Bill Green on How to Grow And Scale a Business

Entrepreneurs who successfully launch their own small business often have a blank “what’s next?” moment. So much work has gone into getting to this step. But entrepreneurs need to grow and nurture their businesses too.

Bill Green has some useful advice on that very topic. An accomplished entrepreneur with forty years of business experience, a successful author, and a philanthropist, Green knows what it takes to build a business. After starting a hardware store with his father, Green founded the supply distribution company Wilmar Industries.

Green grew Wilmar Industries from a small retail outlet to a market-leading $630 million with company with over 2300 employees that’s now owned by Home Depot. He’s also founded a boutique private equity firm (Crestar Partners), tax lien business (Crestar Capital), a real estate company Crestar Homes and a lending company (LendingOne).

Here are a few pieces of advice from Green on how young founders can grow their businesses:

Look for Opportunities

Green got his start as a high school entrepreneur at flea markets, selling used goods and samples from his father’s department store buyer position. Hardware and plumbing supplies sold exceptionally well, which led to him focusing on those goods and eventually opening his own hardware store.

His story reflects the value of looking for opportunities wherever one can find them. The owner of a young business might have more growth options available than they think–they just need a shift in perspective.

Solid business growth strategies don’t necessarily require reinventing the wheel. For every entrepreneur who invents the next Facebook, there are hundreds of founders who struggle to launch an “innovative” idea with no market need or get their unique idea to the market a little too late. Instead, business founders often benefit from simply finding ways to improve their industries. Green succeeded by focusing on customer service and improving efficiency in the supply distribution industry.

“My mantra has been, ‘I never invent anything; I just take existing businesses, and make them better,’” he explains, “whether that means value engineering of a product offering, or just really enhancing the customer service experience.”

Balance Managing Now with Planning for the Future

Micromanagement is a tempting foible for young business-owners; they’ve poured so much of themselves into helping the business succeed so far, so why start to hand over some of the less essential reins now?

But Green advocates balancing focus–do what needs to be done to make sure the business runs well and subordinates work effectively, but don’t sacrifice long term planning for day-to-day management tasks that could easily be delegated. Discussing his current position at the head of LendingOne, Green says:

“My team is laser-focused on 2018, and I’m certainly not precluded from that thought process. But my head is in 2019 and 2020. These guys are doing the blocking and tackling, but I need to focus on next year.”

So what does long term leadership look like? For Green, it includes clear-headed navigation of heady times such as IPOs and trends sweeping the industry. Green, for example, took Wilmar Industries private after their successful IPO, which was named one of the best IPOs of 1996 by Fortune Magazine.

Such a move might sound counter-intuitive to a beginning founder trying to raise capital and grow at all costs, but Green’s decision was well-founded: the stock market was rushing into trendy dot-com stocks and dumping holdings in even highly successful companies such as Wilmar Industries because they weren’t “techie” enough.

Green recognized that private capital could support his company better in the long run, and the move shielded Wilmar Industries from the stock market havoc that ensued when the dot-com bubble popped.

Choose Your Partners Wisely

Sometimes business partners get thrown together by circumstance. Green’s father supported his early business entrepreneurship by providing him with old samples from his department store position. When he lost that position after 25 years with the company, Green’s father became his partner, and the two opened a hardware store.

But Green and his father didn’t share the same goals. “My dad and I were pretty much oil and water because once he got up to the point where he was making the same 40 grand a year that he was making before, he was complacent, and I wanted to grow,” Green says. “He retired and bought his house in Florida in 1986. And we were kind of off to the races after that.”

In the end, both Green and his father got what they needed out of their hardware store venture, but Green’s story illustrates the importance of choosing partners not just because of their expertise and resources, nor because of any existing social relationship, but instead because they share goals for the company.

Business growth is challenging, but entrepreneurs tend to run towards a challenge, not away from it. Green and other successful founders can provide valuable lessons for entrepreneurs looking to take the next step.