Saturday, January 24, 2009

?: 2008

I'm not really sure how to classify my 2008. It's probably been the best and worst year of my life at the same time. I've tried to let God lead me in everything that I do but I know I always get in the way. I just hope that I've learned something through the trials and mistakes.

The year started with signs of tremendous growth in my business. I hired two individuals at the beginning of the year to double the size of my company to four. We moved out of my house into leased office space and I finally felt as though the company was "real".

By April, I had hired four more individuals and found out that Ashley was pregnant. We had been planning accordingly to have the child around the first of the year. This would allow us to move to her residency with a 6 month old rather than younger. We had a tough lesson in God's timing vs. our own when we found out in early June that Ashley lost the baby. That was a pretty rough patch for us, especially for Ashley. I truly didn't realize the emotional connection that had already formed between mother and child and felt helpless in trying to comfort her.

Around that time, I also had to conduct my first firing of an employee. I knew early on this he wasn't going to work out and I held out months too long because of my fear of performing the action. I truly thought that it was my purpose to lead the employee to be something great and that it his failures were a result of my lack of leadership. I learned a great deal from that experience including the fact that character means more in my employees than any technical skill they may possess. I have also been extremely blessed in all other company hires and would put the Apax team against any other development team in Kentucky.

I struggled over the next three or four months on whether I wanted to continue on the path as business owner. I was working extremely long hours and pouring everything that I had into something that didn't seem like it was improving. I was also enlightened during a mission trip in June to Jamaica about the need around the world and my role in meeting some of those needs. I held on to the business for the simple fact that I had younger individuals with families working for me and I couldn't let them down. I carried that responsibility solely on my shoulders for the next several months and it had a big impact on how I wanted my business to run moving forward.

At the end of the 3rd quarter, I made probably the biggest decision in my company thus far. I merged with one of my vendors to create one company of 20+ employees. We had worked together on several projects already and had shared office space so a merge was the next step in the progression. As of this date, it was probably one of the best decisions that I have made. I was able to officially surround myself with other talented owners and was able to ease the responsibility I was feeling months earlier. I have seen myself step away from daily programming tasks and move to actually leading the company. It's pretty easy to do with the awesome employees that we have and I have been extremely impressed with the amount of growth that I've seen during this year.

The 2nd half of the year was up and down on a personal level as well. In a span of 3 or 4 months, one grandmother died unexpectedly, an aunt who had been fighting pancreatic cancer died, and my other grandmother who had been in and out of the hospital for months died. Those, on top of the baby we had lost earlier, made the year pretty rough. I don't understand why all of these things happened during this one year. Maybe it's something I'll learn one day or maybe I'll never find out why.

Ashley and I also found out towards the end of last year that we're pregnant again. The timing could be better for us, but we learned from our earlier experiences that our timing preferences are insignificant compare to a greater plan. We also began interviewing for residency programs at the end of last year. We know that we'll be leaving Lexington, KY sometime late summer and are anxious for what's in store for us.

So, 2008 had its ups and downs both professionally and personally. I've learned a lot about myself and only hope that I'm able to apply some of the wisdom gained on future challenges.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Good: Chick Fil-A

I never realized how amazing Chick Fil-A is until I attended Entreleadership with Dave Ramsey last April. I began to learn what things to look for in great companies and traits that I want to emulate in my own.

Every time that I go to Chick Fil-A I am impressed by something else that I see. Several months ago, I went in during the crazy lunch hour. The lobby was full of people waiting to place their orders. I watched carefully to see how the managers would handle it. I saw an older lady who was cleaning a few tables in the lobby head through a door behind the registers with no prompting by the management. She appeared about 15 seconds later with a tray full of brownies. She walked into the crowded lobby and began handing the samples out to the waiting customers.

Over several following visits I began to notice the careful choice of words that EVERY employee follows. "How can I serve you today?" Not, "Can I take your order?", like all of the other fast-food restaurants, but "How can I serve you?" Also, after you thank any employee for prompt service, attention to detail, etc., you will always hear a "My pleasure" with eye contact and a smile.

Another impressive moment was when my company ordered food for our 1-year anniversary. Our office manager called in an order the day before and I was going to pick it up on Saturday before the celebration. I noticed when we picked up our order that the cheesecake was not included. I told the manager (who had already brought out the rest of my order) that I didn't receive my complete order. He looked at his order sheet, said that they didn't take that part of the order over the phone, then asked if I could wait about 10 minutes. They prepared a cheesecake tray and gave it to me -- no charge. I was more than willing to pay for the tray but he said that it was on them.

Most recently, I noticed a change in their drive thru on at the Man-O-War location. They now have LCD monitors on the drive thru that show you the person taking your order. It's kind of creepy at first but really provides a more personal feel to that service.

I am very impressed with Chick Fil-A and hope that my company can emulate those qualities of service and innovation.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Ugly: GMAC

I've recently learned why GMAC is in its current state.

My grandmother passed away at the end of November. Several years ago she purchased a minivan that was financed through GMAC and also purchased insurance to pay off the loan in the event of her death. Not something that I would recommend but whatever.

So my mom begins calling GMAC on December 4th to receive the payoff balance so that she can send to the insurance company. After dealing with several broken-English employees and several managers, she finally was able to receive this information around December 22nd. At which time, my grandmother's account with GMAC had become past due and the collection calls began to my mom as she was in charge of the estate.

My mom received multiple calls a day demanding that she send in the 2 months worth of payment (roughly $300). The callers were very rude and didn't pay attention to my mom's explanation of the whole insurance thing. When she asked to speak with managers she soon heard a dial tone on her end.

The last straw came when they called her in the evening on her cell phone while she was at my sister's basketball game. The employee threatened my mom that not paying the bill would hurt my grandmother's credit. OK, go ahead. I don't think my grandma's credit score is stored in the book at the Pearly gates. She then proceeded to threaten my mom's credit score for being in charge of the estate. Fine, try it. After no luck at getting a payment, she proceeded to tell my mom that "Your mom is looking down on you and disappointed that you're not paying the bill." WOW. Do you have to sign over your soul when you begin work there?

My mom, being in complete disbelief, handed the phone to my dad. He advised the lady that if they were that desperate for money, he would try to speed up some of the bailout they were set to receive (roughly $6 billion). Mom then told dad what the lady said about looking down from heaven. He questioned her about it and she stumbled over her words. He then told her that the conversation was over and hung up the phone.

That is absolutely ridiculous and I now understand why the company is in need of a government bailout. I also hate the fact that as a taxpayer I now own part of such a horrible company.