Beyond the Buck

Booker T. Washington once stated that the essence of success is not goals met or achievements made, but the obstacles overcome in the process.  For the entrepreneur, then, this means there is more to small business than just making money.  There are intangibles that  – in the long run – can be worth far more than the bottom line.      

     Take for example the impact you can have on others.  I believe it was 1983-84 when I heard the late Bob Klineman (RBK Building Materials) speak.  He had recently been recognized by the local chamber for his accomplishments, and was placing the praise where it belonged – to God.  What inspired me was a comment he made about the ‘bully pulpit’ – that is, the platform you have as a business owner for influencing others.  What an incredible opportunity we have to add value to lives of our employees, customers, and vendors!  
     Closely related are the life long relationships that are forged through the venue of business.  While there are too many to list, one such relationship in my case was with a man named Jim Russell (RBF, Inc.).  Russell, who passed away in 2005, took me “under his wing” in 1985, and for the next two decades poured into my life the things he had learned in the corporate world.  Not only that, but he and his lovely wife, Phyllis, became the closest of friends, inspiring us by their faith, love, and good works.  I will forever be indebted to Jim for the positive influence he had on me and my family, not to mention, my company.
     And then there is the issue of character.  Being in business can make you a saint or a crook, depending on how you choose to fulfill the role.  There is ample opportunity for doing what is right or doing what is wrong – and plenty of occasions for that gray area in between.  I’ve met men whose accomplishments made them greedy and proud, forgetful of how they got there and who helped them along the way.  Then there are others whose dreams have been dashed and their lives devastated by failure.  Character is the stuff of which we are made; it’s what we do with what happens to us. It is the choices we make when under the gun. Being an entrepreneur can make you a better person – or, it can destroy you.
     Finally, there is charity.  All too often successful organizations are criticized for making money.  And the rich are vilified for being so. Yet rarely are their contributions to the welfare of others recognized.  Without benevolence, without philanthropy, where would the funds come from for fighting cancer, providing for the homeless, or feeding the hungry?  Charity is the greatest motive for success; we make it so that others might make it too.  Personal and corporate achievement paves the way for others to advance in life as well.
     This is where the buck comes in.  Earnings are not just ends, but the means to greater good.  Income not only provides for corporate growth and advancement, but for those organizations that rely on the generosity of others for their support.  All benefit, and the sum total of the positive is far greater than the dollar that drives it. 
     Way beyond the buck.

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January 2010

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