You can't get any more boring than Al Terrisio. Al is the president and owner of Ultimate Controls. This is a real guy and a real company, but I'm changing names here. I'm not sure he would want to be the subject of this piece. Please understand, Al's a very nice guy. A good family man. Reliable. Honest.

But boring.

And Ultimate Conrols? Boring too. The company sells pumps, instruments and other equipment for the wastewater and industrial process markets. Still awake?

It ain't exactly like owning the New York Yankees. But that's okay with Al.

Which is why he's such a good penny-pinching business owner.

Hey kids, students of business, potential leaders: Want to be a successful business owner? Hey CPAs and accountants: Want to tell your clients the truth about running your own company? My company serves over 600 clients and I talk to hundreds of other business owners every year. And guess who's the best? The guys like Al Terrisio.

Because running a small business isn't romantic or exciting or even fun. There's no romance, no fame, no glory. Most of us are not Richard Branson, Donald Trump or Bill Gates. We're more like Howard Cunningham. Or Al Terrisio. That's the reality of running a small business. And there's more.

Successful penny-pinchers I know almost always have a partner. Do you? It's rare that I see one guy successfully grow a company, unless he's a 19-year-old narcissist who can create an entire Web site in his dorm room.

Successful businesses have a team of people. More often than not it's family members. Sure, they're yelling and throwing things at each other. But they divide and conquer. And because they're from the same family, they usually have a higher level of trust for one another. One guy usually does service and the other guy does sales.

 

SALES VS. SERVICE

The sales guy is the brother who always got the girls in high school and drank a lot of beer in college. The service guy is the one who got the better grades and drank a lot of beer in a better college. It's rare that I see one guy doing it all.

Al may be the president of Ultimate Controls, but his brother Jeremy is his equal partner in crime. They both own the same share of the business. They worked there when they were kids and their dad owned the place. Jeremy's the sales guy. And he's good at it. He talks on the phone. He plays a lot of golf. He likes to drink mass quantities of beer. A few days on the road at a trade show away from his wife and kids is like paradise for Jeremy. Al and Jeremy fight all the time ... mostly about nonsense. But both are equally important to the business. Which is why Ultimate Controls is a profitable company.

Another reason they're profitable: Both are at it 24 hours a day. They're not workaholics. They don't have any love for their jobs. They're not "passionate entrepreneurs." In fact, they would both prefer to not be at it 24 hours a day. But when you own a small business, it's your livelihood. And it becomes your life. You check in on things on a Saturday. You go into the office to finish up paperwork on a Sunday. You get in before everyone else. You're one of the last ones to leave. Al's not happy about this. He'd rather be with his family or taking a nap. But this is the life that you choose. Because if you're not making sure things are getting done, then you can be sure that things aren't getting done. And if your business fails, you're losing more than just a job. You're losing your life savings, too.

Al doesn't choose to work hard. He just has to work hard to keep things going. Ready for that, future penny-pinchers?

Well, you better also be ready to become a hardened cynic. Your faith in people will be tested. Because after running a small business for a few years, you're going to find yourself turning into a skeptic. People will lie to you. Customers who say they will pay your bills ... won't. Suppliers who promise your shipment will arrive on time ... aren't being truthful. Employees who you expect to show up to work ... don't.

Al is a successful business owner because he chooses very carefully the people who he can trust. His whole life is spent evaluating people. Trying to determine if they're being truthful. Gauging whether he can put his confidence in that guy. You don't learn this in school. You don't read about it in Inc. magazine.

Al may not hold an Ivy League diploma, but he has a better understanding of human nature than most of the people teaching in the Ivy League.

 

THE LONG-TERM PLAN

And Al has a better understanding of money, too. He's a penny-pincher, that's for sure. But he's not a cheapskate. Cheapskates always struggle to be profitable. They read too much about saving money and too little about investing. They think that staying up until midnight doing their own payroll taxes is better than hiring a payroll service firm to do it. They misinterpret the value of money.

Al doesn't do this. Sure, he works a lot of hours. But he's learned to spend his time doing the things that he does best. He spends money on technology and people to do the other things. That way he can focus on product profitability, inventory control, customer complaints and new engineering plans. Of course, Al doesn't like to overspend. But he's been known to drop a hundred thousand on a new piece of equipment because he knows it'll return many times that amount in increased output over the years.

Al survives because he has a long-term plan. And it's not an exciting plan either. He doesn't plan to take his company public or merge it with an international conglomerate. He knows that the big multi-gazillion-dollar payback only happens in the movies. Most business owners don't see massive pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. But they do see a more-than-comfortable retirement if they manage things correctly and luck stays on their side. Al looks forward over the next 10 years and works toward building cash, increasing asset values and building equity.

Boring stuff, I know.

But that's Al. Just a boring old penny-pincher. Those are the guys I see running most small businesses.

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