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"How to go from Awesome to Average"

Russ Sorrells
January 31, 2022

Success does not beget success is certainly not a difficult concept to understand. However, the temptation to take on more is a real threat to long-term success.

In 1998 I began my sales career in the great state of Michigan. I was a young engineer turned salesman pimping automation and leak test equipment to Tier 1 and Tier 2 automotive suppliers. Selling in the automotive world is baptism by fire, especially in Michigan. I sucked. I had a big fat goose egg in my win column for the first six months of my sales career. My boss made fun of me at every sales meeting; needless to say, I was embarrassed and ashamed. Today I am glad the guy was an asshole because his bullying doubled my determination. After 18 months, I was one of the top salespeople for the company I represented and four years after number one in the world. I learned from others and applied those lessons in my daily efforts. My goal was 7 to 8 face-to-face meetings each day. I studied my products, learned all technical aspects to share with our customers, and became the defacto service person in my territory. My mission was mastery. Eventually, I decided it was time to start a sales agency of my own, so I convinced my wife, and we moved to the Carolina’s in 2004 to begin anew.

Our sales agency grew to seven figures in just a few years with 2.5 employees. I was a brilliant business person, or so I thought. Drunk on my success in May of 2015, I partnered with a friend and purchased a full-service carwash and oil change facility. The business was cash flowing $40k per month. We borrowed $1.4MM and had a minimal down payment of $360k for a business cash flowing $40k per month. We were geniuses, or so we had convinced ourselves. The previous owner spent every day working in the business, but we had no such intention. Instead, we hired my big brother to run the business. My brother had been unemployed for years and had never managed himself, let alone a business. In our minds, we thought, how hard could it be? Wash cars and change oil seems pretty straightforward. The company began to struggle from the beginning. The customers were demanding, and the employees were volatile. My partner and I had no experience with a consumer business. We both owned companies that were business-to-business versus business-to-consumer. The expectations for a $5 carwash are challenging to articulate in a short article, but ridiculous would be the best one-word description (especially the old people). Our precipitous fall from grace began within six months of our purchase, but I had a successful track record, and we were going to turn this around!

Still in denial about my ability to own and operate multiple businesses simultaneously, I invested in a third business. The third business was in the healthcare space and on the brink of insolvency when we took over. My friends congratulated me and were impressed with my business savvy. I am superman. The third business needed lots of attention to turn it around. We went to work breaking it down and putting it back together. Suppliers had stopped selling to us because the previous owner had not been paying the bills, so we had many relationships to mend. The employees were uncertain about the future of the business and felt vulnerable. Slowly we began to turn the company around by working with the banks to consolidate debt, suppliers to establish payment plans, and outsourcing critical aspects of the business related to cash flow. We did it! It has been a remarkable turnaround that took a company from the brink of failure to profitability in less than 12 months. Again, I am a genius.

All the while, my other businesses suffered from a lack of attention and effort. Sales began to dip for the sales agency, and the carwash continued to underperform. The problem was I had no time. Before taking on the second and third businesses, I was a runner and a family man. I was the number one salesperson for the automation company I represented for ten years. Each year I doubled the closes salesperson’s production. I was the best of the best. Now I was average. I had become an average husband, father, and business owner. I had convinced myself that I could do it all. My big dreams could only be accomplished by taking it all on and going for it. The reality was that I went from the best to average in three years. I lost $500k in the carwash debacle, destroying a great business in the process. On the other hand, the healthcare business continues to grow and thrive, which is a blessing.

As of the writing of this article, I have transitioned or am transitioning out of all these businesses. I am getting back to the basics of success in life – FOCUS. FOCUS stands for Follow One Course Until Success. I learned this lesson as a young sales professional, but unfortunately, it took losing $500k and more importantly, time with those I love to learn the lesson a second time. I am back to the basics as a business leadership team coach helping business leaders reclaim personal freedom by building self-managing companies. Mastery requires focus. Doing it all leads to average at best.

Russ Sorrells is the founder of Own Your Category and Certified Pinnacle Leadership Team Coach based in Fort Mill, SC. Most businesses have no formal growth planning process. I work with leadership teams to implement a business operating system so they can grow and scale a profitable business that consistently delivers meaningful impact for team members and customers. or Let’s Do This!

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