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Paul Burri: Being an Entrepreneur Is a Hard Habit to Break

A steady focus on increasing company sales and profits comes with the job

I once worked as the manager of the West Coast division of a large electronics connector company. The company, headquartered in Massachusetts, was trying to establish a presence in the West Coast defense industry. The division I managed was about one-tenth the size of the parent company.

Paul Burri
Paul Burri

My “marching orders,” given to me directly by the president, “Windy,” were to support the five salesmen working out of our Fullerton office. Their job was to break into the industry by offering rapid-response, low-cost prototype electronic connectors to show sales prospects the quality and functionality of our products and, of course, to get them to know about us. As a secondary function, our division was tasked with supporting the main manufacturing plant to fill short-run and rapid-response orders they couldn’t handle.

I’m still amazed at how well that worked out because there was usually little coordination between me and my Massachusetts counterpart. Gordon would send me work with an anticipated delivery target date, and we would almost always turn it out on time as requested. Rarely did I have to call him to ask which of several jobs had priority.

It was a fun job — although it frequently involved a lot of pressure — because I was essentially my own boss, responsible to a man whose office was 3,000 miles away. Two or three times a year, I would fly to Massachusetts for four or five days to meet and talk with Windy, Gordon and some of the other sales and/or manufacturing people there.

I had come to the job from supervisory positions in manufacturing of one kind or another. With this job, though, there was one interesting difference. Whenever I conferenced with Windy, either in person or on the phone, I would usually mention our sales and profit for the month. Windy’s response was usually the same, and it went something like this, “I’m more interested that you’re doing a good job supporting our sales staff and Gordon. I’m not really interested in the size of your sales and profits.”

Unbelievable! A boss who says not to worry about sales or profits.

Despite him saying that, my experience as the manager of various small-manufacturing companies where sales and profits were crucially important was so ingrained in me that I simply had to run my division as if it were my own company and to do whatever I could to increase sales and profits. Entrepreneurship is a hard habit to break.

And despite Windy’s admonition to the contrary, it wasn’t too long before I was getting calls from Gordon around the 20th of each month asking me what my sales were going to be for the month (they added to his numbers) and him being a little “pushy” when his numbers were going to be low for the month and he needed mine to help bring his up.

I worked there for about six years, and I left when I got an offer to work for the Walt Disney Company. My last call from Windy was when he offered me a lucrative management job in Massachusetts.

California won.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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