By Levi Bremner
Lounging back in his leather chair, feet propped upon the wooden desk and hands placed comfortably behind his head; Donald Henneberg presents the perfect example of an entrepreneur.
At 68 years old and living in Roy, Wash. Henneberg’s retirement dream has come true. He proudly speaks of his four children and five grandkids and believes he couldn’t have a better life. Looking at it from his perspective, one might agree. However, the question remains, how does one achieve a successful life and what career choice does one make? The answer is simple: become an entrepreneur.
Many believe becoming an entrepreneur is a fairly easy concept. All you have to do is buy or create your own business, pay your employees a fair wage, and close sales with your suppliers and customers. Contrary to this belief, it’s not this simple.
After interview Henneberg, it was clear to see there are multiple aspects to owning a business, but as a whole, a few key characteristics will help ensure success. Henneberg was able to narrow these top characteristics down to three things: caring, relationship and integrity. Henneberg began by telling a story about a past employee of his who was a mother of two children to relay the importance of caring.
Henneberg said. “We hired a woman in the warehouse, working the forklift and I wasn’t real keen on the idea because she’s a woman… but also the second reason was that she had two kids and I know that when the kids are sick and they’re grade school kids, its very tough to go off to work and leave your sick kids at home or send them off to school or someplace.”
Henneberg continued to say “So I just had a frank talk with that gal. I said, I understand these other things interfere. If your kids are sick, you call in here [work] sick. You don’t need to say you’re staying home for sick kids, you just call in and tell the receptionist you don’t feel well. I said that’s fine, nobody is going to question that… we’ll never ever doc you for being sick.”
Delving deeper, Henneberg told more about caring for employees but in a slightly different approach. He expressed how an entrepreneur can show care to their employees simply by creating a low pressure environment.
He states, “What I always tried to create was a workplace for somebody that got up Monday morning to say ‘oh gee its time to go to work’ and they liked to go to work because they knew they were safe there. Nobody was going to yell or scream at them, try to get them to do things they didn’t want to do or put a lot of pressure on them for more sales… we would get efficiency by having a friendly work place.”
This low pressure environment especially rang true for one of Henneberg’s ex-employees. Brad Bremner, a former worker of Hall Forest Products (a company Henneberg used to own), described some the key lessons he learned when working under Henneberg.
“Working for Don taught me a valuable lesson” said Bremner. “I learned how to have fun at work but still be productive.”
The above examples show Henneberg’s profound sensitivity with his workers and provide an understanding of how to care for employees as an entrepreneur, but employees aren’t the only people you have to care for. Suppliers and customers are the driving force of a business, and much like caring for staff members, an entrepreneur must build a relationship with his suppliers and customers.
“The thing that made successful business was I developed relationships with my customer and my suppliers.” Henneberg said. “I wasn’t a good sales person but I was able to develop relationships easily. I cared about them, I cared about their families, cared about their businesses… when I was with them it was like we were friends rather than seller-buyer… but it takes awhile to develop that, it takes time, it’s an investment.”
Henneberg started to wrap up the interview but only after touching on his last key characteristic of integrity. Henneberg relates integrity to pure honesty, always making the right choice even at expense to the company and never making a business decision with the wrong intentions.
“We tried to give excellent service all the time, but every company claims that” Henneberg said. “We were always very concerned with honesty with our suppliers, customers and our people… we were in it for the long run so we wanted a reputation to go on… integrity is what it’s really about.”
Henneberg’s idea about integrity for entrepreneurs is vital and well-expressed, but he isn’t the only person who believes integrity is an essential attribute to companies. Kevin J. Murphy specifically focuses on the importance of an employee’s integrity in his book Back-To-Basics Selling. He states:
“The lesson to be learned here is that when employees feel that their personal integrity is on the line, quality improves, good service proliferates, and guarantees are almost never tested because they have become a matter of personal satisfaction.”
Even after leaving the company, Hall Forest Products still show signs of Hennberg’s integrity focused intentions in their company motto. http://www.hallforest.com states:
“Our goal is to be the preferred wholesale partner to independent lumber retailers and keep the highest standard of business integrity.”
Some people dream of never having to work at all. Unfortunately this dream just isn’t likely because everyone has to start somewhere; however, you can start as an entrepreneur. Taking the risk and becoming entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily guarantee you success, but if you don’t take the risk, you will never know what you might have achieved.