The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Posted On: 5/17/2018

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One thing I love about this industry is the number of small business owners and entrepreneurs with whom I come in contact. I'm not taking about doctors and lawyers, who usually get to "clock out" at a predictable time or day or week (no offense to those respectable professions). But if you own your own company you will know what I'm talking about; we are always "on," even when at the golf course or in my case, on the beach. If a customer needs our help or an employee has a problem, it must be resolved – preferably yesterday. Even if it can't be dealt with instantaneously, the chances are that it will be weighing on our minds until it's resolved. In a similar vein, if a client wants to purchase an advertisement, I'll take the order on Saturday at midnight or Monday at noon!

I can't tell you how many times I have heard well-intentioned people advise us to "take time out to enjoy life," or remind us that "you can't take it with you." What they fail to understand is that it's not (just) about the money, it's largely for the love of the game. We do enjoy our lives! Most of us who own our own businesses truly revel in what we do. We also see the value in the tough times, because opposition keeps us on our toes and makes us stronger. One of my favorite quotes by author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle offers two choices for dealing with adversity: "You can use challenge to awaken you, or can allow it to pull you into even deeper sleep." I, for one, choose to confront it head on and learn from it.

Last month I attended the Amusement and Music Owners Association of New York's annual awards dinner at Patrizia's restaurant in midtown Manhattan (see page 40 in this issue). While greeting my industry colleagues, I had the opportunity to engage wholeheartedly with an entrepreneur of the sort I've described above. He is the chairman of the National ATM Council, owns and operates automated teller machines in Brooklyn, NY, is a strong opponent of misguided laws and regulations, and is certainly an example of a man who has chosen to embrace challenge. In our enjoyable wandering conversation, he told me that the very restaurant in which we were enjoying our mushroom tortellini had been on the brink of bankruptcy after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. Instead of giving in to adversity, the owner hired extended-family members to help the company through difficult times, and has since expanded with locations in Brooklyn, The Bronx, Staten Island, Long Island, Manhattan and New Jersey. This isn't and advertisement for Patrizia's (although I do recommend it), but that anecdote was part of a larger discussion about the ups and downs of running a business. The restaurant was also a great backdrop to dine family-style in a room filled with strong, like-minded entrepreneurs who, even if competitors, come together (like family) for the greater good.

I also had the pleasure of lunching this week with another vending industry business owner who has a degree in computer science and went to work for a large operating company just after graduating college. Today, he is a considered a leader in the field of vending technology and, at 40 years young, is a partner in a successful consulting company that helps operators succeed by making optimal use of IT infrastructure, information systems, Internet marketing and Web communication. We had an enlightening conversation about the path that led him to his current position and some of the challenges he has faced along the way. We both agreed that we wouldn't change a thing – the good, the bad and even the ugly – because we have learned so much from our experiences.

For what it's worth, I don't consider either of the aforementioned occasions to have been "work." Yes, they were business functions, but I would choose to attend such events and engage in these kinds of conversations even if I had to forgo another diversion. One of the things I can remember my dad telling me is that I have the right to break bread with whomever I please, and I should never sit across the table from anyone I don't like. I can't say that I have never encountered an obstacle, but I do truly enjoy most of the places I've visited and the people I've met in my 30 years with Vending Times.

Sure, a publisher has to play good cop and bad cop, practice informal psychiatry, undertake a certain amount of ad hoc social work and, in general, take risks and live with the results. We loosen our belts in good times and eat last in bad ones. We take the rap if a member of our team makes a mistake, and we try to make things better so that we all can prosper.

This is the life of the small business owner. I have the opportunity to meet a great variety of interesting people with diverse viewpoints and great stories to tell. I get to live with the consequences of my decisions, enjoying successes and learning from reverses. I wouldn't change it for the world.