What’s the most important risk you took and why?
In my experience, businesspeople tend to be risk takers. Not all the replies below have to do with business but the idea of getting near the edge of the cliff and taking a leap of faith is inherent in each of this month’s responses. What does it take for you to move outside your comfort zone and step into a new endeavor? Does risk make you shudder with fear? Or does risk illuminate opportunities that excite you?
The VERBATIM column poses open-ended questions to a selection of our colleagues monthly. Adopted from the familiar “Heard on the Street” format, we offer our responders a chance to reply via e-mail. Their personal thoughts below are in response to the question posed above. These are their replies reported verbatim.
COLLEAGUES SHARE THEIR RISKY ACTIONS
In the Fall 1979/Spring 1980 my brother-in-law and I were approached by an Area manager of Skelgas that said they had an opportunity for a couple of hard-working guys that had a big upside. Skelgas was getting out of the 100# cylinder business and had a unit in the Duluth, Minn./Superior, Wis. market and was for sale. At the time they were delivering about 15,000 100# cylinders per year to residential and industrial accounts in about a 40-mile radius.
Other than using propane on the farm growing up…I did not know zip about propane. We attended safety/training classes that spring provided by Skelgas and also a tech school provided by the Minnesota Propane Gas Association at the University of Minnesota. We sold our homes and took the equity from the sale as down payment for a business loan. We moved our families to Duluth/Superior and started Duluth/Superior Bottle Gas Inc. in August of 1980.
At that time business loans had an interest rate of 20%….and because of our inexperience in Propane we were able to convince the bank to take a chance to get a loan to do the deal at 20%….plus 2 points! Not knowing the business or the territory….to say it was a challenge….is an understatement. But, we DID it. Three years later the business was paid off….and Skelgas approached me with an opportunity to join their company as Manager of the Skelgas branch in Superior….I sold our half of the business and 40 years later and about 10 moves throughout the Mid-west and Canada……here we are. Never looked back……never regretted a minute of it…..well maybe…one day when it was 108 below wind chill delivering cylinders!
Two come to mind:
I started a company called NSYD-OUT, flipping homes in 2005. I had the money to invest and times were good. It was a great experience and I was flying high until the bubble burst in 2007. Needless to say, I ended up dissolving the business, but it taught me tenacity and adaptability. I changed directions from flipping homes to becoming a landlord, which is a whole other skill set!
Another is overcoming my fears. When I was in my 20’s, I developed a sudden fear of heights. I could not even stand on the first step of a ladder, the fear consumed me. I knew I had to face it head on. So I bungee jumped, not once but twice. The first time I could not open my eyes and I feared it wouldn’t stick, so I did it again! I never had a fear of heights after that and it gave me confidence that I can overcome almost anything.
I think the most important risk I have taken as of late is speaking out against the green movement.
In my younger years you were always taught you never talked about religion or politics because you were bound to make someone unhappy. Especially when it came to customers in business. I have never been one for confrontation but for the past three years I have stood up, even at the risk of losing customers. You see, I feel silence is agreement and not only is the electrify movement threatening our livelihood – it’s just plain wrong!! Our country is being led down a very bad energy path and for me, it’s not about the money it’s about doing what is right– standing up for what you believe in no matter the consequences. I’m one person in one of the smallest states (and most liberal) in the country and if I can convince one more person to rise up and they convince one…. After all that’s how we got to the new green deal, someone kept talking!! I think as an industry this is a risk we should all be taking, in my humble opinion.
Twenty years ago I took an important risk when I decided to leave the comfort of my college bubble and study abroad through a program called Semester at Sea. Without any friends or even acquaintances, I boarded a ship with 600 students and set sail around the world. We visited Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, and Japan. I studied the history, sociology, government, geography, culture and customs of each country prior to arrival, but it was the real world experiences in each of these fascinating places that impacted my life forever. Semester at Sea opened my mind, expanded my worldview, and instilled a lifelong love of travel in my heart.
I chose Semester at Sea because I felt it was a unique and once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve always tried to live by a piece of advice that my grandmother gave me when I was 11 years old. The advice she gave was based on the following quote by Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Kara K. Tucker
Koppy’s Propane, Inc.
For much of my career I worked for large companies looking for companies to acquire. Our owners made a decision to stop our acquisition program and I was asked to go back to commercial sales, where I had been ten years earlier. I decided to take a risk and start my own company.
My daughter was getting ready to go to college and we had a mortgage and not that much in savings. My wife supported my decision and said I could always go back to working for someone else. Well, I drained the bank accounts and took out a second mortgage and today we have a successful business.
That was part one of the question. Part two is why. Yes, I did not want to go backwards in my career, but my big motivation was that I never felt good about trying to buy businesses from owners for the lowest price I could. I knew I could have paid substantially more, but my bonus was tied to buying under a target price. That never sat well with me. Many of them were like my father who worked six twelve-hour days a week and I always knew I could get them more value for their business.
Cetane Associates LLC
The most important risk I ever took was marrying a beautiful young girl when I was 18 and leaving the security of my parents’ home and becoming responsible for this new couple. We’ve lasted 55 years with love, hard work, understanding, and the Lord.
The second most important risk she and I took was 24 years ago when we started Shasta Gas Propane with less than $20,000.00 cash. Again, through hard work, understanding the customers’ needs and love for being self-employed, we’ve persevered through tough times and good times. We’re Blessed with a business that has a great reputation in our community, we are able to support local youth organizations, missionaries around the world and our state and national propane organizations. We also can pass the business on to our children for their future security and prosperity.
Shasta Gas Propane
Palo Cedro, Calif.
Can we put stock in the adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? Calculated risk is not for the faint of heart and can be likened to fitness training. The more we exercise those “risk muscles” the more we learn about ourselves and may carry that learning and developed strength into all areas of life experience. Personally, my life was altered forever when my dad became sick and buying his bobtail-building company seemed like the best way to help our family. Geez! Sometimes it’s good not to have a window into the risk ahead lest we not take it in the first place. And, sometimes we learn strengths we would not have uncovered had we not taken the risk.
Nancy Coop, Cetane Associates
This column was first published in the April 2021 issue of Butane-Propane News.