to the man fade away as his image and his way of doing business do, too. Finally, burdened by the here and now, family issues and financial concerns, the company that bears his name disappears, swallowed by a large corporation from which he'd been fired so many years ago.

A legacy born of passion and conviction vanishes. Medical science couldn't save the man, but financial and succession planning would have saved the company.

What starts as a tale too often ends as a tragedy. Don't let it happen to you.


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