My first experience with bankruptcy was inadvertent. It occurred in 1992 when I found out through my father in law, Don Crane, that a friend of his had an opportunity for a manager in a business that he was involved in as an absentee owner. Little did I know that what he really owned was a distressed business on the verge of bankruptcy. It would be a lot more fun to say that it all started on a dark and stormy night, but the truth is it was the Summer from Hell in Kansas.
The business was an industrial gas and welding supply distribution company. I pursued the job because my wife and I had decided to find an opportunity closer to our roots in Kansas. I think he found the job for me just to get his only daughter closer to home. After having my own daughters, I know the feeling.
With a lot of hard work and the utilization of resources that came from necessity, I was able to help the business survive and eventually thrive.
It was only a matter of time before I realized that I had stumbled upon a method that I could use to succeed in my own business: find another bankrupt business, acquire it, and then use the skills I had learned previously to turn it into a success for myself instead of someone else.
I didn’t do it all myself. I was fortunate enough to find a partner, AJ Schwartz, through serendipitous relationships that led to our mutual success in independent business ventures.
Our first success was a food distribution company, followed by 30 plus bankruptcies and startups that have been amazingly successful. Everything from a food distribution business to a 2,700-head milking dairy to seven medical imaging centers, multiple surgery centers, and five hospitals. We’ve had a long career together, each of us providing benefits and expertise the other didn’t have.
When I look back on this history, I am amazed at how it all came together. Thankfully, hard work and good decisions can lead anyone to some degree of success. I have to wonder sometimes if there was a single thing that made it possible. I would narrow it down simply to desire. I have always had an overwhelming desire to be my own man or boss. I have always wanted the responsibility of making decisions, but with that comes responsibility.
You will find that employees are everyone’s biggest responsibility and the biggest challenge. Many employees, especially in a distressed business situation, will resist change. You will sometimes have to make the difficult decision of keeping or letting a challenging employee go. When these decisions must be made, it is important that you realize you have to make a good decision not just for the company but for all of the other employees. For the majority to succeed you cannot let the failure of one employee cause other employees to fail. You can be a hero to your employees some of the time, but not if you cannot make the difficult decisions that come with the responsibility of being an employer.
My advice is to make decisions for the right reasons and not only will you be successful, but your employees will be successful as well.