As a celebration for my 20th year in business, I decided to take my family on one of the most relaxing and enjoyable vacations I could come up with. I realize this may conjure up visions of a beach in Hawaii, a resort in Sedona or a cruise ship in the Bahamas, but for me it’s spending time behind the wheel of a convertible. This is my “me” time. This is where my mind unwinds, lets go of the day to day details, and allows me to reflect in the broadest sense.
In the spirit of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig, I prepped my 1966 Chevy Impala SS Convertible for the 3,000 mile Hot Rod Power Tour. The trip winds through a turn by turn route, stopping in a different city each afternoon for the daily car show. Like a parade stretching for miles and miles, thousands of hot rodders drive their favorite vehicles down country roads and through small towns, favoring the scenic route over the interstate highway. There is no rush to get anywhere, instead the emphasis is to simply enjoy the open road and grateful spectators who set out their lawn chairs to wave and take pictures or offer free food and drinks. This mentality is a welcome break from the “need to have it yesterday” demands that seem to be the norm in today’s culture.
The route started in Madison, WI on June 6th with stops at Champaign, IL, St. Louis, MO, Memphis, TN, Hoover, AL, Gulfport, MS and ending in Baton Rouge, LA. Seven days, seven stops and then a leisurely jaunt back home to Waukesha, WI. Two to three hundred miles each day gave me ample time to relax, reflect and ponder my plans for the future.
The first day of the tour was highlighted by the sheer number of vehicles. Being my first Power Tour, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it soon became apparent as we visited every lot around the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. It’s exciting to see license plates not only from most states, but also from New Zealand, South Africa and other countries. I was thrilled to be part of such a huge and far-reaching group, all with one common interest.
The following six days were filled with exciting highlights and events along with ample relaxation time. It was also comforting to know that regardless of when you started, where you stopped, or where you refueled/ate/used the restroom, you were in the company of fellow hot rodders. I was a little uneasy in the beginning as I wasn’t sure if my ’66 with 90,000 miles on it was up for the task, but seeing many others in the same situation gave me comfort. I’ve also heard stories as to how anyone and everyone would come to the rescue of someone who had a problem along the way.
The most fulfilling times for me were when people who came up to admire my car. People had a genuine interest and we were thrilled they actually had an interest in my car. To go along with this, we walked countless hours/miles admiring other vehicles and talking to the owners. A few we talked to several times but most were new introductions and all become immediate friends.
While all these highlights and events created so many wonderful memories, the greatest highlight for me was the quiet time on the road. I had many, many hours to let my mind wonder as the sun beat down on us and the wind messed our hair up. During that time, I tried to summarize what I’ve learned over the last 20 years. Here are a few of the tidbits I feel are the most important:
- Everything in business revolves around relationships. Success, prosperity, growth, etc. are all results of those relationships.
- Relationships start with us. It’s our responsibility to start and nurture all relationships.
- The secret to prosperity is integrity, fiscal responsibility and partnerships.
- The secret to longevity is vision, flexibility and adaptability.
- The secret to a successful workforce is to hire smart people with the right attitude, give them the tools they need, set goals and get out of their way.
- Always do the right thing. People may not like you from time to time, but they will always respect you.
- Measure, trend and put limits on everything you’re in control of or that affects your business. Either use industry averages to set your limits or just guess, but don’t ignore anything.
- You don’t know everything. Develop relationships with others who can mentor, coach or simply lend an ear when you need it. And don’t be afraid to need it.
- Technology is your friend. Use it as much as you can.
- I certainly don’t know what the next 20 will bring, but I do know I’m making it a point to enjoy the ride.
It didn’t occur to me until we were back home, but the people we’ve met during this week were by far, the greatest part of the trip, which ironically, is the same thing I’ve come to realize over the last 20 years.