Troy Marshall

September 24, 2015

4 Min Read
Here’s what separates the empire builders from the rest

I’m an advocate of windshield time, but this week, I had over 50 hours of keeping it between the lines and I can say that the only thing more dangerous than a man who doesn’t spend enough time thinking is the man who only has time to think. 

Part of the reason for so much travel is that I attended the Montana Angus Tour. I love these types of events because you learn so much without having to pay the price of tuition. You can see what is and isn’t working for others, and learn about their philosophies, outlooks and business models. I always return from these events with a slightly modified outlook and some strategies that I want to implement in our own operation. 

We stopped at several operations during the tour that are hugely successful. It is simply amazing and humbling to see what some of these operations have accomplished. It makes you contemplate what it is that these individuals have mastered or done to create such success. So in a semi sleep-deprived, caffeine-laden state, I found myself going down the road contemplating success at a personal, business, and national level. 

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I was taught that hard work and working smart are two key ingredients of success. Looking at these individuals who have accomplished so much, those two traits are certainly essential. However, it is not hard to find individuals who work just as hard or even harder. These individuals certainly understand the business, the industry, economics and have had some good foresight relative to what the future holds, and with just as much “smarts” or intelligence, but who have not enjoyed anywhere near the same level of success.

There has to be more. I suspect timing and blind luck play a role, but it is a pretty small role; there has to be some other key ingredient. Hard work is often equated with action, but I believe these individuals tend to work on the right things, or to put their efforts into the actions that return the most dividends. They tend to think big, act big, take risks and while they ensure implementation and execution, it is more of a focus on the execution and implementation of big ideas than day-to-day to-do lists. 

Thinking and being smart is a key, but they also put a unique twist to this. Some of the smartest, best thinkers I know can almost get lost in their thoughts. The individuals who have built empires seem to be driven by the need to get something substantive done. They spend a large amount of time dealing with the reality of the world as it exists. They are focused on something real and tangible. 

Of course, this discomforting society tends to prefer the narrative that success or brilliance just springs out of nowhere, like a force of nature. If we accepted the reality that we are responsible for nurturing, creating and maintaining our own success, then we would all be willing to bear more responsibility for the outcomes we have achieved. However, in the environment that our present Internet-laden society operates, many would find that uncomfortable. 

 It is ironic, but it seems those who understand the rules in which we operate are the ones with the ability to break and rewrite them. It is that mastery and embracing of reality that enables us to alter and re-create the world we live in. Because these individuals are tied to reality, and have spent the time mastering their industry and environment, they do not fall captive to the opinions and fears of others. These individuals are not distracted by the lure of shortcuts that rarely exist. 

Society teaches us the joy of instant gratification, but these empire builders embrace the value of time and its compounding effect on everything that matters. Anyone who has grown a business from its boot strap phase to where they have sufficient capital to make the right management decisions knows how much easier it is to run the latter. Yet any attempt to short circuit or avoid the boot strap phase is not only counterproductive, but often fatal. 

They do, however, have a tendency to move through the steps faster. From what I can surmise, that is because of two reasons—they are more focused and they have a greater love for the business and what drives its success than most people. I have to admit that both brilliance and luck are sexier sounding than the traits that differentiate these empire builders—patient, persistent, confident and more committed. Attempting big things increases the risk of failure, and certainly, they have broken the bonds of risk and passivity. And that’s what sets them apart.

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