Episode 43: All It Takes Is One Mistake

This week, in our final podcast taping of the year, Paul Downs, Jay Goltz, and William Vanderbloemen discussed the impact this year has had on their businesses and on themselves. William talked about the positive side of having to get back to a startup mentality: “It's definitely been a silver lining in the middle of a very dark cloud.” Paul talked about hoping he can offer his employees a good place to work for as long as possible: “I can give them probably another 10 years. And then beyond that, I don't know what will happen.” And Jay talked about the cash management mistake he made that could have been fatal: “If I wouldn't have gotten the PPP money, I don't know…”

Episode 43: All It Takes Is One Mistake

Guests:

William Vanderbloemen is founder and CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group.

Jay Goltz is founder and CEO of Artists Frame Service and Jayson Home.

Paul Downs is founder of Paul Downs Cabinetmakers.

Producer:

Jess Thoubboron is founder of Blank Word Productions.

Episode Highlights:

William Vanderbloemen: “Everybody cut their prices this year. We didn’t. So that’s one thing we did not change.”

Paul Downs: “If I gave people 20 plus years of working in a good place, making a decent dollar, having good colleagues, and doing good work, [isn’t] that good enough?”

Jay Goltz: “I had absolutely no symptoms whatsoever. But I certainly knew that could change and I had to deal with, ‘Yikes, what if I died tomorrow?’”

Full Episode Transcript:

Loren Feldman:
Welcome, Paul, Jay, William, to our last podcast taping of the year, and what a year it’s been! I thought we’d take a look back with three questions I want to ask each of you. One’s about positives you’re taking from this year. One’s about strategies you might be changing as a result of this year. And one’s about how all of this has affected you personally.

Let’s start with looking for silver linings. William, let me start with you. Early on, there was a time, I think in March or April, where you joined our podcast directly from a Zoom layoff that you had conducted, which you went on to describe to us. I’ve gotta imagine that was one of the low points of your year. Happily, in recent weeks, you’ve told us that things have picked up and you’re expecting a very busy year next year. Can you give us a sense of what positives you’re taking away from this?

William Vanderbloemen:
You know, Loren, I am hopelessly optimistic. I probably dysfunctionally look for the positives. For us, as a company, as we hit the 12-and-a-half year mark, or wherever we are, we’re not built for high growth. We don’t do investors. We don’t do debt. We move at the speed of cash, and that is nice. But high growth requires severe agility, right? And if you get into steady growth—which I’ll take all day long—I think our agility can get stifled if we’re not careful. The pandemic actually forced us to live out our core value of ever-increasing agility.

And man, that day, I will not forget, and I don’t want to repeat it. But after those layoffs and restructuring, everybody had to pitch in. All the things that happened, it felt like we were a startup again. All the things that happened as a startup where everybody has a job description of other duties as necessary. Everybody had to just learn as we go, down to shifting our focus.

Since nobody was hiring in March and April, we had to learn what to do when there’s no search to do. We served people helping them get their PPP loans. We set up leadership resources for reopening churches and schools. It just forced us back into startup mode, which had a benefit of reminding me of my need for agility, and also the company as well. Don’t want to live there forever, but it’s definitely been a silver lining in the middle of a very dark cloud.

Loren Feldman:
Paul, when you joined the podcast, you told us you were expecting your sales to collapse. Happily, that didn’t happen. But you’ve also told us several times recently that you still think the worst might be ahead and you’re being very careful going forward. What positives, if any, can you take from this year?

Paul Downs:
Probably the biggest positive surprise for me, as a business owner, was that the government sprang into action in March with the PPP program—basically did the right thing, and executed on it and saved all the squabbling about it until after the benefit had been handed out. I never thought I would see that from the United States government. On a company level, our sales did not utterly collapse, although they have definitely staggered.

I think that the biggest positive is the way I ran my company before this crisis has served me well throughout it. I didn’t have to change direction as a leader, or do anything different with our company culture in order to get people to be committed to doing a good job. My thing has always been to be extremely honest with my people about what I see coming ahead, whether it’s good or bad, so that they’re never surprised. And that has worked out very well.

Loren Feldman:
Jay, how about you? What have you got?

Jay Goltz:
You know what, I’m glad Paul reminded me of the PPP money, because I wouldn’t have thought of it. It absolutely was a game-changer, because I got through the year. I haven’t lost any people and our customers have been supportive and coming in. They say, “Trying times test a man’s soul.” Well, it tests the company’s soul, and I’m extremely appreciative and feel good that we got through this. People have certainly had anxiety and fear and angst, but we managed to get through the year okay. Without the PPP money, I’ve gotta tell you—probably a very different story. But we got through it, and we’re looking forward to a decent next year.

But I have to add on another. You said what “silver lining” from this whole experience? My business isn’t the only thing I’m passionate about. I’m also passionate about helping out entrepreneurship, and I’m an entrepreneur junkie. I have to say that, 15 years ago, I was on the front cover of Inc. Magazine because of the Small Giants book, and I met an editor who was really engaged in small business and was really interested in it and wanted to help. That editor left there and went to the New York Times, and I went with him. I had a great five-year run with him. I couldn’t be more happy to say that, over the last 15 years, he and I have been trying to figure out how to get out there to more people. And this year, that editor—Loren Feldman—owns 21 Hats, and that is the greatest benefit of 2020 I can think of. So, hear! hear! to you, Loren. We finally have a platform, we’re going out there. And for all of you listening, if you’ve gotten anything out of this, I would encourage you to send this to your friends. And that’s all I can say.

Loren Feldman:
I can’t take any more. That’s very nice of you. Thank you.

Jay Goltz:
I’m serious.

Loren Feldman:
People are going to assume I put you up to that.

Jay Goltz:
No, I didn’t warn you it was coming, because you’re my colleague—

Loren Feldman:
It might still get cut. I’ll have to listen to it.

Jay Goltz:
—You’re my co-conspirator, and you’re my friend. If I have to look at what happened this year that is the most significant thing, that’s the most significant thing. Loren Feldman is now the owner of 21 Hats.

Paul Downs:
I’ll second that. I think you’ve put together a great group of business owners, and they provide a set of perspectives that were not seen in the ordinary media. So, congratulations, Loren!

Loren Feldman:
That’s nice of you to say. I have to tell you, I switched platforms for the The 21 Hats Morning Report, and as a result, I have some new tools. I’ve been able to reach out to some of the people who get the report and who listen to the podcast, and I’ve had a bunch of conversations over the last two weeks with some of those people. I’ve gotta tell you guys, you don’t know how many fans you have around the country, who have been listening to every single one of these episodes and hanging on your journeys and rooting for you.

All right, moving on. The next thing I wanted to ask you about is whether anything that has happened this year has caused you to rethink the way you run your business, to change strategy. Paul, how about you?

Paul Downs:
I probably have more reasons to change strategies than the rest of the group, but no. I’ve decided that I’m living and dying with the conference table business. I do worry that it’s a sign of inflexibility settling on my middle-aged mind, but I just don’t have the desire to completely switch direction and try to do something different at this point. I think that we’ll be okay, even if it’s going to be a rough year coming up.

Loren Feldman:
Well, a change of strategy doesn’t have to be complete. Let me ask you about something specific then, because early on when you joined, we talked a lot about your marketing. And you told us some really intriguing things, including the fact that you had stopped your pay-per-click advertising, and that your traffic and your sales didn’t go down. You just pocketed the money—a considerable amount of money—that you’d been spending on that. Has your marketing strategy evolved since we had that conversation?

Paul Downs:
In terms of pay-per-click, not much.

Loren Feldman:
Or any other aspect.

Paul Downs:
Well, probably the one thing that we’re putting some effort into that may not be obvious is to get a GSA contract, because we get so many orders from government buyers now. Often we could make more sales if we could get through the contracting process. I am putting significant resources into that, which involves basically hiring consultants to shepherd our application through the process.

Jay Goltz:
Paul, jargon relief. Tell everyone what GSA stands for. Everyone doesn’t know.

Paul Downs:
Okay, GSA—General Services Administration—this is basically a way to get your products onto an easy-to-buy list for federal purchasers. We do a lot of business with the Department of Defense and basically all of the federal government. There are two paths by which, say a military unit, can make a purchase. One is easy, if the product’s on a GSA contract, and the other one’s more difficult if it’s not. We’ve made a lot of sales on the difficult path, and I want to get on the easy path.

Loren Feldman:
How hard is it to get on the list?

Paul Downs:
We’re gonna find out. There’s a relatively arcane set of procedures, and my understanding is it’s all going to boil down to our application is going to be set in front of a particular person in a federal agency to evaluate it. That person has to like what they see. So, I don’t know. Talk to me in six months.

Jay Goltz:
Very price competitive, yes?

Paul Downs:
Well, yes, you have to be price competitive. But here’s one of the things: furniture is sold in such a strange way—the pricing of it—and I don’t even want to go into it. Let’s just say, it’s a way that makes no sense. But it’s what everybody does. We have used a different way of pricing our work for as long as I’ve been in business, because you would never come up with the way it’s actually done by everybody else if you just sat down to give somebody a price.

Loren Feldman:
Well, it’s not just that it’s furniture though, Paul, right? It’s that it’s custom furniture.

Paul Downs:
Yeah, that makes it more complex too, because generally the GSA doesn’t like the idea of custom things going on a contract, so we had to kind of wash the custom out of our offering. And yeah… let’s not go down this. This will take an hour to explain it, and I’m not even sure whether I’ve got it right.

Loren Feldman:
Okay, although I love talking about pricing. It’s always interesting.

Paul Downs:
Well, you and I can have a nice long chat about how furniture is priced, and it’ll blow your mind.

Loren Feldman:
William, how about you? Have you actually changed strategy as a result of what’s happened this year?

William Vanderbloemen:
We haven’t changed pricing. It’s funny, I’ve been waiting for 20 years. I’ve been putting together the same haggard old Christmas tree limb by limb, because in Houston, you don’t get a real tree. It just costs too much. And finally, this year, there was a Black Friday sale where there was a real discount. Everybody cut their prices this year. We didn’t. So that’s one thing we did not change.

A couple things we did change. And, I’m reminded by my colleagues here, the PPP not only helped us just as a loan, but it almost doubled—and maybe even tripled—our database, because we helped so many organizations. Paul, you say you didn’t think the federal government could ever do anything like that. Totally agree.

So what that taught me was, I’ve learned that we need to be very strategic about something I’m calling “the very top of the funnel,” which means things that we do that might never show up on our software tracking system. You know, PPP loans, things that just get people familiar with us without ever asking for anything. We were much more intentional about that.

During the slowdown, while we were living on the PPP money, we were able to launch a couple things that we’d not had time to launch in the past. We have a couple of new service lines that are ancillary to search, but they’re very, very helpful to our clients and, frankly, tend to be marketing efforts for us that are self-funding.

Loren Feldman:
Explain that.

William Vanderbloemen:
Well, instead of spending a quarter million dollars a year on sponsorships for this, that, or the other [thing], we run compensation reports for people. We could charge more money. We don’t, so we have a very thin margin on it. But, man, people love us for that and end up coming back to us for search. So rather than a business line that’s going to keep margins that make sense as a business on its own, it’s like, “No, this isn’t going to make us a lot of money. But it’s going to do some good, and it’s going to win friends, and it will lead to more business.”

Loren Feldman:
Let me ask you about one of the things you talked about earlier in the year, William, which is: I think you took advantage of the lull to shift direction a little bit and add to your offerings—and not just focus on executive search, but also to set up a way to help your clients with hiring lower-level employees. In fact, I think you started an entirely different company to handle those searches. How did that work out for you?

William Vanderbloemen:
So far, so good. People are happy with the service. We set modest goals, not knowing what to expect. Who can predict what hiring is going to look like this year, particularly in nonprofits? We’ve outperformed all of those goals. Maybe we’re bad at goal-setting. But it’s a small offering that I think will grow in time. Rather than just sit on our hands or moan, our people actually built something new that I think will last.

Loren Feldman:
Do you think it’ll grow to represent a significant portion of your business going forward?

William Vanderbloemen:
I don’t know what “significant” means. Will it end up being 10 percent to 20 percent of the top line? Yeah, easily.

Loren Feldman:
That’s significant.

William Vanderbloemen:
Yeah.

Loren Feldman:
Jay, how about you? Have you changed strategies in any way?

Jay Goltz:
I would say it made me refocus. I’ve learned there are five gauges on our dashboard, or there should be. Obviously profit’s one of them. Too many of these younger companies I read about seem to forget about that. Growth, if you’re into it, for sure. Calculated risk. I realized I don’t really want to take a whole lot more risk. I don’t need to. The business is big enough. I’m leaving the biggest one for last. Are you happy? I’m very happy. I’m happy with my employees. I’m happy with my whole mission. The last one, I kind of always kept an eye on, but I didn’t pay enough attention, and it’s the cash gauge.

The cash gauge got messed up this year, because I kind of knew this, but I didn’t know it well enough. I have a building. I’ve talked about it before. It’s completely got no mortgage on it. It’s worth good money. And I figured, “Well, that’s my dry powder,” as they say. That was a stupid mistake on my part. Having a building that’s paid off is dry powder that’s got a keg that’s nailed shut. I have now talked to seven banks, looking to get a very low leverage mortgage. I believe I’ll be pulling it off soon, but when things go bad, the banks hide under the table. They get more points for not losing money than for getting new business. I should have simply taken on a mortgage a couple years ago and left the money sitting somewhere, and I’m paying the price.

Now, luckily, I got through the year fine, and I’m actually in good shape for cash right now. I’m fine. But I have never had money in the bank and I’ve always had credit. It’s absolutely changed my strategy now. One of the traps of being an entrepreneur, or even just for your own personal finances, is thinking that, if you pay off a mortgage, you’re going to hear wonderful music and life is grand. When you’re in business, paying off a mortgage might not be the smartest thing to do. In my case, it certainly wasn’t. I’ve now recognized I’ve got to pay more attention to the cash thing, because at the end of the day, businesses go broke because they run out of cash.

I believe I’m about to pull this off. I’m going to get a mortgage, put the cash somewhere, not spend it—which is new for me—I’m not going to spend it. I’m just going to leave it sitting there, and that’s a huge change for me after 42 years. I’ve never done that. That one little error of mine, had I not gotten the PPP money, frankly, could have been the end of me. That’s how business works. All it takes is one mistake, and that could have been a fatal mistake.

Loren Feldman:
Do you really believe that?

Jay Goltz:
Absolutely. If I wouldn’t have gotten the PPP money, I don’t know… It would have been extremely difficult. I’m not saying for sure I would have gone broke, but it would have—I can tell you, you know, you were there. You were in the cockpit when the storm started. April 30th, I had some real, “Oh, man!” I was leveraged up on everything, and I had no idea what was coming. I’m happy to report I’m in good shape now, but it didn’t have to go that way. Who knew that people would still be framing pictures during a shutdown, during the surge? Who knew that people would be buying furniture? Who knew?

Loren Feldman:
As I recall, at the beginning of the year, you told us that you felt you’d made a mistake in not paying close enough attention to how much inventory—framing inventory—that your people were buying, and you were way overloaded. I guess that you were probably low on cash at that point and heavy on—

Jay Goltz:
Yeah, that’s exactly why I used up my credit lines. I had a ton of inventory. We buy from Italy and Spain, and we were really heavy in inventory. The irony is, that turned out to be an asset, because no one can get stuff from Italy and Spain now because they’re shut down. I’m the guy who’s got inventory. That’s part of why I’m doing well this year.

I’ve been able to work my inventory down. That’s partially why I’ve got cash now. I’ve worked my inventory down. But the problem really wasn’t that I had too much inventory. The problem is I had too much inventory, and I used up all my cash. If I had cash, having too much inventory isn’t such a terrible thing. You can always work it down. But yes, it absolutely ended up being an asset.

Loren Feldman:
So what’s your inventory strategy going forward going to be?

Jay Goltz:
You know what, I’m putting more controls in place. I’m gonna manage it tighter, but really, it’s the other end of it. I’m gonna make sure I’ve got enough cash and it doesn’t matter as much. And that’s what I’m working on. I don’t mind having a bad inventory turnover. The problem is I’ve had a horrendous inventory turnover. So I’m trying to go from horrendous to bad, and bad will be okay.

Loren Feldman:
What’s a bad inventory turnover?

Jay Goltz:
If I could get to an inventory turnover of two times a year, the accountant people would say, “Oh, that’s not enough. You should get it to three.” Okay, I’m not selling commodities that I can quick order. My youngest son is getting involved in the business now, and he’s looking at the numbers: “Dad, can we just order in smaller quantities?” No, that’s the whole reason why we’re successful. We order from unique, great suppliers overseas. That’s why we have unique, cool, interesting products. If I order the same thing that everyone else can get from a warehouse in wherever, in three days, I’ll be selling the same thing everyone else sells.

It’s part of my whole business model. I have a big, huge warehouse that I bought for cheap. We can easily warehouse it. And as a result, like I said, if I can get it to a two-time turnover, I’m okay with that. The accountants would say, “Oh, no, you’ve got to get it to three.” And the answer is, no, I really don’t have to get it to three. Interest is cheap. I’ve got a warehouse. It’s okay.

Loren Feldman:
All right. My last question for the three of you—and this one’s personal—this has been—

William Vanderbloemen:
Loren, just for reference sake, what have you asked us that’s not personal?

Loren Feldman:
I asked Jay about his inventory? That’s not personal.

Jay Goltz:
Oh, that is personal.

Loren Feldman:
Okay, I stand corrected. All right, you’re right, William. This one’s really personal. This year has been really something. I don’t think we as a country have even begun to process what we’ve been through and are still going through. I mean, in terms of deaths, we’re now experiencing the equivalent of a 9/11 every day. I saw a tweet the other day that listed, I think, the 10 deadliest days in American history. Several of them were historical events that we all know—like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor—but interspersed among those 10 were Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

This is the worst public health crisis in the history of the country, and it comes with a devastating economic crisis that you guys know all too well. I am getting to a question here. To some extent, this question was inspired by something William said last week, when he talked about why he expects lots of employee turnover in 2021. One thing he cited is that people have kind of looked death in the eye and are now questioning some of their assumptions about what they do and why they do it. So that’s the question I want to ask each of you: Has this year of anxiety and uncertainty and disease affected your view of what you do every day. William, you got me thinking about this, how about you?

William Vanderbloemen:
I saw the same meme, because I think the deadliest day, so far, is still the storm in Galveston right here in our backyard in 1900.

Loren Feldman:
Right, right, right.

William Vanderbloemen:
Yeah. This is a horrible pandemic. In fact, my very best friend in the world, other than my wife, has just come off a ventilator finally. He’s diabetic, so I guess that’s a comorbidity, but he’s 55… I don’t want to minimize what people are going through. It’s been in my life, so I understand. And I can’t imagine losing a family member, especially an untimely death. So please hear all those caveats.

Having said that, I’m getting a little weary of the word “unprecedented,” Loren. This is just not unprecedented. The plague wiped out one out of every three people in Europe. That’s a whole different calculus. Frankly, when we came over here, we wiped out about that percentage of the Native Americans who were here. That’s a whole different math. I’ve got church clients, some on the fringes, and they’re like, “We’re being persecuted.” No you’re not. You’re not being burned at the stake.

I think you asked the personal question: How has this impacted me personally? It’s woken me up to just how fortunate and prosperous my life has been. Shame on me for feeling like an eternal victim in the middle of a really bad year, but nothing like what a lot of people have been through in the history of the world. I guess it’s spurred in me a more intentional effort to start every day with gratitude. I think when you were my editor at Forbes, Loren, the most popular thing I ever wrote was how successful people start their day. And if you go study any faith, any non-faith, successful people start their day with a ritual of thankfulness. I had to recover that and had to kind of kick myself in the rear for feeling down about a time where we’ve just been really, really fortunate.

Now, the flip side of that, I will say, I know we’ve got listeners of all kinds of faiths. I happen to be a Christian and we’re moving toward Christmas as we record this. I did my morning run this morning. It was speed work, right? So I’m wearing my AirPods, and I should be listening to Rocky III or some motivational, really cool pump-you-up song. And instead, I found myself listening to Handel’s “Messiah” and running really fast.

Jay Goltz:
Wait. Is he a fighter, Handel Messiah?

William Vanderbloemen:
Exactly.

Loren Feldman:
That’s Rocky VI.

Jay Goltz:
Oh, right, Rocky VI. I just didn’t see that one.

William Vanderbloemen:
Well, it’s not on the top of the motivational lists. It threw Spotify off. They don’t know what to suggest for me now. But the pandemic has pointed me back to my route, and it’s different for different people. I get that. Whatever your faith perspective, maybe this is a year where it’s pointed you back to your source and how you see things going after you’re here. It has for me. That’s sort of taken the pressure off of me watching the Dow every five seconds or seeing what our sales numbers are.

Loren Feldman:
Paul, how about you? How has this hit you?

Paul Downs:
I’m not sure I can top that. Honestly, I think it hasn’t changed me all that much. A lot of it has to do with my particular personal circumstances that allowed me to just skate by a lot of the troubles other people were experiencing. I think, in particular, not having young kids in the house just changes the whole equation. Everybody I know who’s got children and is trying to struggle with schooling and what to do with them, then the situation is intruding in their daily life in a way that just didn’t happen for me.

I’ve always had that perspective that we could be so much worse off on any given day. The electricity never went out, and the financial systems functioned. Jay, you saw actual rioting in the streets, but I didn’t see any where I was. I’ve gotta say that I’m not all that changed. It hasn’t been forced on me. So there you have it. Maybe I’m just a shallow guy, but I’ve been able to slide by without having to really confront any changes in my personal life.

Loren Feldman:
Fair enough. Jay, you spent a couple of weeks in your basement, and you tested positive for COVID. Happily, you were asymptomatic, and you’re fine. Did that have an impact on you?

Jay Goltz:
Yeah, I made friends with a couple of rats in the basement, and that’ll be a lifelong relationship. I had absolutely no symptoms whatsoever, but I certainly knew that could change and I had to deal with, ‘Yikes, what if I died tomorrow?’ At 64, I think I’ve done a good job of planning, and I’ve got life insurance and blah, blah, blah. But I came to realize that the insurance thing will take care of my family. I don’t want to hang this responsibility on myself or any other entrepreneur, but it would be best if I could keep the company running if I dropped dead. It would be best for the employees and best for the customers. So while I don’t want to hang that responsibility on myself, I’m going to do my damnedest to make that happen. So my revelation—

Loren Feldman:
Wait, explain what you mean by that. You’re saying that you don’t feel as though it is your responsibility to keep the company running beyond you, but that if you could do it, you would like to be able to do it?

Jay Goltz:
Yeah, I want to be very clear with this. I think, as entrepreneurs, we have enough responsibility our entire careers, if you call it a career. I’m not going to preach to people that, “Oh no, you have a responsibility to have a succession plan.” I don’t think so. I think it’s a good thing. I think it is a responsible thing. I think it is a great thing. But I just don’t think that it’s fair—and I hate using that word, but I have to—to entrepreneurs to tell them that you’ve taken on all this responsibility your whole career and that now you have to make sure when you’re dead, you still have to take it on.

I don’t think that everyone has to have a succession plan. I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s a responsible thing. I think we should try. But in my case, I wasn’t trying hard enough. And now I realize that one of my kids is interested and old enough now, and is a good number-cruncher. I’m going to be involving him in the business more and have him be able to understand the inner workings of the company that if, God forbid, I drop dead tomorrow, it will be easier to transition, and they’ll have a good shot of keeping the company running. I was kind of working on it, but like I said, not hard enough.

And if that one wouldn’t work, I would try to think of another solution. Because this isn’t anywhere near as simple as people think it is. For those people who aren’t in business, I’ll just give you some of the quick responses: “Why don’t you hire someone, bring them in as CEO?” And do what? Tell them, “Oh, you’ll really be the CEO when I decide to retire. That could be five years from now, two years from now, or 30 years from now.” I mean, that’s just not reasonable. Who’s going to take that job? And I’m not ready. I don’t want to retire. So that’s a problem. “Oh, Jay, why don’t you take one of your employees and groom them?” I don’t know that the people who are doing an excellent job running their part of the business have the education, the mindset, the desire, the whatever, to be the CEO of a company that’s gotten to be a decent size.

This isn’t simple. There’s a reason why only 30 percent of businesses get to the second generation. There are lots of reasons for that. One of them is, sometimes businesses just run out of steam. I watched it with my father’s dime store. I don’t think I’m in that situation, but over a 30-, 40-year period, things do change. Some companies are no longer as viable as they were when they started, so it’s very complicated. I’m working on it.

Loren Feldman:
How are you working on it? Have you taken actual steps?

Jay Goltz:
Yes, my youngest son, who’s now 31, he’s been out there. He’s done well with real estate. He’s going to be working here three days a week and still do some real estate. And I’m going to very methodically and deliberately train him on every piece of the business.

Loren Feldman:
Does he know this?

Jay Goltz:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s totally into it and ready for it and anxious to do it and wants to do it. If he said, “No, I really don’t want to deal with it.” Okay, I’d have to come up with a different plan. But that is my plan for the moment. And I think it’s a good plan.

Loren Feldman:
We’ve talked about some of this before. William, we know you have plans for everything. Paul, I’m curious: do you feel as though you have a responsibility to see that your business goes on beyond you.

Paul Downs:
No, I don’t. I think about this a lot, because I think at the root of it is the desire to take care of the employees. That’s a big motivator for me every day. I sort of achieved all my personal goals in business. I’m not filthy rich, but I’m comfortable enough. I want my people to have a good place to work, and the question is: Can I actually guarantee that in any way? I just don’t think I can. I honestly don’t think I can. I can give them probably another 10 years, and then beyond that, I don’t know what will happen.

Maybe I sell the company, but then it’s a different boss. Maybe I don’t sell the company, and it shuts down. The question really comes down to: If I gave people 20 plus years of working in a good place, making a decent dollar, having good colleagues, and doing good work, isn’t that good enough? There’s always going to be a point when you’re going to lose control, and you just can’t control everything. I think a lot of entrepreneurs don’t want to think about that because the lack of control implied in that could creep back. They’re just control freaks, and I like to control things, but there’s things you can’t control. That’s sort of how I think about it,

Loren Feldman:
William, we do know you have those break-glass-when-necessary plans for anything and everything. Do you feel you have a responsibility to see that the business continues beyond you?

William Vanderbloemen:
I think my responsibility is to make sure that the business doesn’t rise and fall on my existence. If the business goes away, fine, but not because, “Well, William wasn’t here, and we can’t get by without William,” right? If the business continues, if one of the 9 million children I have wants to take it over, and they do a good job with it, then that’s fine, too.

I don’t want to be the lid of our business. Put it that way. I don’t want to be the lid. There should be some plan that this could continue. I mean, we may get disrupted one day. Maybe we aren’t necessary forever. I’m fine with that, too. I just don’t want to be the reason the place has to close.

Jay Goltz:
Dare I say it, I think we’re all on the same page.

Loren Feldman:
Interesting. Coming from different directions, but kind of getting to the same place.

Jay Goltz:
Yeah, but it’s healthy. I just think entrepreneurs have enough responsibilities our whole working life. I don’t think we need to carry it into death.

Paul Downs:
I think there’s one other thing too, which is that it’s easy to believe that the employees are going to be harmed somehow if the company doesn’t go on. I think employees—people—are just more resilient than we think they are. And if they’re not working here, they’re all good people. They’ll find something.

Loren Feldman:
All right, my thanks to Paul Downs, Jay Goltz, and William Vanderbloemen. Thanks for putting up with my personal questions. Thank you for sharing a very interesting year with me and with our listeners.