This is the first in our series of interview-style articles that focus on conversations with executives from all areas in the world of work. These articles are designed to highlight various perspectives and experiences from professionals who have made the move to the “corner office.”
Cyndy Trivella, Events Manger with TalentCulture, sat down with Doug Coull, CEO, at Advanced Personnel Systems, Inc. to talk about entrepreneurship, leadership and the value of good business relationships.
Cyndy: I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Doug Coull, from Advanced Personnel Systems, makers of SmartSearch applicant tracking system. Doug is a smart entrepreneur, devoted dad, an active member of the local community in San Diego, and someone who believes in building business that satisfies a greater good for the many.
Cyndy: So Doug, as someone who’s been an entrepreneur for over 30 years, you have a great deal of experience in being a business owner. What advice can you give to people who have entrepreneurial aspirations and want to start their own company?
Doug: To begin, create a detailed business plan. Have a realistic vision for what you want to do and be able to articulate it. Stay the course, but don’t make overly optimistic assumptions. Like the saying goes, “hope for the best, but plan for the worse.” Objectively weigh the pros and cons, and make sure you have enough money to live on and to fund the business. Make your most accurate assessment about how long it will take to become profitable and then multiply that timeline by three. You’ll need to get your hands dirty doing a little bit of everything and a lot of some things, and you have to be flexible. Also, don’t underestimate the amount of sweat equity that will be required. In other words, be prepared to work long hours so you better like the business you’re starting… a lot. You will, likely, only have a shot at success, if you love your business.
Cyndy: Very good advice. Sounds like the key here is balancing the entrepreneurial drive with a realistic and doable plan of action. So, once the organization is up and running, what are some of the pros and cons a business owner might face?
Doug: The pros fall into four buckets for me. First, there’s a great deal of self-satisfaction in seeing your vision come to fruition and to feel successful. Second, being a servant leader to your community and creating an organization that supports the economy and business health in your area and industry is very gratifying. Third, creating a successful company usually involves creating jobs which provides a livelihood and financial support for your employees, their families and, again, the community as a whole. It’s a tremendous responsibility, but one of the most rewarding experiences a business owner can have. Fourth, the financial security and independence, if you’re successful, can be tremendous.
Cyndy: I really like how you compartmentalized the pros and give all the parts equal importance. So tell us about some of the cons.
Doug: One of the biggest cons for many people is financial stress. Unpredictable risk management variables like the economy; bad weather; life circumstances associated with health and family emergencies; and even the relationship with your employees and customers can take a toll and overwhelm the most prepared business owner. It’s tantamount to the financial responsibility of home ownership, but multiplied ten times over. Also, being particular about whom you hire and whom you do business with is important, and ensuring that it’s a win-win situation for everyone is magical. Attitude and motivation go a long way in any relationship. Surround yourself with people who share in your vision and want to do business with you and who see the synergistic value… whether that’s your employees, vendors or customers. And though, this can be a scary thought, don’t be afraid to turn away business if it’s not a good cultural fit. Too often, business owners try to shoehorn customers into buying something that may not be right for the customer or his business. This type of partnership will fail miserably because neither the provider nor the customer understood what the end result would look like. The product, service and relationship need to make sense for both parties.
Cyndy: That’s so true; good relationships are important. O.K. so switching gears, I have a question for you on the topic of leadership. There’s a lot of press today about what defines good leadership and bad leadership. What do you see as the biggest obstacles leadership must rise above?
Doug: Believing that you are the only one who can get things done effectively is a false sense of self. If you want to be free of overwhelming responsibility, you need to let go of things.
Also, as I said previously, it’s imperative that you hire the right people. They must be people you can trust, who are highly skilled and motivated. Once you have these people on board, allow them to do their jobs and empower them to take responsibility. People want to be contributors and to be recognized for their contributions. Stifling them will not serve you nor them with a satisfying result. When I hire, I look for people who are smarter and more motivated than I am. Unfortunately, some individuals are afraid to hire people who are smarter than they are and that is a lost opportunity and a disservice to the organization. Good leaders shouldn’t fear strong employees, but instead capitalize on their strengths and make it work for them and the company.
Cyndy: I appreciate hearing this. As someone who works for you, I can say with certainty, you do allow people to do their jobs and to be a contributor in an environment where everyone has a seat at the table. Last question… so as a business owner in a space that is teeming with service providers, how can HR vendors build better relationship with their prospects and clients?
Doug: As with anything in life, becoming an effective communicator is essential. Great communicators listen as well as they speak. Also, taking a genuine interest in people and truly understanding their business, goals and needs shows you care about them and their success. And never, ever underestimate the value of your brand reputation. As human nature goes, people will share good news, but spread bad news faster. As last but not least, just be nice to people. Affability can go a long way.
Cyndy: Doug, it was great catching up with you and I really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you for sharing your advice and perspective with us.
Doug: Thank you; I enjoyed it.
Be sure to look for our next article, coming soon, from The TalentCulture Corner Office.