Money doesn’t come with an instruction manual

Many very successful entrepreneurs and executives revel in telling stories of how they started with nothing and grew their businesses from the ground up into mega successes. Guilty. I’m probably near the top of that list of those who take great pride in the companies they built. Much like fine wines, at least with me, the stories get better and better with age. The 19th century writer Horatio Alger created “rags to riches” narratives that effectively motivated others to strive for that elusive brass ring.

Full disclosure: If I had had the choice, I would have much preferred being a member of the lucky sperm club, endowed with a meaningful pot of gold to get me started.

There is, however, a plethora of incredibly successful business leaders who did get that jumpstart and took what was given to them to new heights, creating family dynasties that far exceeded what the families’ patriarchs and matriarchs could have ever fathomed. There is a Walgreens, now corporately known as Walgreens Boots Alliance, on almost every street corner, and it’s one of the largest chains in the country. What is little known, however, is that the founder’s son, Charles Walgreen III, initially propelled his father’s company on a trajectory that made it a household name with annual revenues exceeding $33 billion. Arthur Perdue hatched Perdue Farms, but his son Frank, who was pursuing being a professional baseball player, took over the company at age 30 and transformed it into the second largest poultry purveyor in the U.S.

How did they — and the literally thousands who joined their ranks of building upon what their ancestors started — do it? Certainly, they had the advantage of being born into the right family. With that, however, comes its own set of huge responsibilities to not screw it up. This type of pressure can be much greater than taking a long shot and starting a new business. If they fail, he or she usually gets credit for trying. But if one ruins something that was given to them, it is a burden they must carry throughout their lives.

Unfortunately, there is no instruction manual that comes with the money that is handed down to the subsequent-generation leader. Instead, no matter how one has been prepared to take the helm, “hard knocks and painful lessons” are not exclusively characteristics of business pioneers who had to forge their own way.

The first and most critical lesson for a new leader is success takes a team of exceptional managers who are freethinkers and not afraid to tell the boss they don’t agree. The freedom to do so is fostered by the CEO who abhors head-nodding, i.e., yes-men and yes-women, and general suck-ups. Too many companies are controlled by people who don’t want subordinates to think independently. It takes courage to buck the boss, but even greater courage for the leader to foster candor and creativity.

If there were an instruction manual for money, the preface would state that to keep it and grow it, a leader must first be disciplined to listen and learn from others and create an environment where all voices are heard. ●

Visit Michael Feuer’s website to learn more about his columns, watch videos and purchase his books, “The Benevolent Dictator” and “Tips From The Top.”

Michael Feuer

Founder and CEO