The Keys to Success

Posted By on October 21, 2009

In my last post I wrote about the problem of goal setting, the importance of execution, and the difference between planning for the future and trying to plan the future. Today I want to talk about the kind of goal setting that works. It’s all too easy for budding entrepreneurs to be seduced by a sexy idea or industry. The prospect of becoming a real estate mogul or Wall Street pasha conjures up visions of money and power that are hard to resist, but as I found out in researching The Richest Man in Town, more often than not it’s not the big, goldplated idea that turns out to be a winner.

To be sure, there are plenty of RMITs who made their pile in real estate, software, or high finance. Jorge Pérez, the real estate developer and richest man in Miami, for example, became wealthy in the tropical heat of South Florida real estate. But even in real estate—which, of course, is not proof against the financial hurricane that’s enveloped the industry in recent times—he achieved his success with strong execution, by sweating the details and working harder than everyone else. As Pérez told me, “there is a big difference in good and excellent, and the difference is in the details.”

There are even more RMITs who have become wealthy with ideas that are anything but glamorous. Sacramento, California’s RMIT, Buzz Oates, told me, “When I started out, I wanted a successful key shop—that’s all I wanted.” He recalls when he was in the seventh grade and the teacher asked all the kids that age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” His fellow students offered the usual professions; firefighter, police officer, doctor, lawyer. Oates blurted out, “I want to make keys.” The class erupted in laughter, but no one is laughing now: his A&A Key Shop morphed into a builder’s supply company that allowed him to begin building and owning commercial real estate. The secret is not in finding a lucrative idea; see Commandment #1, “Seek Money for Money’s Sake and Ye Shall Not Find.” The secret is to find your perfect pitch, an avenue through which to pursue it, and then execute, execute, execute.

Plenty of others have taken a small, unsexy idea, and through strong execution built it into a powerhouse of a business: Indianapolis’s Christel DeHaan started a typing service in her home and only a few years later was the CEO of a multi-national corporation, Resort Condominiums International and branded the “Time Share Queen.” Amherst, Massachusetts, RMIT Michael Kittredge melted crayons in a milk container, and his business waxed into the $100 million Yankee Candle Company. David Green, of Hobby Lobby, Oklahoma City’s richest and most low-key citizen, and his wife started out in their garage and on their kitchen table making and selling picture frames while still in their twenties. That little business, 30 years later, is a $2 billion dollar business, giving Green a $4 billion net worth. Green told me, “Money never starts an idea; it is the idea that starts the money.” And often, the idea that starts the money flowing is very small, but very powerful. As Buzz Oates can attest, making keys can be the key to the kingdom.

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About The Author

W. Randall Jones is the author of The Richest Man in Town. Visit the About W. Randall Jones and About The Richest Man in Town pages to learn more.

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