As of November 1, 2021, I have been a business owner for 20 years. That is not something I ever expected to be able to say. I started my career as a secondary English teacher with no thought of ever owning any kind of business. Eventually, I found myself in an entry-level position in an iconic Connecticut ad agency with a legendary owner. Watching this man work his magic on clients, prospects and staffers alike, it would never have dawned on me that I, too, could command the respect and awe, and yes, there was a measure of mockery, that the great invariably draw.
Years later, I was faced with the prospect of buying the Omaha office of Bozell. I loved my job as Partner in Charge of Media for the founding office of Bozell but, of course, I had visions of what owning a business would be like. I saw business owners as simply strutting around their country clubs, driving their expensive sports cars and playing golf with the rich and famous. So, would I make the leap to this apparently cushy existence just by signing a few papers and investing/risking some of my hard-earned money? It was clear I had really no time to think – I had to act or be left in the dust.
As my three partners and I (there were initially four owners in the 2001 purchase) worked our way through the buying process, I quickly learned that, by making offer after offer and hearing each denial, this experience would make me feel more humble than ever. By the end of the process, my partners and I couldn’t have been further from the cash-flashing business owners I’d so often imagined.
Although we took over the running of the company on September 1, 2001 – a fact which we were told only days before, along with the news that the next payroll was on us – and our front page story hit the Omaha World-Herald on September 11, 2001 – yes, a humbling experience all by itself – our official date of ownership was November 1, 2001.
And then my education into business ownership truly began. I learned that every triumph, whether business or personal for my staff – became a personal triumph for me. I also learned that every mistake, no matter how big or small, was my mistake and ripped my heart open each and every time. Like it or not, I feel everything that happens in my company. Before owning a business, I used to think that the gentlemen (it was always men) on the covers of Forbes and Fortune had made it to the top of the world and I envied them. After owning a business, I would look at those covers and think, “whatever is keeping you up at night must be huge.”
There are people who look at business owners as a select and private club. I have found that it is true. Fellow business owners are the only ones who have experienced the incredible highs and the devastating lows that befall all businesses. Sometimes these folks don’t look humble, but I’ll share a little secret – a lot of that showiness is an act to hide their intense feelings of vulnerability.