Creating a Self-Sustaining Business
Douglas is the founder and CEO of The SCOOTER Store, the largest provider of freedom and independence to people with limited mobility in the US. The SCOOTER Store has twice been recognized on the Fortune 100 “Best Places to Work” list. Contact Douglas at DH arrison@TheSCOO TERS tore.com.
There was a time at the start of my business when I was afraid to be away from the office for more than half a day. I was petrified that if something went wrong, I wouldn’t be there to fix it. At the time, we had about a dozen employees, none of whom I trusted to handle critical business issues in my absence. As a result, I was handcuffed to every major (and minor) decision that occurred, which made it impossible for me to unplug from work. I remember thinking, “This doesn’t feel like the American dream; it feels like a nightmare!”
Everything changed after I attended the EO/MIT Entrepreneurial Masters Program (EMP). I decided to alter my approach to staff management and start giving my team the authority and responsibility to make tough decisions without me. To help key employees learn to make great decisions in my absence, I forced them to make tough, painful decisions on a trial basis. I started by delegating someone to be CEO each time I left the office for more than one day. I gave this person full authority to act on my behalf. It was a scary proposition, but it was the only way I could teach everyone to rely on each other, rather than me. Additionally, I tried to make it clear to the acting CEO that this is their chance to do something truly spectacular; to prove themselves, rather than babysit the team until my return.
One particular event highlighted the success of this new approach. I took almost all of our employees out of town for six days to celebrate our 15th anniversary in business. A small handful of employees stayed behind to answer the phones and handle any urgent customer service issues that popped up. We were debating whether or not this approach could work with none of my senior team and only a handful of random employees left behind. Enter Jeff, a new vice president in our operations department. While Jeff is a great guy, I never imagined letting him run the entire company for almost a week. Remembering what I learned in EO, and had practiced on a smaller scale, I decided to take a chance.
Before I left town, I relayed my expectations to Jeff and gave him full, legal authority to be acting CEO for the days I was gone. He had several weeks to prepare, and he made the most of his time. Every day I was gone, Jeff pushed the office morale to an all-time high. He bought lunch for all of the employees that stayed behind, moved into my office and even had the other remaining employees join him there for regular meetings. When I returned, the small group of employees led by Jeff had not only managed all customer service calls, but they produced more than 50 percent of our normal revenue! This was a huge accomplishment for us, since we assumed zero revenue for those days.
In hindsight, taking a step back from the day-to-day operations of my business and putting my trust in my employees were two of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Not only was I able to go on a threeweek, worry-free vacation later on, but I discovered an extremely talented person that had been with us all along. This experience taught me that being afraid to trust my staff is one of the quickest ways to become stagnate. By giving my staff an opportunity to excel in my absence, I managed to create a self-sustaining business that accomplishes great things even when I’m on vacation.