When Corporate Experience Isn’t Enough To Run A Business

Today we are interviewing John Jurkiewicz. John had a long career as a manager at Philip Morris, but he really wanted to try something else, so when they offered him a chance to jump ship and start his own business, he did. Then he realized he didn’t have all the skills he really needed to make it a success. John talks about how he got those skills and also how you can develop your own skills on a fast track. We had an interesting conversation about how to pick a coach. He’s been in this business for a long time, so his suggestions are really worth listening to. Especially if you’re just starting out, because you need to know whether or not it’s going to work. And if there’s one thing that John knows about, it’s whether it’s going to work or not.

John:  I started my career with Philip Morris, a Fortune Five company, and one of the things I did was go back and look at my career. I was hired as a front-line supervisor for 62 people three weeks shy of my 22nd birthday.  Some of the folks were working there before I was born, so you can imagine how that experience went. I really, really enjoyed working with people, and as I did that, I saw a number of things that I wanted to accomplish. As a frame of reference, I began that career in 1974, just about the time that a lot of people like Drucker and Ken Blanchard and Tom Peters were inundating the bookstores and airways with that brand of quality management. It was in the early ’80s when we started embracing the whole teamwork notion, so I was grateful for the 20 years I spent with Philip Morris, as I learned so much. I began to see that there were things I wanted to do with that knowledge. Honestly, though, when you work in a company that large, you’re just not able to do some things — not for punitive reasons, but because the company’s so large and the hierarchy and all of that neat stuff. Then I had an opportunity to take a silver parachute, so to speak, as Philip Morris decided they needed to whittle away at their management staff. I had been contemplating leaving anyway, so I volunteered to leave in place of someone who might have wanted to stay working there.

A lot of the motivation was I pretty much knew I wasn’t gonna retire from a company that made cigarettes, so I went to work for a consultant in Louisville, Kentucky, who happened to be a friend of mine. He said, “Hey, it’s summer, and you’re playing with house money. Why don’t you come on board?” I worked with Dan for about three or four months and realized I didn’t have the depth and breadth of experience to do what I wanted to do.

So for the next six years, I worked for two other companies in human resources, training and development, and operations, not so much to round out my resume, but to create a perspective that when I began my own business endeavor, I could do it the right way. I actually sat down and wrote a manifesto that’s long since lost, but I decided that instead of approaching my clients from a perspective of “here are 10 things I’ll do for you,” I went the exact opposite way. I told people initially, “Here are 10 things I’m not going to do,” based on the people who would come into my office and try to sell me a product or a service.

In November of 1999, I struck out on my own. The years from then until now could be 15 more of your future podcasts, as I’ve got more stories than Carter’s got liver pills! But the important thing that I walked away with from there is that passion is great and you certainly should have the financial resources to do it. However, if you don’t have the depth and breadth of experience, you’re going to find that other people are going to pass you up very quickly.

Meredith:  There’s a whole other school of thought, sort of “playground rules”, which is that to every fourth grader, the fifth grader is god. There are clients out there who need the breadth of knowledge that you have. How do you know when you’re ready?

John:  Faith in yourself. I’ll give you the opposite of that, Meredith. The opposite of that is “I’m not ready, I’m not ready, I’m not ready.” Then all of a sudden you build up a scotoma to the fact that “I need just a little bit more experience.” For me, I started testing out some of the thoughts and processes I had to do in culture change while I was an intrepreneur. I was actually employed and working within a company to help it grow, and when I saw that, even though I didn’t always get approval to do things, people would nod their heads and say, “You know, that really makes sense.” So it’s a feeling of self-confidence, but also intuition, too, at least for me. I’m one of those “when I know, I know” people, and it’s almost as plain as the nose on my very handsome face.

It’s so funny because Jasper is a “I know it if I know it” person, too. I’m the second-guesser of our duo: “No, you’ve got to have the facts, got to prove it, got to have the certificate, then you’re good.” So you work mostly with medium-sized to larger businesses?

John:  Correct, mostly medium-sized.

Meredith:  I think a lot of people are afraid to market to anything but small businesses, even though they have things to offer medium-sized businesses. What advice would you give somebody to know where they should be pitching, because it’s different skills and a different knowledge base? For some things, though, I think that whole mid-range of business where you have more than 10 employees and a serious budget are really undersold to, in general.

John:  I have an answer for you. If you’re a small business owner and I own a pizzeria, I’m going to come to you and say, “Meredith, here’s the whole pizza. There’s pepperoni. There’s vegetables. There’s chicken. There’s sausage. There’s seafood. There’s taco. You need the whole pizza.” Now you go to a medium-sized business, again a pizzeria, and I come in and say, “You know what, Meredith? You may only need the veggie half. Or you may need the two slices of veggie plus the chicken.” I think that’s the big difference. With smaller businesses, you can market to them as saying, “Look, let me come and help you with a host of things.” With medium-sized businesses, they very often have the infrastructure in place, so you have to morph what you market to them as saying, “Hey, I happened to notice. . .”

One thing a lot of companies aren’t aware of in the training and development area is that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suggests, in bold letters, italic, and in quotes, that you do sexual harassment training every year. EEOC doesn’t require you to do it, but they suggest it, okay?  Now, all someone has to do is file a claim with the EEOC. And when they load the bus up to come down and investigate, the first thing they ask is, “Can we see your log for our suggested training?” I have dealt with a lot of medium businesses on compliance issues, for example, and said, “Here are four or five different things you might need done. You don’t have anybody in your organization that’s doing that. How about if I come in and do that training for you?” With a smaller company, I’m going to handle that a lot differently.

Meredith:  How would you handle it differently?

With a smaller company, I usually go in and do an audit of their business. Right now, one of the free gifts I’m offering on my website is a one-hour consultation to small- and medium-sized business, entrepreneurs, and even people who are traditional employees. One of the things I do with small businesses in this one-hour coaching session is kind of an audit. I’ll audit what they have in place and then I’ll come back and say, “Okay, this looks really good, but you’ve got some areas here where I think you could need some help. Here’s what I can do to help you.” I quote them a price, and we go from there.

With a medium-sized business, and I’m saying 150-300 employees, they’ve got a lot of the internal checks and balances and they’re doing some self-auditing. Actually, medium-sized businesses are easier to deal with because a lot of the requests I get from them are very pinpointed, such as, “John, we did an audit, and we’re not doing blah, blah, blah. What would you charge us to. . .”

Favorite Book: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Want to get a free audiobook version of the book recommended by this week’s guest?  Click here to download it.


John Jurkiewicz’s Top Tips For Starting a Business on the Right footing

1) Make sure you know what you are getting into.

2) Have a coach or mentor to guide you through the process

3) You banker, lawyer and accountant are your best friends and you should always be open and honest with them.

4) Be a sponge – soak up as much knowledge as you can.

5) Have passion for what you do

6) Network with people who are in the same boat you are in.

jjurkewiczJohn Jurkiewicz – Small business Development – Career & Life Coaching


John Jurkiewicz is a certified life and career development coach who has 40 years of experience in management, operations, human resources, and training. He started his own coaching and consulting business in November of 1999. ​He realized at that time that no two businesses, like no two people are alike, and the cookie-cutter approaches to reaching your goals aren’t effective whether it be in your career or your life. John believes that happiness and wholeness aren’t confined to just one sector of your life.

John uses the tools and techniques that he developed over the course of his own career and life to help his clients develop strategies that are created for their situations, whether they are entrepreneurs, established businesses or individuals looking for life and career fulfillment.

Part of his Workplace Transformation Program, John’s Start Small & Start Now program can help you create satisfaction and fulfillment in your life by beginning today and beginning with something that’s right in front of you that you can achieve right now!

In September of 2014 he was selected to moderate and facilitate a business boot camp model called Co. Starters. He is the first person in the Commonwealth of Kentucky to be selected for this process.

His first e-book, These 3 Things, was published in September of 2014.

John actively participates in a number of Google+ communities and hosts a bimonthly Hang Out On Air.

Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn

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