Articles

JRB Website Article 2

May 25, 2006

 

DID THE LESSONS I LEARNED GROWING UP PREPARE ME FOR EMPLOYEE OWNERSHIPAND entrepreneurship in science and technology?

 

When I was growing up in North Idaho with my parents, brothers, sisters and my buddies Norm and Pat, we did not put much thought into employee ownership or being an entrepreneur. In fact, I am quite sure we never even heard of such things. And if we did, I doubt if we could spell them correctly. At times, we thought we were pretty clever in science and technology but that might have been debated by parents, teachers and others in authority. I hesitate to mention some of things we tried. Nevertheless, some of the principles and values I learned may have gotten me ready to embrace such important concepts as I grew up, went to college, got married, raised a family and entered my professional career. (Note: the fact that some say I never grew up is beside the point and outside the purview of this story in any event.)

 

I’ll start with a few recollections. Family and fishing come to mind for some reason. Let’s start with family.

 

I “grew up” in a large family- with parents, two sisters and three brothers on a farm two miles from that now-famous Sandpoint, Idaho. (Its too bad it got discovered.) With a large family and lots to do we had to learn how to get along and get things done efficiently and effectively. We were taught principles and values such as honesty, the golden rule, religion, healthy living and so forth. One of these was to never do anything that would embarrass the family. My Mom especially taught us to love the family and the way to make the family strong was to respect and help each other. She has held the family together for 75 years (no, I’m not the oldest-barely).

 

So, we were taught that we all “owned” the family and to place family above self. Each person had assigned responsibilities and had to figure out how to get things done-just like an entrepreneur. We learned quickly that teamwork was the only way to get everything done right and on time. We used teamwork to pursue common objectives in work and play and we developed a sense of pride in accomplishing things together. We learned the value and benefits of helping each other. Oh, we fought and battled sometimes but the camaraderie derived from joint accomplishment and reward far outweighed the occasional sibling scraps. We respected the family; owned the farm, livestock and crops and knew that we had to work together to achieve the best results. The idea of the power of ownership and teamwork is remarkably similar to Dr. Beyster’s motto “None of us is as smart as all of us.” I think a feeling of joint ownership fosters teamwork and together ownership and teamwork foster success.

 

One of the early family lessons was not taking too much risk or as we often said “not biting off more than you could chew”. It simply wasn’t good for the family to risk too much so we tended to experiment incrementally especially in the science area. Still, some mistakes crept in. Like the time we decided to cross an Aberdeen Angus bull with a Holstein cow. The plan was to achieve a marvelous cow with the meat producing properties of the Angus and the milk producing properties of the Holstein. You guessed it. What we got was the opposite- a scrawny, lean cow that produced little milk. Even so, it was a nice cow. We should have known about Norm Augustine’s Law Number 1 “The best way to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear is to start with a silk sow”. In his book entitled Augustine’s Laws published first in 1986, Mr. Augustine discusses the foibles of business management and his first law addresses the risks in starting new business. The lessons I learned in my early days and converted over time to Russell’s laws were similar to those espoused by Dr. Beyster in running SAIC; namely “don’t bet the farm on any activity”. We all learned to think that way at SAIC as we were all employee owners.

 

Webster’s dictionary says that an entrepreneur is one who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise. Although we didn’t know back then about Webster’s definition, we tried our best to become low risk entrepreneurs. One of the many ways was to give us kids a small, daily allowance for work performed and then have us pay for things we wanted to buy. It took several years to save enough for a bicycle. However, you could get one sooner by taking a promissory note from a sibling. We definitely learned the value of saving over the long haul and investing wisely. We must have learned something because years later my young sister, Vivian was recognized as Idaho Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year for her home health agency success. My claim to fame was joining SAIC in 1972.

 

In sum then, the values, approaches and lessons learned in creating a good strong family are remarkably similar to those used by Dr. Beyster in creating SAIC. Powerful synergy and incentives are generated when ethics, common goals, ownership, entrepreneurship, and teamwork are combined. To be sure, all must be present to succeed. Maybe next time I will get to the fishing experiences.

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