In Business & Entrepreneurship, People Matter More Than Anything Else (Including Technology)

by Greg Prestemon

I just turned 60, and if you’ve been around for 60 years, hopefully you’ve learned some things.

(And if you ask my wife, I usually learn those things the hard way.)

For almost 25 of those 60 years, I’ve served as President and CEO of the St. Charles County EDC Business and Community Partners.

I’ve been fortunate to make this job most of my life’s work.

During that time, I’ve worked with some extraordinary EDC staffers, including the people currently on our team. I’ve learned from amazing entrepreneurs on our board of directors, in our Partners group, and in our community.

There have been a lot of lessons in the past 60 years, but the one that sticks out the most is how the people you surround yourself with—and how you treat those people—will determine whether you succeed as an entrepreneur.

If you want to make it, you need to:

1. Remember your family is part of the journey, too.

Being an entrepreneur can be all-consuming. There is a lot riding on your success or failure. You’ll wake up thinking about the business. You’ll work long days. You’ll constantly hear the voice of Ricky Bobby telling you, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

You’ll go to bed with the company on your mind.

But do that for long enough, and you’ll go to bed alone—and no one wants that.

Take some advice from me: People at your 60th birthday party won’t be talking about the deals you’ve made or the projects you’ve launched.

They’ll talk about the time you spent together watching iconic movies like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

There will inevitably be moments in your life when your company or career will consume you—but every once in a while, try to envision your 60th birthday and what you want people to say about you.

2. Build strong relationships in your community.

Even if you’re launching the next Facebook, there will likely be a point where you sit across the table from someone, face to face, and ask that person to take a leap of faith and believe in you.

Chances are, the person across the table will come from your own community.

Over the years—especially in St. Charles County—I’ve seen this happen too many times to count. Someone chooses to invest in a longshot idea or partner with a startup because they believe strong cities and counties are built on a choice to do business with the people in our own communities.

Even if you have global aspirations, there is a good chance your first big break will come from someone who considers you a neighbor.

3. Treat your staff well.

The idea that a successful entrepreneur is a high-strung visionary who treats employees like garbage is a myth created by too many Steve Jobs movies. In real life, successful people treat employees with respect and dignity.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t have a choice.

In the beginning, your employees could make more money and have more job security by working for almost anyone other than you. If you layer cruelty on top of poverty and insecurity, those employees won’t stick around for long—and high turnover is a killer for startups.

Like your family and your community, your employees took a leap of faith with you.

You don’t build loyalty with perks and huge signing bonuses (which you probably can’t afford anyway).

But you can always afford to treat employees with dignity, recognize their humanity, and treat them fairly.

In 60 years, I’ve learned almost everything changes, eventually.

Technology is inherently temporary. Politicians come and go (thank goodness). Sometimes the economy is great, and other times it seems like the best thing to do is stock up on rice, beans, and bullets.

What doesn’t change is how important your family, your community, and your employees are to your success. Invest time in those relationships.

If you do, you might one day get to endure a lot of jokes about how old you are with people you really care about.

Greg Prestemon is President and CEO of the St. Charles County EDC Business and Community Partners.