Growing up, I had the privilege of working for my father’s engineering company, where I learned a great deal about the art of business and design engineering. His company, Century Design, engineered items ranging from household appliances for Sunbeam Corporation to assembly equipment for Motorola, and working there directly influenced my entrepreneurial journey. In high school, I started work as a detail draftsman on the drawing board (yes – the drawing board), then project engineer, then sales engineer.
Over the 15 years I worked for him throughout high school, college, and later full-time, I watched my father navigate business challenges in various economies, develop incredible relationships with his clients, and become a leader that all his employees admired. I was fortunate enough to receive valuable lessons along the way on everything from business operations to machine design engineering, and those same lessons still resonate with me today.
Below are 10 tips that, even today, I still follow:
- Be Genuine. This tip is originally from How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. My father recommended the book to me for decades before I finally got around to reading it, and I found it incredibly influential. Showing genuine interest in people – their hobbies, challenges, passions and opportunities – has led to more meaningful connections, personally and professionally. Even to this day, my father exhibits genuine interest in my life and the lives of others around him.
- Individualized Client Attention. It’s important to make clients feel like they are your only clients. Individualized attention is what separates good working relationships from great ones. An example of this was when a client phoned my father’s office, he made sure that his receptionist would never say he was occupied with another client, because he wanted to ensure the client calling did not feel less important.
- Lifelong Learning. As an entrepreneur, continuous education is essential to ensure success. Industries evolve, trends and technology change, and being a lifelong student is the key staying competitive.
- Dress the Part. Simply put, every day dress as professionally as your client, or a bit more, but never less. Impressions matter.
- Be Persistent. When prospecting for new business, being persistent pays off. While working for my father, I had the opportunity to witness the sales cycle in action, and many, many deals were closed by simply following up. He was truly a master of not giving up on prospecting.
- See the Market Differently. Also, when prospecting for new business, find a tool that approaches the challenge in a new way. I can remember throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, on Sunday mornings, my father would use the Chicago Tribune’s Help Wanted ads to find local companies that needed additional engineering support. This approach was simple but effective at the time.
- Take Notes. Use detailed notes to impress clients with your ability to remember everything, even trivial items. Make sure to identify what the client’s needs were and try to reply with a simplified version of their challenges. My father always kept a spiral notebook on his desk and was diligent about keeping detailed client notes.
- Find Your Complements. Surround yourself with a great team to balance out and support your weaker areas. This way, everyone can focus on their strengths instead of mitigating their weaknesses.
- Activity Based Accounting. This tool has proven invaluable to consistently evaluate our processes for a lean approach to financial management. My father was a master at controlling costs and cash flow.
- Take the Leap. I watched my father’s entrepreneurial journey, and I couldn’t have created Fusion without his inspiration and guidance. There is no better feeling than being in control of your own destiny, having the freedom to spend time doing what’s important to you, and creating jobs for others that may not have previously existed.
I couldn’t have created Fusion without the valuable experiences gained while working for my father’s company. Although he was sad to see me leave, he was excited to support my entrepreneurial journey. He was my first mentor, and I am forever grateful that he taught me the importance of business excellence.