As we continue to grow our business, we are constantly seeking the best and brightest we can find. But I’m reminded of some lessons I learned early in my career.
Fresh out of college, I was lucky enough to land a job in the fiber optics industry. We had company filled with brilliant engineers who had great ideas. My boss had just won an IR 100 award. His boss was a grandfather of the field. We had a lot of other really smart and talented people, all full of different ideas. The owners' attitude appeared to be "These people are really smart. They'll figure out what we should be doing." And we figured out a lot of things. Our products were a truly impressive array of cutting edge technology.
But we were losing $3 million a year because what we didn't have was a direction.
My second job was the antithesis of my first. Out of 250 people, I don’t think one would have been classified as a genius, and they happily admitted as much. They didn’t invent exciting new technologies. What they did have was strong leadership and a knack for all pulling in the same direction and making sure that the direction they were going was a good business.
Oh, and they had a huge positive cash flow.
Understand that it was NOT a traditional cash cow just doing what it always did and printing money. In fact I watched the company reinvent itself brilliantly, not once, but twice in the time I was there.
The contrast created by these two jobs taught me one of my most valuable lessons; it’s not all about brains. When you’re building a business, you’re building a machine suited to the business you’re in. And you are constantly tuning and sometimes reconditioning that machine. Using this approach can make average people into extraordinary companies.
Now I’m trying to find out what happens when you build a great machine in a great business using the best people you can find. It’s an ongoing process here at TAS. I’ll let you know what happens.