When Chip Cargas started Cargas Systems, Inc. (my employer), it was 1988, and all he had was a Macintosh computer, a mustache, and a dream. On second thought, he also had an Ivy League education, and years of experience as an engineer, manager, and human resources executive.
What did he lack? He didn’t have any marketing or sales experience; nor did he have any accounting or financial knowledge, key skills if you are starting a business by yourself with no customers. The eighties were coming to an end, and Chip realized the days of covering up what you didn’t know by having stellar facial hair were soon to be over. So he gave himself a crash course in the areas of business where his knowledge was light.
He took some sales and marketing courses and learned enough to do the simple marketing to get him to the point of landing his first customer. Even though he wasn’t a typical salesperson, he learned the basics of building and managing a pipeline, doing the necessary follow up, creating proposals, and doing good presentations. He learned enough to build the business to the point where he could hire someone with natural sales talent.
He also read the Accounting for Non-Accountants book and learned the basic accounting needed to run a business. He became very proficient at building budgets, working with financial models, and dealing with banks. He ended up with a fundamental understanding of accounting that would rival a CFO’s knowledge in many companies.
You can learn a lesson from Chip and his mustache; managers, executives, and entrepreneurs should strive to have a working knowledge of all areas of business. Even if you are not starting your own business, this broad knowledge will help you understand what’s driving the motivations of all areas of your company. Too often people pigeonhole themselves and then become small minded defenders of the narrows interests of their own discipline. It’s great to be an expert, but it’s better to be an expert with a broad understanding of business.
Chip ended up shaving his mustache in the nineties as if to tempt fate and test the mettle of his newfound skills. The company continued to grow, so this proves the theory that well-rounded business knowledge trumps well maintained whiskers. So take a lesson and become well versed in all aspects of business. Then when you do decide to grow an awesome mustache, it will simply be icing on the cake.
Aaron Cargas is a board member and one of many employee owners at Cargas Systems, an employee owned business software and consulting firm. He has been writing on leadership, management, and entrepreneurial topics since 2003. Read Aaron’s blog at http://ManagerialMayhem.com and follow Aaron on Twitter @ManagerialMayhm.