Thursday, October 17, 2013


I attended the special Course for Presidents, offered exclusively for alumni of this flagship Aileron course, on October 1-2 of 2013 and –as it always does – it sharpened my awareness and understanding of the importance of the Aileron concept of “Professional Management” in business.

The very interactive session with a wealth of entrepreneurship in the auditorium was both a tribute and a salute to Dave Sullivan who has almost singlehandedly shaped this Course for Presidents, but who is now stepping away to write a book and focus on his private consulting practice. He received a five minute standing ovation from the more than 50 alumni in his audience, all of whom have greatly benefited from his teachings. The session was ably and pleasantly co-facilitated by another Aileron star, Mary Connors.

The reason that I want to write about this is because it reminded me of the importance of “Freedom” in business. Although the business climate in America has become more and more regulated over time, there is still no country in the world that I know of where there is greater freedom to establish and run your own business than the United States of America. At least no other country where the business owner also enjoys the rule of law to protect his investment and achievements.

The freedom that Dave Sullivan harped on in his swan song was another, equally important, freedom. It is the freedom of the private business owner to shape and run his business in accordance with his personal vision of what the business should look like. It is also the freedom of the owner to decide what role he wants to play in the business and how much of his time he is willing to dedicate to the enterprise.

It struck me, as I was listening to the very interactive discourse that took place at this course for “retreads”, how many of the business owners in the room were passionately focused on exiting or distancing themselves from the business they own and –more often than not – have created. Not – to be sure – to rest on their laurels or play golf for the rest of their lives, but mostly for two reasons:
1.       To let the team they had built, and that- if they have done it right- has better and more complete skills and competencies than they have themselves, run the show and not stand in their way;
2.       To attend to other matters – and possibly other business – that need to be achieved in order to follow their personal vision.

A small business owner knows that he (I realize that in many instances it is “she”) has done right if he has achieved the freedom to be as active in or as distant from his business as he chooses to be. Dave Sullivan said it another way, more succinctly: “Wealth is not just a matter of money, but also of free time, freedom of choice and the opportunity to pursue your dreams.”

With freedom comes joy and joy is a key measurement of success in business. If it is not fun anymore, it is not worth it. It should be fun for the owner and it should be fun for the people working in the business. If any of them constantly think – and sometimes say – “I’d much rather be doing something else” they probably should.

A business owner who has not (yet) acquired the freedom to work on his business rather than in his business has not finished the job and is not ready to move on. The owner’s job is not done until he has built a business that can and will prosper in his absence. The owner’s job is to provide the capital required to operate the business, to establish the vision for the business, to create a business culture in which his enterprise can flourish and to put together a management team that can run the business. When all of that is done, there are almost certainly people who are better qualified than he is to make the day to day business decisions and it is time for him to cash in on his freedom to pursue other dreams that are part of his personal vision.