David has been handed nothing on a silver platter in all of his life, as far as I can tell. He has had to fight every kind of demon, terror and heartache imaginable. He has a brilliant mind, and it is native - he's not particularly well-educated. He first embraced and then had to fight hard to escape an addiction. He lost his personal freedom for a time. When he was freed, he started life again at the very bottom rung: group home, no money, no transportation, no job, no family. Today he is an entrepreneur with a number of business interests. He is married with children and has extended a very fine lifestyle to 3 generations of his extended family. He sends money to his elderly father whom he only met a few years ago. He pays for his son to attend the University of California. His home and cars are top flight. He takes a dozen people on beach vacations where they do everything first class. It has been considerably less than 10 years since he walked out of that prison.
The company was 3 months old when I was hired. David knew all about running a small business and all about carpet cleaning. I only knew about "business", generally. For 7 months we sat across from each other in the same office, all day, every day. Except for the wood panels on our desks, our knees could have been bumping. This is how and where I learned to talk carpet cleaning, sales, and customer service on the phone. I learned when to talk on and when to shut up. I learned to build a do-able schedule which was tremendously difficult for me. I learned to direct the days of a group of home dudes with ideas of their own. I learned to deal with "machine vapor locked on #3, Limes" when I had a full schedule to execute. I learned all of that from him. I learned the "how" and I learned the "why".
The first 18 months were stupendous - we grew exponentially and there was frequent talk of buying more vans, hiring more technicians, getting a clerk to ease some of my burden. I grew better and better at creating systems and processes to tell us how we were doing in various ways. After we had a year under our belts, I was able to report that we were doing 400% more business than during the same time period in the prior year. Often, I would make radio announcements to say, "Guys, we are about to cross a dollar threshold we've never crossed before in a single day and there are 6 more doors to be knocked on. I have a $100 bill for everyone if we make $____ today." Usually those $100 bills were delivered up, too - dangle a carrot and those technicians become bunnies!
Staff meetings frequently began with David jumping up from behind his desk and smacking $100 bills down in front of each of us like a crazed card dealer. Smack on the desk, loud enough to make me jump, and there was fresh green money for everyone. In addition to what we were paid. He often took a group of home dudes to San Diego for the weekend - he holds good season tickets for the Chargers. He provided meals, good hotels, spending cash. Limes and whichever home dudes stayed back to run the business got cash expressions of gratitude for holding down the fort. We planned, carefully building a business plan and an ironclad budget, to make $1 million in 2009. That would be the year we'd cross yet another threshold.
The rocket ship shot higher and higher. We didn't have to service nasty customers - there were too many nice ones waiting in line. We could walk away from the doors of objectionable people. We were unable to handle all the business that tapped on our door. Frequently heard from Limes, "David, I need 2 more vans and 4 more men!" We are a cluster of Virgos. My birthday came and went. David's, followed by Cesar's the next day. And then the phones got quieter. They silenced at the same time the headlines began to shout about recession, bailouts, bankruptcies, Ponzi schemes, and a financial collapse no one saw coming. If "they" didn't see it coming, how could we? We're carpet cleaners.
We had a few bad months. There was some relief felt when a drama king embezzled us and fired himself. Another prima donna walked out to start his own one-man carpet cleaning company - I guess he missed the headlines. And we whittled down to a tight little core group of stayers. David and I met to comb through the budget. What were the expenses we could cut and not reduce the quality of our services? We found a lot of them! The home dudes were asked to come up with some cost-cutting ideas and they landed on some good ones. David stopped paying himself a wage and took on certain obligations personally that the company had been paying for. Finally came the staff meeting day when he had to announce that the commission rates would need to be reduced at least through the end of 2009. It was the last place we could "find" any more money. It was the first staff meeting where everyone had something to say. Each person. Mostly in staff meeting, the home dudes are pretty quiet while David and Limes have much to say. This one was filled with words - none of them negative. A small gathering of warriors committed and loyal. And scared.
Some weeks, the paychecks were pretty weak. When David handed them out, I saw the edges of cash peeping out from behind the checks. The holidays came and we had a big blowout at a sports bar - catered meal, sizable bonuses for everyone, delivered in time for them to do their holiday shopping. We've made a (small) profit in all but three months. One month, David was able to pay himself the princely sum of $500! With such a small corps of technicians, they often get to do jobs on their own, which means they earn a higher rate of commission. Last week, I reported that in June, we made 80% of what we made in the prior June. Each month since February, we have come closer to doing as much business as we did a year ago. We're on a gradual increase . . . like a phoenix rising. We're making it.
All this started with talk about David and I'll end it that way. David wishes for each one of us a good life, as we see it. While other employers may feel that receiving one's paycheck on time and not bouncing is all that's needed, he provides jobs, advice, constructive criticism, emergency loans, a meal, a hot or cold drink, his no-longer-needed shoes. But the best thing he gives us is his example. He leads. He uses his head. He plans. He's prepared. He's successful. He wasn't always that way. He shows us that a man can sink to his own personal bottom and then tough his way to the heights doing the right thing. One of his mottos to us: "Let's keep doing it just as right as we can."
I am older than David, so I've had longer to learn how to behave. I have had many things given to me on a silver platter. I am not yet the admirable person that he is. But I get to watch a really good model every day. I am right where I am supposed to be right now.
In my ears right now: Silence. I don't care for it. We're monsoonal again. The phones don't ring for carpet cleaning in the monsoon season.
Something that charmed me: That 99-cent cactus in its 99-cent pot is throwing another glorious bud and bloom. I love value for my money! I hope to get the Badger to photograph it for me so I can post it on the blog.