Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tightrope: Stop and remember the reason you're in business

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A long time friend (whom I will call Marvin) and I scheduled a long overdue luncheon meeting to catch up on each other's lives.

Marvin summed up his business activities with a quick "business is great" response and leaped into a joyous discussion about his family. Marvin and his wife Debra have been married for 25 years. They have three children ages 20, 15 and 3 years old.

He spent a great deal of time talking about the things that Gracie, the 3-year-old, was doing. He said that her display of love made him feel 10 feet tall. Each evening as he pulled into the driveway he would look up at the picture window and there she was waiting for his arrival with a happy smile and a wave. By the time he got to the door she was standing there waiting to give him his daily hug and kiss.

He said that one day after one of those greetings he mentioned to Debra how different children were today. He told his wife that their older children had never shown that same kind of affection. And then with a hint of sadness he recounted Debra's response. She reminded him that the older children had come along while Marvin was in the midst of building his construction company and he had worked 12 to 15 hours a day. The children were usually in bed when he got home and he was gone back to work before they got up, she said. It was only during the past few years that Marvin felt comfortable enough to work fewer hours, which allowed him more family time. Debra concluded that Gracie knew her father in a different way than the older children, not because Gracie was different or times had changed but because Marvin had changed.

He went on to tell me how he would never have known what he missed if Gracie had not come along. Marvin said that after his eye-opening conversation with his wife he reflected back on the years during the building of his company. He remembered his employee turnover was exceptionally high. He now recognizes that he wanted his employees to log the same long grueling hours as he had and they couldn't or wouldn't adhere to his pressure. He said that since slowing down he no longer took medication for headaches and ulcers. And his mood was more pleasant and he was enjoying life more.

Talking to Marvin made me think of my dad. My father worked three jobs to care for his family and without fail he always made a point to be home for the family dinner. And he kept Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning available for his family. My guess is that my father had to make sacrifices somewhere along the way. Maybe he let a few dollars pass him by in order to spend time with us.

It is very easy to get caught up in the daily realm of business and let other important issues go. The only way to avoid this situation is to keep in mind the reason for building a business or going to the job in the first place. Usually the reason is simply to provide for the ones you love. Could this be the reason that many business people keep a photo of the family on their desk? Could it be a reminder of what their real goals and aspirations are?

I am grateful for the Marvins in the world who serve as a reminder for us to stop and reassess how and why we do what we do. With that said I think I'll stop right here and take in some quality time with my family. I've been promising to take an interest in my daughter's flower garden, and this is a good time to help her do some planting.

Happy spring.

Gladys Edmunds' Entrepreneurial Tightrope column appears Wednesdays. Click here for an index of her columns. As a single, teen-age mom, Gladys made money doing laundry, cooking dinners for taxi drivers and selling fire extinguishers and Bibles door-to-door. Today, Edmunds is founder of Edmunds Travel Consultants in Pittsburgh and author of There's No Business Like Your Own Business, a six-step guide to success published by Viking. Her website is You can e-mail her at

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