REFLECTIONS ON FIRST WEEK AS CEO
On Feb 14 Corvus acquired its first subsidiary company and after lots of persistence and patience I was immediately thrown into running a company in the niche industries of stage curtain manufacturing, some contracting, and window treatment design and manufacturing. It's been a journey but here are my takeaways thus far.
1) Everything you say and do has exaggerated and sometimes unintended consequences.
In previous corporate roles, I feel like I was ignored and dismissed a lot. That is not the case when you're everyone's new boss and they surprisingly have been separated from the only CEO they've known in their careers at the company. They hang on to your every word and expression. So you have to be very careful of what you're communicating in actions, expressions, gestures, etc at all times. That alone is kinda exhausting but I'll get used to it.
2) To some it would feel like a lot of babysitting.
In 3.5 days someone blew up at his boss and stormed off at the end of his shift, someone else got upset with me because of something I said in confidence (I thought) to the IT guy, and someone else was crying about the stresses of home life and pressures of work. I see why Darden said that LO (Leading Organizations/Organizational Behavior) was so important. You have to balance between deep empathy and sociopathy. I care about people and how they feel but we all have to suspend that when the company is paying our time. I'm constantly balancing circumspectly exploring all options and refocusing everyone toward execution.
3) Even businesses that seem simple are extremely complicated when you're in them.
I have to learn every process, sales, electronic wiring, interior design, vastly different processes, and every systems integration. I just thought I was buying a stage curtain and custom window shades company. NOPE! I bought into people that are infinitely more nuanced than anyone really knows. This person has friction with that person. This ERP system doesn't communicate key data with the ledger. It's fun though. I'm loving every bit of it so far.
4) Sometimes you get a great previous owner.
I really feel that I lucked up buying this company. The workers are like mini entrepreneurs and they care deeply about the success of the company and area they control. What's even more awesome is that the previous owner left the business in better standing than we had negotiated. I did a stock sale so that I could get an advantageous EBITDA multiple and he left several times more cash and net receivables in the business than we'd agreed. He's also been a great resource to learn the nuts and bolts of the several markets we engage in. What's even better is that he threw in the shades business that we both believe is poised to rapidly grow this year (it's been growing but it could eclipse the stage curtain business soon). He's just an honest businessman from all I've seen and I really respect that. Sellers will always have more info than you do; so you have to trust their character and motivation to sell above everything when engaging them. My guy just wanted to retire.
Funny side note: It took me a while to get in my grove on engaging sellers. I made formal offers on four other businesses that I really really wanted. In one of those the seller had multiple $10,000 add backs that I asked him about. He and the broker said that they were addbacks but couldn't tell me what they were. He called me a "nuisance" and was mad that I was offering to buy his company for $1.1MM saying that his floor was $1.275MM. Why did I just check in with the broker and this man is selling his company for $850k? Please don't just buy a company because the numbers make sense. Just like a job, you're buying a culture that stems from the owner and thus you're buying into the character or lack thereof of the owner.
5) Your friends and family relationships change because your focus changes.
My fiancee is adjusting to my focus being on something else. She talks to me about her party for wedding dress fitting and the elaborate way that she's asking her friends to be her bridesmaids. I look at her and care deeply about her but in the back of my mind I'm thinking about keeping volume in the plant, or cash flow projections of the business, or hiring and training the next salesperson in a key market, or the new website launch. Are they good enough? Will that order that we ship next week be sufficient? She can see my eyes glaze over when she's talking to me but she's been great about it. There are limited things you can focus on and do well no matter how talented you feel you are. I care about my loved ones and family members but the weight is different. They may be concerned about their jobs and I'm concerned about everyone's jobs at my company AND my company. It's a new feeling entirely.
6) I made Black History in Black History Month.
I was born and raised in the Hampton, VA, the town where Fort Monroe is. Fort Monroe used to be called "Point Comfort." Point Comfort is the first place where Africans were brought to what became the United States of America in August[redacted]My company is in Richmond, VA, the former capital of the Confederate States of America, a nation founded entirely to keep people like me from doing exactly what I'm doing. 98 years ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma a burgeoning Black community of businesses founded largely by WWI veterans was destroyed and over night people were homeless. The first bombs to fall on US soil were dropped on this community of Black businesses by racist mobs and a military they commanded leaving 300 dead and a rich community destroyed. Some years ago I met a coworker from Tulsa and he'd never heard of this. Similar events happened in East St. Louis, Illinois and Rosewood, Florida. My grandfather fought in WWII and then like many others was denied the GI Bill that built the American middle class and set the American economy apart from every other in the world. One generation ago in my bloodline there was inconceivable poverty and I grew up the son of a retail store manager and a secretary.
All that and in my generation, I'm CEO and owner of this outstanding company that I hope to rapidly and profitably grow. I want no revenge against anyone. Instead I consider this as God's company and a conduit to honor my ancestors who wondered to themselves why they went through so much in the very same locations that I am now dominating. And I hope that my children extend even further than I'd ever dreamed they could using this as a platform to launch them into their own excellence. May the next 400 years be nothing like the last. That's my why.