Gators, Harley's and Chocolate: What a Day!

Gators, Harley’s and Chocolate: What a Day!

I had a fun, educational and motivational day recently as I had the honor of presenting at the 2nd Annual Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce Business Symposium held at the Marriott Sanibel Harbor Resort. In additional to getting to spend the day with fellow entrepreneurs, the Chamber and Committee put together a great line-up of presenters.

The day started with a panel made up of Kena M. Yoke, VP of Island Piling, Inc. and President of Kena Yoke Consulting, Inc., Steve Colgate, Chairman of Offshore Sailing School, founded in 1964, and John Gamba, President of MassiveU, a software developer for educational publishers and a director of the Gamba Family Foundation. Their topic was “Three Things You wish You would Have Known Ten Years Ago.” Each presenter shared triumphs and tribulations over their careers.
A couple of highlights I can share are as follows: Steve Colgate told the story of how he wanted to have a sailboat manufactured that was designed specifically for teaching sailing.

This became especially important when one of their training boats sunk. After going to numerous manufacturers, all turned him down saying that there was no market for such a boat. Eventually, he convinced one manufacturer to build a boat just for him based upon time and materials plus a small profit. Fast-forward to today and Mr. Colgate, at 80 years young, told the audience that he just received an order from the US Naval Academy for 12 of his Colgate 26’ training sailboats.

Kena Yoke shared her story of the early struggles when she and her husband started their pile driving business in 1992 as a result of lack of equipment and unreasonable workers comp insurance premiums that made it impossible to make a profit.

Ultimately, they decided they needed to take a financial risk and purchased a struggling competitor while simultaneously Kena took on the insurance industry. As a result of these battles, Kena changed the way workers comp premiums were charged to her business and received a refund of over $47,000 in premiums while growing the business and becoming a woman leader in an industry dominated by men.

Finally, John Gamba shared his story of how he started a school to home communications network and in less than eight years sold the company for $182 million. However, it was not done without a lot of hard work and 80 hour weeks. He also shared the paradox of “humility and will” and explained that in order for his business to grow, he had to take a step back from being the CEO and allow others to run the business while he marketed its product.

He also shared the fact that despite his success at a relatively young age, he continues to experience failures as well as successes and that the key to any successful business is developing a shared culture that values nothing less than excellence. After the opening session, the first of the breakout sessions ensued. I presented my seminar on “The Seven Essential Truths of Successful Businesses.”

In this presentation I examined what I believe are the seven fundamental areas that a business must master in order for it to be successful. I developed these truths over my 27 years of practice representing successful small businesses and, unfortunately, those in bankruptcy. When conducting a bankruptcy consultation, I am like a coroner performing an autopsy on CSI. I look for the reasons for the failure. Over the years I have found common mistakes and deficiencies that, if corrected early enough, can lead to success. My session was videoed and will be available at a later date.

Unfortunately I was not able to go to all of the other breakout sessions. However, I did get to attend a session on social media and a panel discussion moderated by Erica Queenie Castner of The Queen of Results. The panel presented the pros and cons of social media, dealing with employees’ use of it and some of the legal ramifications. My big takeaway was that for better or worse, social media must be a part of your marketing and you must implement policies and procedures for your employees and their use of it.

One other outstanding session was on “Operationally Managing during Business Growth.” The presenters were Glo Cuiffi of Scott Fisher Enterprises which runs Six Bends Harley-Davidson in Fort Myers, Rob Wilson of Enterprise Rent a Car and Norman Love the founder of Norman Love chocolates and confections.

Each shared some of the keys to business growth and managing growth while maintaining the quality of your product and service. While there were many takeaways from the presentation, what stood out to me was the concept of not just selling a product but an experience and the need to exceed customer expectations.

The day ended with Gator Cage, a takeoff of Shark Tank. The panelists included a successful shark tank entrepreneur, Johnny Georges who receive funding for his tree teepee and grew his business from five counties to 48 countries. Also on the panel were Carl E. Gibbons of Third Eye Management and Associates, Ron Klein, the Grandfather of Possibilities, Gary Dumas of Phoenix Bay Ventures and David Diamond of DeAngelis Diamond Construction.

While none of the three presenters convinced the investors to purchase equity in their businesses, my hat is off to these brave souls who were willing to publicly put their dreams on the line. The Gators were very encouraging to these aspiring entrepreneurs and provided each with insights on how to improve or rethink their business models. It was an amazing experience to witness this “ask” live and unrehearsed.

Based upon my experience this past year, I highly recommend that you keep your eye out for the date for the third annual business symposium and put it on your calendar. It is a must see experience.

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