Life is a Business – Chapter 3
A series of essays on the past, the present, and the future
While you are figuring out who you are, it’s only fair that I tell you who I am and along the way, how I arrived at my answers and insights on life and business. My goal is to hopefully take decades off of your struggles by sharing at least one road map through the wilderness that I found the hard way. People and life are like onions that you peel away one layer at a time-it’s the only way without wasting too much of the onion. Here are the basics:
My full name is William Miller Hewgley, Jr., known as Bill in business, but just Billy to my wife and childhood friends and family. I was born in 1951 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as the third and last (accidental) child to a pair of Depression era / WWII survivors who were very honorable, intelligent, educated lower middle class people. My Mother taught school and my Father made handmade, solid wood, Early American reproduction furniture until the late 1950’s, when naugahyde covered factory made furniture put him out of business and he turned to teaching industrial arts at South Pittsburg where we lived outside of town.
At around 7 years of age, I had firsthand knowledge of technological obsolescence – a lifetime of pride in craftsmanship was swept away in a cultural/industrial sea change from which my father never recovered. He died a mere shadow of the great warrior he had been in WWII, broken by the horrors of war, the Great Depression and his failures in the game of life. Some waves were from the sea, some he created himself by poor choices dealing with depression and low self-esteem. Life truly is like golf- you only tell the score on a hole, not that it hit off a tree, rolled under an outhouse and into the cup by sheer accident! He died in 1985 as an honest man who loved his family; a man who told his sons that all he could leave them was a good name-take care of it and we would see the value someday. We sold his pickup truck to pay for his funeral; fitting with his life, somehow they dug the wrong hole at the cemetery and we had to fake the burial, then, only to tell Mother later that night once a new grave was dug and we went back to witness. My brother and I had wry smiles at the graveside as we heard his favorite gripe as boys: “You two don’t know your ‘___’ from a hole in the ground…”
I married the first girl I ever saw as a girl when Jan Storey was 19 and I was 20 years old. We have been married now for 42 years and have two grown children and three grandchildren, with our fourth one due in January of 2014. I worked full time and we both graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. Jan became an elementary school teacher and I got out with a major in Marketing and minors in Economics and Psychology. My dream was to own my own company and succeed where my Father could not go. I burned with ambition for a lot of reasons, reasons that are still painful after 50 years to discuss. For now, I will tell you that much of what you are as an adult is created when you are young; you will react at 60 to sounds, smells, words, touches that take you right back to the spot they first occurred. Learn those triggers and avoid making poor responses under temporarily stressful situations.
With two children and very little capital, my dreams of owning my own business went on hold for nearly 30 years. I took the safe path of corporate employment and worked my way up the ladder into senior management positions with comfortable salaries and benefits to protect my family. After building and helping sell several companies for owners, I was preparing to slide into the last phase of the game and retire by age 60. At age 55, as President of a $40,000,000 operation I had built, two buyouts had placed us into different private equity funds, in our case, equity funds with no intention to continue to build the company, just clean up to sell like a used car.
In 2006, I woke up Jan in the middle of the night to tell her that I was getting out and starting over on my true dream-owning my own business and doing it my way. Corporations could not or would not ever listen to my ideas on how to be great. It seemed so simple to me all of my life; I had learned some good things to do, but I had learned even more that I knew not to do! From $315 and a wrecked 1964 Ford in 1971, Jan and I had saved nearly a million dollars by 2006 in retirement accounts and investments.
In March of 2006, I resigned a job making nearly $250,000 per year and went “all-in” creating Metalworking Solutions LLC which opened the doors in October with no customers, no promises, five employees and $2,000,000 of debt on new equipment. It truly was a “Field of Dreams” venture that had faith that excellence would bring the customers.
For the first four years I could not pay myself and we survived off of Jan’s Tennessee Retirement and her earnings teaching across the state line in Georgia. Just as we got started, the Great Recession of 2008 slammed us to the ground and it appeared all was lost. During the dark days of 2009, Jan and I got down to only two month’s house payments in the bank. Trust me, it is a tough, tearful discussion with a wife to tell her that I might have been at the wrong place at the wrong time and bankrupted our life of work right at the end. I had to ask her if she could still love me if we had to start over-amazingly, she looked up at me and talked about how I had put my dreams on hold all those years to take care of her and our children who were now grown, educated and married. She said she was with me all the way to the end, but challenged me to not give up and give it my very best. She saw the survival strength in me from childhood and summoned it up, one more time. I went back to work and simply refused to fail! We have actually grown from 16% to 42% each year since 2009, while many others have failed or shrunk. We now have over 50 employees, bought our own 75,000 square foot facility and are poised to double again in the next four years. In the midst of the carnage, we have built something special-doing my way-the way I always believed was right-the way I saw as a child.
Forget the books, the tapes, the CD’s, the seminars, the Internet articles and all the other pay to play advisors. You already have the basics within you, for you have been negotiating your place in this world since you cried to get what you wanted Day One! Now, crying won’t work any longer, but you get the point; it’s hard wired into us and called “instinct!” Today’s lesson is to get reacquainted with your natural instincts-they are your best friend ever, if you listen closely when the only sound is the hair on the back of your neck rising up to quiver…they are trying to save your derriere!
By: Bill Hewgley