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Fanning the Inner Sparks of Possibility

I’m an entrepreneur. I started my company, Crown Worldwide, on shoestring in 1965 and have spent the past fifty years developing a business which has grown from one very small office in Yokohama, Japan to a string of 260 locations in sixty countries around the world. Obviously the company does not qualify as an overnight success but fits more into the story of the Tortoise and the Hare with Crown being the Tortoise – moving slowly but consistently forward with occasional interruptions along the way.

My life has been a never ending learning experience. I only knew a fraction of what I know today when I began as a 25 year old. Of course much of what’s available to operate a business today didn’t exist in 1965 and, as a result, much of my learning really amounted to adapting to the new developments – particularly in the area of technology – as great new inventions, such as the internet, became commercially practical for businesses. Much of what was initial curiosity about these new tools turned into our essential business systems that allowed the company to grow and remain connected globally.

From a personal development point I think the most important thing I learned was about my own capabilities. I attained mediocre grades from a state university in California and upon graduation I didn’t really know what I was capable of achieving. However, as I began my lifelong adventure in building my company from its tiny base I found that I did have the desire and ability to do more than I – and probably the people around me – thought I could achieve. One wonderful quote attributed to a statesman that makes this point is, “Trust yourself. Make the most of yourself by fanning those tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” That says a lot about realizing what you’re capable of and might well be the ‘secret’ of many successful people.

One of the essential things I’ve learned as we expanded was the vital importance of hiring the right people. In my case, men and women who are comfortable in a global service business. I’m not a great believer in incessant interviews for potential hires but I have come to respect the professional talents of the Human Resources experts who play the biggest role in selecting the team. If they can select the right people it becomes less of a challenge to train, incentivize and motivate staff to fit into the company’s culture and make them great contributors.

When the right people are part of the team it’s important to trust your managers and let them get on with their job. I learned how vital the art of delegation is to a business if it’s going to grow. No one person can do it all and despite the fact we may feel, as the company head, we have to be making all the decisions I’ve come to realize that it’s simply impossible and I’ve learned to leave my managers alone and let them do their jobs and build the company for me. Very often their ideas are better than mine so why interfere.

An important aspect of a growing business that must constantly be challenged is that of fighting the bureaucracy that inevitably develops within a company. It is so common to add layers which complicate the smooth running of a business. Some in the company that are proponents of these added layers can make an eloquent case for why they’re needed. I’ve learned that these complications to a business become a big cost and they stymie both creativity and enthusiasm among the workforce and they should be reviewed and attacked on a regular basis.

Finally, a key point that I now understand clearly is that the culture of a company really does start with the leader. Whether it be the attitude toward quality, governance, social responsibility or other key issues the leader sets the direction. If the leader truly believes in issues and effectively communicates to the entire staff then the rest of the team at all levels will come to believe in those values as well. This collective attitude defines a company and normally leads to its success. 

Author: Prague Leadership Institute / Jim Thompson