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Ken Keller: Critics don’t count

Posted: November 4, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 4, 2012 2:00 a.m.

I have had the opportunity recently to spend a significant amount of time in two executive learning environments with others. My fellow attendees were intelligent, articulate and committed. Each made a sacrifice of time, money and in lost opportunity cost to attend.

Each was there to learn, to grow, personally and professionally, their leadership skills. All were leaders and most were business owners.

The media often portrays owners as single-minded, greedy people. Whether it is Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life” or Gordon Gecko from “Wall Street,” owners are tagged as evil.

The owners I know are very special. They take risks. They see opportunities where others see nothing. They bet on themselves, and when their companies grow, they bet on those added to payroll.  

I know more than a few owners who kept employees on the payroll long after the employee stopped making a significant contribution to the company.

Why did the owner make this decision? Perhaps a sense of loyalty and obligation for years of service; maybe the decision was made out of compassion because to let someone go in a bad economy might well mean the loss of a home or the dissolving of a family.

These decisions are quietly made every day. They don’t make the pages of the paper and people don’t tweet about them.  

Owners aren’t quite as ruthless as they have been portrayed.

Most owners work hard, put in long hours, and make contributions to their community in more ways than they understand. Yes, taxes are paid and owners vote in elections, but dollars are invested in hiring, buying goods and services and in buying and renting space. Owners often serve on nonprofit boards and write checks to local causes.

It is easy to criticize owners; they can be an easy target. I heard a person say unkind things about one owner, punctuating it with “They never give to the community!”

Owners don’t take credit for their contributions. Most don’t seek attention. Some aren’t aware of their impact. Many remain focused on clients; the management of scarce resources and making sure there is a profit to reinvest in growth.  

Owners are their own worst critics and their own worst enemy.

Despite good and bad, owners rise early, work hard during long days and return home exhausted, often seven days a week.

On April 23, 1910, former president Teddy Roosevelt gave a 35 page speech titled “Citizenship in a Republic” at the Sorbonne in Paris. From that speech, what follows below is the part most remembered:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Owners are the engine of the American economy. Every one of our Founding Fathers was an entrepreneur of some type. These brave men risked signing the Declaration of Independence and later worked to create the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Business owners risk everything by starting, growing and building a business. Let’s give credit where credit is due.

Ken Keller is CEO of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with companies interested in growing top line revenue. He can be reached at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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