I’ve worked in Corporate America for most of my life. I’ve spent the last 6 years in Leadership Development of some sort. Vendors contact me with all kinds of leadership programs designed to bring my leaders to the next level. One of my favorite leadership programs is one based on the leadership principles taken from Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic adventures. Antarctic Mike shows up for his training dressed in the technical gear that he wore in Antarctica when he ran the Antarctic Ice Marathon. It’s part of his gimmick, and it really works.
When I was at my Redneck Immersion Experience this weekend, we talked about business quite a bit. Patrick owns his own business as does Russel, and we discussed the state of business in the US how the political and economic environment has impacted the business environment. At one point, Russel unveiled his plan of how we would survive if the worst case scenario happens, and the economy crumbles. It’s a top secret plan, so I’m not at liberty to discuss it, but let’s say that it’s well thought out, a bit novel and several people have a role in its success. I’ll also add that some of it may be illegal, but, hey, who cares. If it helps us survive, it just may be worth the risk. Luckily, I’ve been appointed as the marketing person or something. I’m just glad I have a place.
One of Russel’s friends asked him for some advice on growing blueberries. Wild Bill had heard that blueberries brought a good profit and was hoping to plant five or so acres with the pulpy purple berries. Russel gave him some great advice on ways to make his proposed blueberry orchard successful. He also gave him some advice on how to keep it successful long-term. Another option Wild Bill discussed was planting squash. He was pretty passionate about the squash empire especially after Pam made those squash balls that were so delicious. I can just imagine he’s dreaming of eating those creamy dough balls for the rest of his life and using the profit to retire. I had a quart of blueberries sitting on the table, and he asked me how much I paid for them. His eyes popped out of his head when I told him they were $5. They were in season. If I’d bought them out of season, they would have been a lot more. I could see the dollar signs dancing in his head.
The conversation took another wild turn when I read my Balding of the Beaver blog to Russel, and he realized that he could make $50-$100 a pop waxing women’s nether regions every 3- 4 weeks. In rural Mississippi, they don’t have waxing salons. This would be a whole new avenue of revenue for the community and would provide a much needed service. Later in the evening, a friend named Beau came by who had just purchased 260 acres in the area, and he was thinking of putting goats on it. Apparently, goats are extremely profitable right now because of the ethnic population that consumes goat as food, and they will pay a pretty penny for it. Russel’s wife Pam – sweet and usually the more quiet one of the bunch – piped up that they could have Brazilian goats. I was the only one that caught the connection initially, but the others caught on rather quickly. Goats will eat just about anything until it’s bare. There was some discussion on how we would train the goats for this new task, and I think peanut butter was mentioned as a possibility. I am a training professional, but I don’t think I want to be a part of writing that training! The rest of the weekend we got some mileage out of that hair-brained – pun intended – discussion.
I told Russel that I’d like to develop a leadership program around him and market him as the Redneck Business Guru. He had a lot of common sense leadership principles that would make a lot of sense to corporate managers. If I marketed him that way, I’d want him to stay just as he is, dress in his typical redneck garb and deliver his principles the same exact way that he delivered them to Bill. I think it would be a great strategy, and Russel, with his crazy down home common sense personality, would be the perfect candidate for the job. He knows his stuff. And, he has the examples and story-telling ability to pull it off even to a corporate audience.
One of the things I learned from these business discussions is that business is different in rural Mississippi for one reason – land is a commodity. In other business discussions in my life, money is the commodity. We research the market and find a business need that might make some money. Here, in this part of the country, people own land – acres and acres of it. Because they have land, they have built-in business opportunities. Whatever you can grow, nurture, drill or produce on land can become a business idea. You just have to find a way to sell it. It’s a different way of looking at business, and I found it rather interesting.
Here are some of Russel’s Redneck Business Guru principles:
Duplicate yourself. You can make a business profitable by working hard. But, to really make it grow, you have to duplicate yourself. In other words, you can only do so much yourself. Find the right business associate who will be motivated to work as hard as you do, and you can make twice as much. Find more than one, and the business can grow exponentially.
Find out what motivates your employees. He gave advice to a friend about a Mexican worker he had who was exceptional, and he wanted to keep him. He had a girlfriend in Mexico. He told him to get the girlfriend here and give them a place to stay. They would work the property as their own for as long as he needed them. For people in rural areas, the key is to help them care for their families and loved ones.
Get to know your team personally. Russel made a point to talk to every one of his employees every day and get to know them personally. He cared about them and their lives. His workers knew he cared about them, and he gave them time off to take care of their families and do the things they needed to do. In return, he got their loyalty.
Take feedback from those you trust. Russel has a Mexican worker who tells him when he’s riding people too hard and when he’s going too far in being generous. And, he listens to him. He knows that his worker knows his workers better than Russel does, and he listens to his advice.
Learn from your mistakes. Russel started a couple of businesses that didn’t make it, and he learned from those mistakes.
Know your limits. One of the lessons he learned was that you must know your limits and work toward your goals. He could do a lot more with his lawn care business if he wanted to, but he knows that spending time with his family is what’s most important to him.
Be Creative and Innovative. Russel’s top secret plan for surviving after the economy dives is one of the most creative and ingenious plans I’ve ever heard. He’ll be pushing the edge of the envelope, and I want to be a part of it.
And, as for the Brazilian Goats – if you ever need a wax job in rural Mississippi, I’d look at the brochure on how it’s done before you put your money up. You might be surprised!