Grampa’s Business Rules

The Rules for Success Are Not New

You know, business doesn’t have to be a complex, Harvard-B-school kind of thing, all complicated and hard for ordinary mortals to understand. Much of it CAN be boiled down to some pretty simple stuff.

My paternal grandfather didn’t have a degree in business. In fact, he never got past the third or fourth grade, but that didn’t stop him from running several successful businesses and owning a significant part of the small north-Georgia town where he lived.

Now, you can get into the academic and accountant-y stuff if you want to. But my grandaddy’s rule was pretty simple. If he had more money coming in than going out, and if it was likely to continue that way for a while, that was good. If his family was eating okay, had reasonably good clothes to wear, were healthy, and the roof didn’t leak, that was also good.

But nobody in his family was fancy, putting on airs. Definitely working class. If you had been sitting at the supper table with them and said something about designer labels, they’d have thought you meant OshKosh or Levis.

Of course Grandaddy ran SMALL businesses — five to ten employees. His daughter-in-law did all the bookkeeping. But if he had built up to a larger enterprise, I know he’d have hired the appropriate accounting help while still keeping things simple.

Although he owned rental properties all over town, including many large commercial properties, and used a lawyer to keep the legal stuff straight, he always knew exactly what he owned, how much his incomes and outflows were, and who owed him what. He kept all that information right at the tip of his tongue.

I lived with my grandparents for about a year when I was eight, and every Sunday morning Grandaddy would go out collecting rents. Usually he’d let me ride along.

He’d stop at dozens of little shanty houses he rented out, collecting weekly rents of four or five dollars each. He kept an accounts book at home, but he never took it with him on his rounds. He always remembered who was up-to-date on their rents, who was behind, and who was going to have to move out soon for non-payment. He knew the first name of every tenent and the names of every family member.

He rented to the very poor, but he never failed to treat them with respect. One Sunday morning we stopped at a house he owned down by the river, and I saw a willow tree growing in the yard.

“Grandaddy, can I cut a little branch off that tree and make a willow-whistle?”

He told me, “You’ll have to ask Mr. Will here, son. As long as he’s renting this house, it’s his tree to say yes or no.” Decades before the business book writers turned “respect for customers” into a catch phrase, Grandaddy was already living the concept every day.

My dad once told me that back during the great depression in the thirties, his family never went hungry, no matter what was happening in other families.

You see, Grandaddy was a master of the big four basics of business:

  1. Know (or find out) what people want — really want
  2. Know (or find out) how to get it for them
  3. Let them know you can help them
  4. Have the confidence to ask for what YOU want in return

And that’s pretty much it… we can make it all complicated if we want to, but simple has been working really well for a very long time.