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PHIL HARDWICK: Ten business lessons from Monica Harrigill

PHIL HARDWICK

PHIL HARDWICK

Some businesspeople exude enthusiasm. It inspires other people. Then there are businesspeople who radiate contagious enthusiasm, which the kind that infects others with enthusiasm. Such is the case with Monica Harrigill, vice president of Jackie’s International and a 2004 winner of the Mississippi Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40. In addition to currently managing eight motels and 40 restaurants, she is a partner with husband, Ray, in several other businesses.

Harrigill’s and her family’s story has been profiled before, but it bears mentioning to understand where she came from and how it helps define her. Her father is Dr. D.L “Doc” Sethi, a man who grew up in poverty in India, came to the United States, earned a Ph.D., taught at the college level, raised three children and invested in a Sonic Drive-In franchise that eventually became a legion of motels and restaurants. She and her brother manage the day-to-day operations of those businesses and her sister is a physician. She and her husband, Ray, also invest in and manage several other businesses.

Harrigill recently made a presentation to my Principles of Management class. I had asked her to tell her story and to give the students some lessons learned from her experience running the several businesses she is involved with her family. She pulled no punches, telling them that hard work comes with confidence and skill. In addition to learning about the above businesses, the students heard about her days and nights of flipping burgers, sweeping parking lots and growing the drive-in restaurants she managed.

Below is her list of top 10 things that she has learned and that she would advise to anyone who wants to go into business.

1. Overlearn everything you want to be good at. Be brilliant at the basics. It does not matter what you want to be good at. Know as much as possible about the details of the business, and then teach those things to the employees. Practicing and teaching results in permanent behavior.

2. Love your people/ believe in your people.  Servant leadership is the idea that the leader wants and needs to serve others first. The servant leader focuses on people and developing their skills and attitudes about the company and about the work. Harrigill’s companies have a low margin of turnover in a high turnover industry because of caring about employees.

3. Plan your plan and work your plan. Success is almost always intentional. Success begins with planning to succeed. A good business plan takes research, time and thinking to develop.

4. Everything speaks. Everything you do or say speaks. Even not doing something sends a message. For example, when the manager sees something being done wrong and does not take corrective action he or she is silently accepting the behavior or action.

5. Be honest. Always be straight forward even when it would be easier to be otherwise.

6. Be audible ready, i.e. the ability to change quickly. That means being able to adjust the conversation to what your customer or employee needs. It means listening to the customer and being able to change immediately to fit the situation.

7. Trust, but verify. Inspect what you expect. Even though the manager knows that an employee will probably do a good job it is good practice to check and make certain that the action was performed.

8. Teach-teach-teach. The manager must show how something is done if he or she expects it to be done. Also, the manager’s other actions are part of teaching.

9. Key Performance Indicator (KPI) numbers don’t lie. The KPI’s for college students are grades. A student who does not study will get exposed when grades come out. The KPI’s in business are such things as units sold, number of sales, sales per employee and a myriad of other measurements. Numbers always tell the manager a story. The question for managers is whether he or she is listening to the story. What is the reason behind the number?

10. If you want to change your bottom line you must affect your front (top) line. Profit comes from a combination of increasing sales, managing expenses and all the variety of things that go into influences those numbers.

She summarized and reiterated that business success all comes down to three things. First is the internal customer, i.e. the employees. Take care of them first; learn and be a servant leader. Second is the external customer, i.e. those who purchase the company’s products and services.  Love them and make them loyalists and raving fans. Third, the bottom line comes from the top line.

Finally, she asked the students if they knew what would be the most important decision that they would make in life. The answer, she told them, was the decision about whom they would marry. If her family is an indication she (and her parents) made the right choice.

» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and CEO of The Hardwick Company, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick.com and he’s on the web at www.philhardwick.com.

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