One of the reasons we've been successful is the ability to trust other people.
Learning from crisis: I live in a rural, bedroom community of Louisville, Ky., and when I got out of high school, I got married, had a couple kids, and was going to be a farm wife. The farming crisis hit in the '70s, and I thought: This is not such a good idea. I went to college after I already had two kids and never looked back. We had a big farm to manage. We also had a convenience store, so I learned customer service, and then when I got into public accounting, it really helped me with the work ethic, the perspective on what it takes to get ahead, the balance.
Five people and $300,000: Back in the '80s, I started working with [co-founder] John Chilton at a firm in Louisville. About 1988, we decided to leave that firm and start our own firm with five people and about $300,000 in revenue. After a lot of organic growth and several regional mergers, our revenue numbers are now hovering around $40 million.
Power of persuasion: I'm really good at talking people into things. I was able to talk people into joining us as employees, as partners, as consultants. If you can organize people in a way where they feel they're doing their life's work, that they've found their calling, and they can see the vision of what you want to have accomplished, it works. That is the competitive advantage we've had. And I'm also good at talking clients into joining us.
Trust your people: One of the reasons we've been successful is the ability to trust other people, and to let them have responsibilities and authority. When we employed five people, I could control a lot more. Now I have to trust that I have the right people. I trust that 99% of the time, it will be fine. There are going to be challenges and adjustments to the course, but it's OK.
What staff expects: There's stress on leadership when you hire really bright people, because they're pushing you as well. They're expecting a lot from the firm, so you've got to live up to that. They expect challenges, and they expect to be included in decision-making, in client meetings, in initiatives. We have a hard time keeping our young people from overcommitting to outside or firm initiatives, which is an interesting problem.
The reward: Seeing other people achieve success in the firm with clients and growth is rewarding. I'll look at who we have, and see who I think would be good at an initiative, and challenge them to do it. I've hired new people and seen them become partners, become office leaders, become industry leaders. That's really wonderful.
—As told to Sheon Ladson Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org), a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C.