Counterintuitive…Go for the Long-term…Do What You Don’t Want to Do
FACT: Successful Leadership is a most counterintuitive commodity.
I first noticed a forlorn-looking office building on Nashville’s world famous Music Row in late 1981 with our country still deep in an economic recession. Our business was still young, and so was I—just 29. Money was tight. But, at a glance, I saw what could be done with this property. So, I inquired and found that the price, while reasonable, was still more than I wanted to pay. So, I made an offer they could easily refuse—the trifling sum of $40,000. It was such a lowball, I wasn’t sure they’d even answer.
The real estate agent wasn’t happy…but she took it to the owner. And, just as I thought, they responded, “No,” to my ridiculous $40,000 offer…but, stunningly, said they would sell it for $44,000! Wow! What a deal. I grabbed it.
In early 1982, we refurbished the building and moved in by the spring. Over the years we enlarged it to two stories. This is where I ran my business, The Franklin Group, Inc. This is where we created a host of award-winning TV, radio, and print ads. This is where some of the most important relationships of my life were formed. This is where we closed millions of dollars of business. Whew…if these walls could talk!
Now I’m sitting on the floor of my empty office, writing this chapter, knowing it will be the last bit of work I’ll ever do in this building—the place I called home for nearly 20 years of my life. Since I sold the company in 2000, other businesses have occupied this space, but it’s always held a special place in my heart. Tomorrow, we will close the sale on this property. And yes, I’m a bit melancholy. But, mostly, I’m happy. It’s time to do it.
How all this happened is what I want to focus on here, because it all had to do with taking the long view. I’ve written about this at greater length in my book,Fast-Forward Leadership.
It all goes back to a vision I began forming in high school. As the next years passed, my vision
evolved. The goal was to develop a business that played to my strengths, would be well received by others, and would be profitable. I never expected overnight success. I was prepared to do the hard stuff and focus on the long term. This meant that, in college, I held several jobs and started my own businesses. It meant that, after graduation, I worked hard to become the best real estate person possible. I studied and went to regular training events. While other salespeople sometimes belittled the process, I was determined to be dumb enough to simply follow the practices of other successful people before me. And, not being the sharpest crayon in the box, I determined to work hard, routinely putting in more hours than most anyone else in the firm.
Then, in 1977, we opened The Franklin Group, Inc. as a full-service advertising and media production company. I was determined to never go into debt. That meant that our growth was a bit slower (and less risky) than the competitors. It began as just Bonnie and myself—a one-stop shop run by a two-person team. We did it all: pitched new clients, wrote the copy, laid out the ads, produced the radio and TV commercials, and ran the office…just the two of us. Gradually, we added employees…starting with a sales force. I paid by commission. That kept the pressure on them to do the heavy lifting. But, I paid a commission rate that was probably two or three times what they could have gotten elsewhere. This helped me get the most passionate people and weed out the ones who didn’t want to do the work. I implemented the ancient wisdom that “a worker is worthy of his pay.”
As the company grew, I resisted taking on risky overhead. Way ahead of our time, I outsourced lots of the creative work. Whenever feasible, I rented instead of buying. Then, when we did buy a camera or other equipment, we bought used. This helped us weather the inevitable downturns.
Also, I saved every penny possible. Bonnie and I always lived well below our means. We didn’t go on expensive vacations. We didn’t join the golf clubs. We didn’t fall into the trap of going into debt to support a lifestyle we didn’t yet deserve.
My point is a simple one: Success doesn’t necessarily come to the best looking, most pedigreed, or best educated. But it does tend to come to those who have a long-term vision and eschew short-term gratification. It’s difficult to do this in the short-term culture in which we live. Marketers know most people will opt for short-term gratification. This is why Wal-Mart has all that junk next to the cash registers. They know, from experience, that lots of people will grab something they don’t need at the last minute…because it gives them short-term gratification. But remember, Sam Walton didn’t build his empire with this sort of thinking. He built it by doing the hard things (long hours and living well below his means) for many, many years…and by keeping his eyes on the long-term prize.