In Pursuit of A Good Company

July 3, 2014

Throughout my life I’ve received many words of wisdom, but a recent piece of advice stopped me in my tracks. It made me rethink my approach to successfully owning and running a business.

Being a startup kind of guy, my idea of owning a business meant that I had to start it entirely from scratch. Dig deep, work hard, chase business. What mattered was growth in sales, the number of employees and always working to be bigger and better the next month.

Although this approach suited me fairly well with my first few companies, I felt there might be a different way to approach success. But it wasn’t until I read “Treat Your Waiter Well,” an article by Brad Nathan, that I crystallized a new thought on what it means to be a good business owner.

Brad buys businesses for a living, so he meets with a lot of people. His notion is simple. Focus on the person. Take them to lunch and observe. Let the conversation flow. Pay attention to how they treat the waiter and those around you.

By the end of the meal you’ll have a good gut understanding whether the two of you should do business together. When you find a good person, you find a way to do things together.

This approach is dead simple and ignores what others might state as the requirements of a proper interview, or the checklist of important things to ask when meeting a potential partner, client, employee or supplier. It is far from a numbers-first approach. It’s people first, and let the numbers come later.

For me, his article struck a chord and actually led to a friendship with Brad and a career in private equity. It all comes down to the idea of surrounding  yourself with the right people. Your business, and your personal life, will be altered for the better when you adopt this as your personal mantra.  

Here are a few of my personal tips, borrowed partially from Brad, to ensure you will be in good company.

Trust Your Gut

More often than not you will be confronted with a situation that requires immediate action. Under these circumstances, you should go with what you intuitively feel about the person. If you find yourself disgruntled but can’t pinpoint why, consider it a message from your gut to run for the hills.

Hone In on the Person

Although trusting your gut is important, it should only be completely relied on if there is no other outlet for analyzing the situation. Consider that you and your candidate had a neutral encounter. Your next step then should be to hone in on the person. Set some time aside for a one-on-one conversation. Once you talk for a short while, ask yourself this: Is your conversation flowing? Can you go out to lunch together and be comfortable in each other’s presence? Would you invite them over for dinner?

The majority of your day will be spent surrounded by people, whether in the workplace or in your personal life, so it is wise to choose company you can effortlessly spend time with.

Your Values Must Align

The most important attribute to look for in another person is their values. A business, by simple definition, is just a group of people with similar interests that are collaborating to build a product or service. Opposing values will clash and create a lifelong resistance to any improvement in your business.

That said, it will be easier to create a sense of camaraderie in the workplace if people have the same underlying purpose for working. My advice is to sit down with prospective employees and ask them to list their top three values. If they are congruent with your company values, then observe their actions to see if they act on these. If their values differ slightly from your company values, then question whether or not their specific personality will be beneficial or detrimental to your company in the long run.

Choosing the right people during the adolescent stages of your business will make for a successful, and memorable, workplace for all.

Originally published July 3, 2014, by Nathaniel Broughton