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Tough times, tough decisions

As our political leaders wrestle with weighty issues regarding our macro economy, many of Mississippi’s entrepreneurs are similarly trying to manage through an extremely difficult business climate. A key attribute of successful leaders is the ability to confront reality and make the difficult calls.

One of Mississippi’s legendary entrepreneurs passed away this month at the age of 91. W.T. “Bill” Hogg espoused a “tough-minded” business philosophy that is very applicable in today’s economic climate. While Bill Hogg may not be a household name today, many of you have likely eaten a meal prepared by his national food service company, Valley Services Inc. Valley prepares hot and frozen meals for schools, businesses, prisons, hospitals and senior service organizations around the state and the country. Also, all who have shopped at Dogwood Promenade or Dogwood Festival in Flowood have the leadership and vision of Bill Hogg to thank as he attracted Aronov Realty to develop his land. These are just a few of the few of the many successful businesses Hogg created during his lengthy business career.

I had the privilege of working with Hogg for a couple of years when he was in his late 80s. Over the years, Hogg developed and implemented strategic business management tools for his many enterprises including his famous “Captain’s Wheel,” which captured the core of his management beliefs. While I learned many valuable lessons of entrepreneurship from him, one of the most important lessons I learned was his tough-minded approach to business. As stated in his biography “How to Succeed at Success,” this does not mean that he espoused being tough of heart. His tough-minded philosophy referred to a toughness of the mind and spirit.

Jim Collins in the business bestseller “Good to Great” similarly recognized a trait of outstanding leaders as the ability to “confront the brutal facts.” For Collins, this meant that leaders should “start with an honest and diligent effort to determine the truth of the situation. Practically applied, Hogg would diligently seek out the real facts in any given situation. He would not indulge those who would argue for a decision with sloppily prepared research. He is quoted as saying that “decisions or conclusions, without facts, are a fool’s folly.” He believed that the tough-minded probed for truth to make the best and clearest decisions. The foundation of his tough-minded philosophy grew out of Hogg’s studies at Tulane. At Tulane, he was heavily influenced by the teachings of the famous psychologist William James and his pragmatic philosophy.

While there are many contributing factors to Hogg’s success, I believe his tough-minded philosophy was one of his key attributes. When the infamous 1979 Easter flood in the Jackson area destroyed his food service business, his resilient spirit helped him start over again even though he was already in his early 60s.

In the midst of this economic downturn, it is easy for entrepreneurial leaders to either be in denial and be blissfully ignorant or overreact with negative “doom and gloom” about the state of affairs. As noted above, a key ingredient for success in business is the ability to ascertain reality. Diligently seeking out the facts without overacting emotionally is critical to making level-headed business decisions in times of crisis. I know that we have many tough-minded leaders in Mississippi who will be successfully guiding their companies through these challenging times. In times of great challenge, the true tough-minded leaders can make these times of great opportunity.

Contact business law expert Martin Willoughby at mew@msbusinesslaw.com or (601) 899-0065.


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