A study published in 2010, tracked 1,000 children from birth to age 32 and found that the greatest predictor of “success” in life was the trait of self-discipline. Interestingly, in a study with more than one million responses, participants were asked to list their personal strengths, and self-discipline was dead last. For entrepreneurs and business leaders, the ability to exercise self-discipline is critical. Author and performance coach Tony Schwartz noted, “Self-control is the ability to say no, in the face of temptation, and to take sustained action, despite the difficulty of a given challenge.”
I recently visited with A.G. Helton, CEO of Action Properties, about his thoughts on leadership, and self-discipline was a consistent theme in our conversation. Helton, a native of Yazoo City, is a graduate of Belhaven College. He worked for a number of years in the grocery business and was president of Premier Foods, Inc. In 2002, he had an opportunity to purchase an old shopping center in Yazoo City and redevelop it. This opportunity quickly led to others, and he formed Action Properties to be a leader in the “small market segment of commercial real estate industry.” In nine years, his company has expanded into six states and has over 750,000 square feet of redeveloped property. They have created over 725 jobs and $11 million in sales tax revenue in these small towns.
Developing retail centers in small town America is no easy task. Helton is humble about his success and is obviously driven by his passion to redevelop properties in these often overlooked markets. He noted the 5P’s of success – “prior preparation prevents poor performance.” For those willing to do the hard work of preparation, opportunities often arise. As the saying goes, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.” His perseverance and focus has allowed him to achieve 96 percent occupancy rate for his properties that were often almost abandoned before he started.
Helton also shared that he believes “follow up and follow through” is very important for leaders. He referenced the phrase, “inspect what you expect when working with people.” Inspecting does not mean you are a micro-manager. Instead, it is about accountability and the expectation of follow through. The purpose of inspection is not to demean an employee, but to provide feedback and guidance. One of my mentors kept a “Due From” list on his desk, and he required his team to be very specific on completion deadlines and follow up. He would always follow up with you immediately after any deadline was missed. His consistency and inspection helped create an organization that was very accountable.
Once he began to develop his company, Helton earned a Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) designation which is held by less than one percent of commercial real estate professionals in the world and requires completion of graduate level education curriculum and qualifying industry experience. His focus and discipline allowed him to obtain this designation in six months while most people take two to three years to complete the program. Helton believes that small town values are important in running a successful business. The values of hard work, honesty, and follow through are core to Helton’s business. Despite the “doom and gloom” that we often hear about the economy, and particularly the real estate industry, Helton’s success is testimony to the fact that opportunities still exist for those who boldly execute on niche opportunities. I know that our state and the region will benefit as Helton and Action Properties help bring new life and vitality to small towns.