This past Monday (10/20) Marcus Lemonis paid a visit to Camden, NJ. He addressed the graduates from the Latin American Economic Development Association’s Entrepreneurial Development Program. The event took place at the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Croc Community Center.
In the interest of full disclosure: both my father and I both serve as LAEDA instructors. The EDP program is for actual entrepreneurs who are either starting or operating real small businesses in the South Jersey area. Many readers no doubt know Mr. Lemonis as the guy with the big check book on the CNBC program The Profit; he’s invested close to $7M of his own money over the course of two seasons. Interestingly, little of the advice he gave to the entrepreneurs had to do with economics.
Mr. Lemonis delivered inspirational comments without notes, but with a host of sage advice. He explained that he lost 55 lbs during one summer while in high school. A need to “re-invent himself” inspired him to do so. At the time he figured other people wanted him to slim down. “How many times do we re-invent ourselves to please others”? he asked. He used this vignette to segue into how important it is for people to re-invent themselves for the right reasons.
The most moving part of Mr. Lemonis’ speech centered on vulnerability. It’s critical for leaders to be cognizant of his/her weaknesses. He admitted to a room of strangers his issues with his weight, how he’s struggled in his personal relationships and that he’s had one failed marriage. In spite of his myriad successes as a businessman and television personality he acknowledged even he suffers from a lack of confidence on occasion. That’s an extraordinary admission. As a CEO he leads many people. In addition he invests large sums of money in failing businesses in front of a world-wide audience. One wonders how prosperous he’d be without any confidence issues.
Based on the topics already cited, it’s not surprising that the core of his speech dealt with the topic of character. A relentless commitment to self-improvement plays a key role here. “Your employees put tremendous faith in your decision making.” The most surprising bit of advice he delivered to the group involved human resources. “If you haven’t worked for someone else, you’re not an entrepreneur. You need to know what it’s like to be fired.” He challenged those with difficult employees. “When people come to work for you and they fail, it’s no one’s fault but yours.” Leaders must do everything possible to ensure the success of his/her employees. “Before firing someone you need to look yourself in the eye and say you’ve done everything to make them successful.”
During the question and answer period one of the business owners asked Mr. Lemonis about fear. “Welcome to the club,” he replied. While everyone knows it takes money to run a business, it also takes a lot of character. The fact Mr. Lemonis’ comments focused on the later over the former shows its criticality. As he eloquently pointed out, “When you’re down and out you need to pick yourself up.” While money certainly helps, it’s impossible to do so without character.