In Profit Wise, Jeff Morrill outlines the lessons he’s learned over a long-lasting entrepreneurial career. The book serves as a guide for aspiring or established business owners, providing thoughtful, actionable advice based on Morrill’s own journey.
“I founded my first business, Planet Subaru, from scratch and with very little money. I acquired most of my professional education building that company into one of the most successful privately-owned automotive dealerships in the United States. I later created and still own businesses that yield over $100 million in annual revenue in markets that include insurance, real estate, and cell tower infrastructure.”
The book itself is a concise read with each chapter focusing on a different aspect of business strategy – from leadership to marketing to negotiation. The underlying message is to “take the high road to raise the bottom line” – why ‘doing the right thing’ is good for business, and how to put this idea into practice.
“As an entrepreneur, you don’t have to wait until the end of your days to make a difference. You can improve the world today by the way you choose to do business. You will enjoy more abundance, better relationships, and a more meaningful life, too.”
Morrill argues that, when building and running a business, the overarching focus should be on creating value for other people. He explains, “…the best way to grow profits over the long run is not to obsess narrowly on this month’s profits, but [to] create enough value for other people so they want to do business with you instead of somebody else.”
This means ‘doing the right thing’ – not only creating value for your customers, but also having a positive impact on your local and wider community. Prioritising both helps you to build a good reputation and stand out from the competition. This is particularly important for creating long-term customer relationships, which Morrill argues are the most profitable. As he later notes, “…it’s easier to motivate an existing customer to do business with you another time (farming) than it is to find a new one (hunting).”
However, ‘doing the right thing’ is also becoming increasingly important for attracting new customers in a world where online reviews play such a pivotal role in influencing buying choices.
By prioritising value creation above short-term profits, you delay immediate gratification for the sake of better results for everyone down the line – your company, customers, employees and community.
What kind of value you want to create will depend on factors such as the market you’re in or your personal values. But a key message in Profit Wise is that you don’t wing good business – you must set clear intentions and be deliberate in finding ways to see them through. With that in mind, it’s important you specify exactly what kind of value you wish to create in all areas of your business, and how you will go about doing so. Morrill calls this defining reality:
“Defining reality is telling the story of why your company exists, what you try to accomplish, how you go about doing it, and who does the work. Your reality organizes the values and mission of your organization into a coherent story.”
Within the company you may consider what kind of value you’d like to provide to your employees; what sort of environment you’d like to work in. Outside of the company, what impact do you want to have on your customers, your community, etc.? What makes your company different from its competitors?
Morrill describes defining and clearly communicating your reality as the most important role for a leader, as your company’s direction becomes clearer, and you create a framework for decision making. By having a more precise understanding of the why and how of the company, employees can make better and more congruent choices with less supervision.
“Every little and big decision you make is either a deposit or a withdrawal in the integrity of your organization’s reality.”
Fundamentally, your company reality is only valuable if everyone else is onboard. Talking the talk is not enough and Morrill quotes poet Ralph Hodgson in saying “Some things must be seen to be believed.”
As a leader, it is your responsibility to constantly find new ways to develop and promote your reality, as well as your team’s enthusiasm for it.
Accepting this responsibility means, amongst other things, leading by example and creating systems that reflect your commitment to it.
As Morrill states, “Your people will figure out sooner or later whether you’re living your life in harmony with the values you espouse. That means you have to follow your own rules and keep your promises, even the little ones about seemingly insignificant things (like calling back today or sending an email this week).”
This starts with finding the right people. The aim is to only attract those who also believe in your reality, if you wish to strengthen rather than weaken it.
This can be done by marketing what is special about your company – both to customers and to potential new recruits. For example, Morrill makes a point to report new environmental initiatives to different news outlets to attract people with similar values. When hiring, he suggests prioritising character above skills, as “team members who understand the “why” of the organization have a much easier time with the “how.”
Morrill closes the book with a series of reflections on his own career.
“I spent my prime years building wealth, and I’m very grateful that it worked out. But I discovered that having a whole lot of change in my pocket didn’t really change my life a whole lot. Now I live in a nice house and have more free time, but I’m still me. Assuming you enjoy some reasonable level of financial security, other factors will affect your life experience much more than money. These include the quality of your intimate relationships, the satisfaction you obtain from your daily activities, and especially your health.”
He argues that many entrepreneurs make profound sacrifices in the pursuit of wealth, only to find that, in the end, the results are not always what they expected.
This is not said to discourage aspiring entrepreneurs but, rather, to remind them not to neglect other important areas along the way. Just as your business should be improving other people’s lives, it should also be enriching your own.
Otherwise, what was it all for?