Editorial: What it means to be an owner

Jun 11, 2014

Mark Zweig tackles the misconceptions with four examples.

I started out in business at a young age, buying and selling bicycles, then motorcycles and then cars, on my Mom and Dad’s street corner. Then I had a variety of other ventures until I started Mark Zweig & Associates (which later became ZweigWhite) in 1988 and Mark Zweig, Inc., my design/construct/development company, in 2005. I’ve also been an owner involved with some startups and other A/E firms. The point is this: There are a number of misconceptions some people have about what it means to be an owner in the firm. I’d like to disarm those now…
  1. Just because you are the owner it doesn’t mean you rule. NO ONE has to do what you tell them to do or want them to do. Everyone has free will. They will each need to be sold, convinced, cajoled, influenced, listened to, loved, and paid attention to if you want them to act the way you want them to. It isn’t easy. You cannot just issue an edict and expect everyone to do it. If you do happen to be one of those people who thinks this way, you’re going to be doomed to a life of misery and frustration.
  2. Just because you are the owner it doesn’t mean you get all the money – or even the lion’s share of it. Of course, some people who own businesses DO think this way. But their long-term success and options are very limited as a result. You have to pay people well – make them feel like if they work hard they will be treated fairly – and share the booty (liberally) if you want to keep them around and keep the whole thing growing and moving in a positive direction. That means you have to take care of them FIRST before yourself if you want to really get their loyalty and convince them their efforts and care will pay off.
  3. Just because you are the owner doesn’t mean you get special privileges. The perks that you allow yourself (dinner with the spouse on the company nickel, Thursday afternoons off for golf, etc., no matter how well-deserved they are) have the potential to demotivate other people there. Even coming into the office late when you got back home from a business trip at midnight the night before could be criticized or misinterpreted by others.
  4. Just because you are the owner it doesn’t mean you don’t want everyone else to feel like one, too. Many times owners think they are the only ones with a lot to lose if they fail or the company fails, but the employees do, too. Their job is their livelihood. It may not be that easy to replace that job. It’s like they are self-employed and have one client – your company. That is a very precarious position. Acknowledge it. Recognize it. Embrace it. And consider this. These people didn’t START companies. They are going to be more risk-averse than you are.
It doesn’t matter that you started the company or own it now. You are constantly being judged. Truthfully, no one cares about the sacrifices you made or the risks you took to get where you are. The sooner you figure this out and accept it, the better off you’ll be. It takes a team to do anything worthwhile and you have to feed that team – physically, ego-wise, and even spiritually – to keep it together. Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com. This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1060, originally published 6/16/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.