My friend and business mentor, Alan, laughed last week when I reminded him of this story.
We sat down and broke bread for the first time in 15 years. Nearly 30 years ago, when I lived in Cleveland, I left the practice of law to start a business. My new "company" -- which consisted of a telephone and me -- recruited attorneys for law firms and corporations. I knew nothing about headhunting other than an article I read in a trade magazine that inspired me to try it.
So I left a comfortable, well-paying job to go into a less comfortable, even more competitive, high-risk field. I knew a lot about lawyers, but nothing about business, especially the business of recruitment.
Alan, on the other hand, started a search firm some 15 years earlier. He soon ran the largest management recruiting firm in the world, with hundreds of offices in many countries. Through the friend of a friend, Alan heard about me, and called me for lunch. Alan Schonberg, the chief executive officer of Management Recruiters International, the Warren Buffett/McDonald's of search firms, wants to have lunch with me?
We sat down, and I immediately liked him. He liked me, and told me later that he saw great potential in me, provided I learned quickly and avoided mistakes. He taught me about recruiting, sales, hiring and firing, how to price services, accounting, bookkeeping and marketing. More importantly, he taught me that success in business, as in life, requires character, confidence, consistency, commitment and courage. "It's a marathon, not a sprint," he told me repeatedly.
We met for lunch almost every month for the next 15 years. Alan usually called me, as I understood and respected the value of his time. We talked about business, life, the meaning of happiness, friends, family and faith. He emphasized the importance of hands-on business ownership and operation. As CEO of his company, Alan, through his extraordinary vision, work ethic and leadership, helped create hundreds of millionaire franchisees.
"What do you do all day?" I once asked him during one of our lunches.
"Take phone calls," he replied.
"My franchisees," he said.
"What do they ask about?"
"Anything and everything," Alan said.
"Yes, business, personal, marriages, whatever."
One day, during a recession, I called Alan. Business is terrible, I told him, and for the first time, I feel like giving up.
"Let's go to lunch," said Alan.
I spent almost a half-hour complaining about declining revenues, difficult clients, higher costs, indifferent or unmotivated employees, the increased aggressiveness of my competitors, and many other things, major and minor. Alan listened in silence.