Search This Blog

Monday, July 25, 2016

Harder Than It Looks

There is something oh-so-thrilling about the idea of being an entrepreneur! Who cares if you have to start small? The dream may include nothing close to the possibility of one day “going public.” It’s more about doing what you love. Having the opportunity to call the shots. Take time off when it suits you. And perhaps, reap some nice profits.

I’ve gone down the bigger road a bit—where I hoped my business dream would become a franchise and yield big investments and profits. But I also helped my wife start a small business in Pittsburgh several years ago where our world headquarters was in our living room. Trust me…that second one was much easier to manage.

Speaking of Pittsburgh, Zachary Slayback is a talented young man and a founding team member of a group called Praxis, apparently based out of the Steel City. He wrote a superb reality piece for Linked In recently detailing the challenges faced by today’s millennial dream seekers. It’s titled, “Where Are All the Young Entrepreneurs?” (

I liked his detailed account of what it takes to get “out on your own” for a couple of reasons. First, he examines the very small percentage of young Americans willing to step out on the entrepreneurial ledge. He also offers clear examples of how government regulation and taxes can quickly de-motivate someone from leaping to start up a business. I must say, it’s a little depressing!

Zak documents the first point with a Wall Street Journal statistic telling us that less than 4% of young Americans are currently entrepreneurs. This should cause consternation when we see the difference in just a couple of decades. In 1989, the share of American households headed by someone under 30 who had a stake in or owned a privately held business was nearly 10.6 per cent. Today, that number is at 3.6 per cent.

The Journal suggests reasons of stiffer competition with the Internet. Also fewer risk takers, and changes in bank lending policies.

Mr. Slayback tends to think otherwise. And I would agree with him. Consider the dreaded tax burden. As he states, “Americans today are the most regulated and taxed in the country’s history. While some tax rates have dropped in recent years, they’ve been offset by increases elsewhere and the unprecedented and massive growth in the bureaucracy. It’s harder today to simply start a business because of the number of regulations with which one must comply.”

To illustrate his point, he introduces the hypothetical Tina—a hairdresser. Not too long ago, she could have started a business in her basement cutting the hair of friends, family, and referrals. Today, as Zak writes, “she’d have to pass a number of boards and certifying examinations saying that she is qualified to provide this service…get a commercial license from her local government, incorporate as a business, get a federal EIN for tax purposes, buy a regulation-friendly sign, and hire staff at a much higher price than her (family member) was willing to do the work. And that’s just to get off the ground and get started.”

Let’s suppose you can survive those initial shocks and somehow manage to be profitable. Then you might well come to fear the capital gains tax! It’s bandied around political discussions as if only the most wealthy are affected. Not so.

Zak shared about a friend who, at 16 years old, invested with a few other friends in an old house. They put up all their savings and received a bank loan. Then, they did some serious renovation on the place. The house sold for three times their return on investment. But after state and federal taxes were taken out, each of these “investors” netted only a few thousand dollars. As Zak laments, “it would have been wiser to go work at McDonald’s for a year rather than work on the house.”

Mr. Slayback offers a few other reasons why the decline in young entrepreneurs has become so steep. It’s what he calls the “over-schooled and over-coddled risk.” Zak is young enough to have seen this played out. Educators’ reinforcement of being rewarded for simply trying and never dealing with the pain of failure likely makes many more risk-averse. He says, “Being told that you deserve a reward just for participating creates an odd sense of resentment to even trying in most children.”

His final reason for less than enthusiastic venture starters also has to do with schooling. Education systems often reward conformity in thought and problem-solving, and in tastes and desires. Students who stray from the path don’t fare so well. Zak recommends that “deschooling”—unlearning bad habits—will help a young entrepreneur become more successful.

In this political season, we should carefully consider candidates’ views on the role and size of government. Many times bureaucratic tendencies make life difficult for those struggling to build a business. I’m for limited government—best administered locally—where you and I have a voice in what happens.

The Bible doesn’t really address the size of government. But many well versed Christians have. In his writing, “Delinquents in the Snow,” published in 1957, C.S. Lewis complained, “At present the very uncomfortable position is this: the State protects us less because it is unwilling to protect us against criminals at home and manifestly grows less and less able to protect us against foreign enemies. At the same time it demands from us more and more. We seldom had fewer rights and liberties nor more burdens: and we get less security in return. While our obligations increase their moral ground is taken away.”

Raising a risk-averse generation is bad for us all. In part, because it teaches us a diminished faith. The “sure thing” is never sure. Except…for the object of our faith: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday. Today. And forever. (Hebrews 13:8, NLT)


That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Humble Sweat Equity Beginnings

Jack C. Taylor died recently. Does that name ring a bell? Probably not for most of us. But he was certainly well known for his “drive.” Automotive News carried his obituary.

Mr. Taylor was a Navy World War 2 vet who became a Cadillac car salesman in the 1950s. Intrigued by the relatively new leasing programs in the car industry, he left the dealership side of the business and helped launched Executive Leasing with just seven cars. He took his business savvy with him.

When he died recently in St. Louis at the age of 94, the Taylor built empire known as Enterprise Holdings was impressive. Along with the popular and well known Enterprise Rent-A-Car, other acquisitions included Alamo Rent-A-Car and National Car Rental. Who doesn’t know the phrase, “We’ll pick you up!”

Just how successful was Jack C. Taylor? The company boasted 2015 revenue at $19.4 billion! Their 1.7 million vehicles was double the size of Hertz or Avis. Enterprise Holdings also has a retail automotive division, now “the largest buyer and seller of cars and trucks in the world.”

The Enterprise model was unusual since it did not have airport locations to start. That came in 1995. Purchasing the two other rental agencies gave it an increased airport presence.

Jack knew how to make a buck or two. At the time of his death, his personal wealth was estimated by Forbes at $5.3 billion. By now, you probably wish you DID know Jack C. Taylor!

I like his often quoted business maxim. “If you take care of your customers and employees, the bottom line will take care of itself.” Picking up people who might not be able to get to a rental location was simple but genius for this business.

Along with celebrating his success story, it reminded me of how frequently it seems like this success came out of nowhere. All I remember growing up was Hertz and Avis. It appeared like Enterprise came more suddenly on the scene. I always assumed it was a late bloomer.

It’s that way with many companies. It may take decades to build a brand. The world today celebrates the high tech billionaires who can make incredible sums of money at a young age. Instant wealth.

For example, the founder started as an online bookstore in 1994. It was run out of his garage in Bellevue, Washington. His first book sold in the summer of 1995. His IPO was issued just two years later. The world’s largest online retailer is now

We often forget how much effort and humble beginnings went into some of our most impressive businesses. Contrast the Bezos empire with that of Disney. We see the Mouse imprint everywhere today. But let’s go back to 1923 when the company began. It started about 45 minutes away from the current Disneyland Park in Anaheim.

Walt Disney and brother Roy had moved in with an uncle to set up “The First Disney Studio.” Yes…another garage start up. Ninety-some years later, Disney became the highest-grossing media conglomerate in the world. (But did you know the Disney company did not start with Mickey and Minnie but with Alice Comedies based on the original Alice’s Wonderland?)

And how about this one! It was 1901. A 21-year-old young man took his recently drawn up plans for creating a small engine to power a bicycle to a childhood friend. The two of them built their first “motor-bicycle” in a friend’s small wooden shed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Today, their company is the most well-known motorcycle brand in the world, Harley Davidson.

All four of the stories shared in this blog have one thing in common. Simple, humble beginnings. But the success stories we read about today don’t always capture the long and winding road of hard work and sweat it took to get there.

Beyond the business world, there is a life lesson to be learned here. People who stay focused on their objectives and goals—and who are willing to sacrifice now for later rewards—have the highest degree of success.

My generation was blessed by the sacrifices made by our parents and grandparents. Expectations of success without a price seem more common today. Where will this lead?

Gain without cost is ill-advised. Expecting blessing without the work leaves want. The writer of Proverbs said it this way, “Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper.” (Proverbs 13:4, NLT)

If God has given you a vision for a new thing, I hope you’ll pursue it. Work at it. Be patient. Enjoy watching it grow. But know it will take a lot out of you.

The don’t call it “sweat equity” for nothing.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Freedom’s Price

The Fourth of July is one of the American holidays that is a true celebration. We really don’t have a national party for Presidents Day. Memorial Day is more of a solemn remembrance. Many Americans can hardly tell you the reason why we have a Labor Day holiday or what we should do to celebrate.

And Columbus Day? Forget that anymore. Whether because of political correctness or the new view that Columbus was not a hero, we don’t really have a celebration of this holiday either. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is on our federal holiday list, but does not seem to carry the weight of our other national remembrances.

But the Fourth of July is different. It truly is an American party. Highlighted by fireworks displays, both the personal and the professional kind, we light up the skies to celebrate an idea of freedom in America. Since it’s a true party, we also are sure to indulge in food and festivities of many kinds.

For several years, my wife and I lived in Pittsburgh and would make the annual effort to join the crowds at Point State Park where the three rivers join. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra played festive patriotic music prior to the fireworks show. A radio station then blasted out popular music and contemporary renditions of patriotic songs as the skies were ablaze with the rockets’ red glare and gunpowder bursting in air. It was usually a spectacular display.

We Chicagoans have our own version of a big party like this at Navy Pier. Many neighborhoods do their own displays. Some of our neighbors start their own fireworks show in late June and end a bit after July 4th.

We call this holiday America’s Birthday. More officially, Independence Day. It’s the day our democracy was “born” and we declared independence from Britain in 1776.

Like any good birthday party, we ought to honor the one whose birthday we celebrate. In the case of Independence Day, we often pay tribute to those who signed the famed Declaration of Independence.

Most readers would be aware of what I just shared. You might be surprised, however, to learn that the motives of those brave men who were the founders of our country have come into question. Revisionists like to rethink these kind of things.

I located an interesting website,, that has the story of this critique of the founders. And a summary observation to set the historical record straight.

Here’s what they say:
“A common twentieth-century criticism of the founding is that it enshrines the principle of self-interest at the heart of the regime. The Declaration speaks of rights, we are told, but it does not seem to have much to say about duties. If rights come first, and if the first right is the right to life, it seems that our obligations to others are contingent on our rights. In other words, what seems to come first in the Declaration is selfishness, looking out for one’s own life, liberty, and happiness.

Contrary to this view, the Founders emphatically placed their honor and duty ahead of their private rights. The Declaration says, in its second paragraph, that when a people is subjected to a long train of abuses aiming at absolute despotism, “it is their right, it is their duty,” to change the government. This duty is higher than one’s own personal survival or selfish interest. It may in fact require the sacrifice of one’s own life.

That is why the Declaration concludes with these noble words: “We pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Honor and duty are superior to rights and self-interest. The Founders’  clearest statement of this conviction occurs in the “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Their Taking up Arms,” co-authored by Jefferson and John Dickinson, and approved by the Continental Congress in 1775: “We have counted the cost of this contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery. Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we have received from our gallant ancestors. . . . We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them, if we basely entail hereditary bondage upon them. . . . [We are] with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live slaves.”

If the Founders really believed that selfish interest was the foundation of human rights, they would never have believed that slavery and dishonor are worse even than death.

You can find plenty of good books and stories to read about the bravery of our founders, their faith and their commitment to Biblical teachings. You can also watch Paul Harvey’s remarkable tribute on YouTube.

These men, whose primary work was building a life in this new land for themselves and their families, had a part time job as well. Defending freedom. They could only hope that they would be compensated for their work with the advance of liberty. And they succeeded.

Today, as we celebrate America’s birthday, spend a moment in solemn remembrance of these heroes of our nation…and thank our “Nature’s God.”

Would someone please hand me a sparkler?

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.