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The wrench slipped from my grip and I hit my hand hard on the metal frame.
“ARRGGGGG,” I screamed.
I picked up the wrench and threw it across the factory floor.
I kicked an empty cardboard box, hard. Only it wasn’t empty. It was jam-packed with thick paper, which means it was like kicking a rock.
“MOTHER FLUFFY-DUCK,” I yelled.
In case you haven’t noticed, I was mad. Really mad. I looked around the factory to see what else I could kick (that was soft). I hated this place. I hated every piece of machinery. I hated the smell. I hated everything. Most of all, I hated the fact that it was Friday night, close to midnight and I was stuck here working. What makes that fact even more depressing is that I am the boss. I own this God-forsaken joint. Yeah, that’s right—I’m an “entrepreneur,” and I hate it.
I should also explain the “fluffy-duck.” You see, my wife doesn’t like me swearing. She made me promise that I would always use a different word—one that sounds so stupid that I’d refrain from using it in public. She chose the word and it works. Now I only employ my custom profanity while alone. Like now. The rest of the time I say things like, “Oh, darn it.”
Breathing heavily, in varying degrees of physical pain, I glanced up at the wall and saw his face: Nelson Mandela. He is the only thing I cannot hate, no matter how mad I am. I read the quote under the photo, although I knew it by heart. Afterall, I had put it there.
The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
There are two things that make me snap out of a bad mood. One is that quote, knowing whatever I’m going through, Nelson Mandela went through worse. The other is pretty much any song by Queen, especially We Are the Champions.
OK, it was time to rise and it was time for some Queen. It was also time for pizza, because I realized I’d skipped dinner trying to get this job done. That’s another thing I’ve noticed: lack of sleep and food is the perfect recipe for a bad mood.
I walked to my office and fired up my computer. I’m sad to say that the local pizza joint knows me well. I ordered my pre-saved usual with just a few clicks. Now it was time to call the wife and give her the bad news. I glanced at the family photo sitting on my desk amongst the messy paperwork; it was a beautiful shot of me and Tiffany with the kids, taken about 3 years ago. We’ve been married twelve... no, make that thirteen years. I know because my son Tim will be twelve this year and Jessica will be ten. Where have the years gone? Especially the last five. Ever since I became my own boss, I’ve hardly seen them. And here I go again, calling late to tell her I’m not coming home.
She picked up on the first ring. “Hi honey, it’s me,” I said.
“On your way home?” she asked.
I paused. Hardly a second but she knew. “Oh John, not again? It’s Timmy’s baseball game in the morning!”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be there. The damn printing machine jammed again so I have to fix it before I can continue.”
“You can’t keep doing this John. We hardly ever see you and it’s not healthy. You’re there all day and practically all night.”
“I know honey but I’ve got to pay the bills somehow.”
“You made more money in your old job and we got to see you,” she pleaded, stretching out that word “see” for added effect.
It wasn’t the first time we had this conversation. She knew this was my dream, to be my own boss and to build a big business. But five years of long hours and little reward was taking its toll. She’d never say it outright, knowing the idea would be the end of my dream, but it was implied and I knew what she was thinking: Just sell the damn business and let’s have a normal life. Truth is, I’d thought of it too. Problem is, the debt we were carrying was more than the business was worth. I was, to be blunt, trapped.
“Tiffany I know. Look, I better get cracking. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
I hung up. Now I really needed some Queen. The one thing I had done, because I was the boss and I could, was install big speakers around the factory. I opened my favourite playlists, all Queen songs, arranged in such a way that We Are the Champions repeated every fourth or fifth song. It was also the first. I clicked play and cranked the volume.
Freddie belted out the first few lyrics.
I’m not sure exactly who Freddie Mercury wrote this song for, but in my opinion, it’s perfect for the business owner, the struggling entrepreneur. It’s perfect for people like me.
I sang along. Those lyrics about “mistakes” were certainly written for me. Although, I’d made more than a few.
I heard the doorbell buzz just barely above the music. Dinner!
I tipped the pizza guy a buck. Bit stingy I know, but the kid probably earned more than me. The smell of the pizza lifted my spirits. I joined Freddie in the fourth verse at the top of my lungs and sang along.
I am not going to lose.
I bought this business 5 years ago. I had to borrow money. I mortgaged the house but was still short. My folks came to the rescue, my dad saying, “We believe in you son.”
It was a printing business. We printed stuff: flyers, postcards, posters, menus, you name it, we could do it. I called it Champion Printing Services. No prizes knowing where that name came from. Our slogan was corny as hell: Your first choice for all your printing needs. And our unique selling position, which was something a marketing guru told me we had to have was Guaranteed on-time delivery or it’s free.
That's why I’m here on a Friday at midnight. This printing job was due by 12pm tomorrow. Why anyone had a deadline for 12pm on a Saturday was beyond me. The problem wasn’t so much the deadline but the price. This was a big job, about $20,000 worth of printing. One of our biggest, sold by my star sales guy Richard. However, the profit margin was pathetic. But this was part of Richard’s plan to break into the wholesale market. He was undercutting the competition to get his foot in the door. Due to the size of these wholesale jobs we did them mostly at night, because Betty (that’s what we call the large 4-stage printing machine, our biggest) needed to run all night. Drew, our lead technician and a great bloke, did the smaller jobs during the day.
With such tight margins I couldn’t afford to pay the overtime rates. So I of course had to do the jobs because, you know, I’m willing to work for nothing.
With food in my belly and Queen bellowing around the factory, I looked at Betty. She was like a Model T Ford, not a single computer chip inside her. She was old, somewhat reliable, but easy to repair.
“Right, let’s get you fixed,” I said to her. “I’ve got a baseball game in less than 10 hours that I’m not going to miss.”
The first problem was, where the hell had I thrown that wrench?
Around 6 a.m. I stifled a yawn. Betty was pumping away rhythmically. Strange how it’s possible to feel drowsy with such a loud noise. I could lie down next to her and fall asleep right now. Concrete floor and all.
Time for coffee.
I made it strong and sat back, checking the time against Betty’s progress; we were on target. I could be out of here by 9am and make the game.
I wandered back to my office and picked up a business magazine off my desk. I get these mailed to me every month. I’m always looking for tips on how to improve things; marketing, systems, recruitment, anything. Mostly all I find is the same stuff repeated: expensive seminars or online courses with buzzwords and clichés. Maybe I’m cynical, but still I keep looking, hoping to find the holy grail for business.
Flicking through the mag, I noticed an article with the headline:
From zero to $100 Million in 10 Years
Whow! That’s huge growth. My headline would read: $500,000 to zero in 5 years. Anyway, the article sucked me in. I started to read. There was a picture of a guy smiling, wearing a suit that looked like it cost more than my car. The subtitle said his name was Mike Salsburg. Hey, I knew a Mike Salsburg. I continued reading. Mike started a freight company ten years ago and worked himself to the bone, with late hours, tough clients and little profit. Ha, I thought, I’m on the right path. But then he changed his operating basis completely; through trial and error, he developed ten key business principles that turned everything around. Within two years he had hit $10M, then $20M, then $40M and through acquisitions and stellar organic growth, he jumped to $60M and then $100M. This line got me, “And I did it all without sacrificing what’s important: family, friends and fun.”
I wanted to know if this guy had written a book or something. What were those ten principles he mentioned? I read the little bio next to his photo. “With no college education, Mike learned business from the ground up, after his parents moved from Central City.”
I couldn’t believe it; that’s where I lived. This was my old friend Mike. We were best buddies in the sixth grade. I could see it now in his photo; he had the same cheeky smile. He had introduced me to Queen. We used to sing along to every song. I’d play air guitar and Mike would play air drums. We’d both play air piano. I felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me. I cried when he left (don’t tell anyone). And look at him now! My old buddy Mike was truly kicking ass. And rich.
I wondered if he’d help me? He was probably too busy. I picked up my coffee mug and walked out into the factory reading the article all over again.
An energy welled up inside me. I felt a buzz. It wasn’t the coffee; this coffee was so cheap it probably didn’t even have any caffeine. I wondered if this was perhaps my lucky break? Would Mike be willing to help an old friend?
I looked up at Mandela. “What do you think?”
He seemed to smile at me. I think I even heard him say, “It’s time to rise.”