After more than 30 years as a spirited entrepreneur, Bud Brian, the founder and CEO of Budco Financial, knows what it takes to build a profitable organization. In Part Two of this exclusive interview, he shares his expert insight on how to succeed in business.
You’ve had tremendous success as an entrepreneur, first with Budco and now with Budco Financial. What is the best piece of advice you can offer to the amateur entrepreneur?
BUD: First and foremost, it’s much easier if you have the freedom to choose. That’s one of the things I was most fortunate to have. I CHOSE to go to college, I CHOSE to leave teaching, I CHOSE to come out of retirement.
Secondly, you need to surround yourself with smart people—those who get it, want it and have the capacity to do it. Build your organization around people who you can help to feel empowered and valued.
Finally, you need to have a passion for what you’re doing. That’s why I chose to come out of retirement and purchase Budco Financial. My passions—for the automotive industry, for the service contract industry and for the great city of Detroit—called me back into business.
Having built various businesses from the ground up, what are some important factors to consider when getting started?
BUD: I’m a big believer in the Dr. Edwards Deming system. He developed a very well-known operating system by which you figure out all of your vital processes, everything that you need to be able to get something done, even down to how to answer the telephone. It seems so simple, but boy, let me tell you—if you can’t answer the telephone in a timely manner, you can’t provide a good customer experience. It’s imperative to have good processes in place all across the board.
You’ve got to consider each and every one of your touch points with the customer, define a process for each one and then evaluate how you’re doing against those processes. You’ve got to know what you’re going to do if a process fails or if a system goes down. Have a plan already in place to be able to respond quickly.
That’s an excellent point—failure is inevitable with any sort of success, it’s how you prepare and learn from it that matters. Tell us about a significant mistake you’ve made during your career and what you learned from that experience.
BUD: I’ve made a bunch of mistakes. One of the biggest has been making assumptions about customer expectations—assuming that something would be valued by the customer, only to find out after spending the money and using the resources that the customer didn’t even appreciate it.
For example, in the marketing distribution industry, it used to be standard to fulfill an order in 72 hours (three days). But over the years, we improved our processes to the point where we were shipping 60% of our orders the same day we received them. So one day I said, “Let’s just ship all of them same day.” The problem was, the customer didn’t care—next day was absolutely fine with them!
There’s the big danger, getting so caught up in your business that you start making assumptions. It’s really disappointing in the end. I’ve learned to never make assumptions about what customers value; just go ask them directly.
That’s why now, with Budco Financial and our IPP system and dealer portal, we continuously reach out to the auto dealerships to get their feedback. We want to hear directly from our customers, the dealerships, before we move forward with making any changes or enhancements to our systems and programs.
Your focus has always been on the customer experience. Why is that consistently your primary objective?
If you truly value your customers, and you hire really good people, and give them the right tools, then your organization will grow and profit right before your eyes.
I use this analogy all the time… The first objective in hockey is to put the puck in the net. The second objective is to keep the other team from putting the puck in the net. So how does the team know how it’s doing? They look at the scoreboard. But the scoreboard isn’t the game. Everybody thinks the scoreboard is the game. It isn’t. Look at how you’re playing. Don’t just chase dollars; actually look at what you’re selling to the customers. If you care more about developing a reliable product, and continuously improving it for your customers, then the profit will naturally come.
Speaking of profit, how vital is good leadership to the success of a company?
BUD: As a friend of mine used to say, a fish stinks from the head. If you’re wondering what’s wrong with an organization, look first at the head of that organization.
Although I don’t necessarily admire him, Lyndon Johnson had a great saying that I use all the time: “The best fertilizer for a piece of land is the footprints of its owner.”
Isn’t that profound? I’ll give you an example… Go into a restaurant or a bar. If it’s poorly run, bad service, lousy food, I guarantee the owner is not there. It never fails. When I get on a plane from a certain customer-focused airline, I’m always impressed at how they operate. But then I get on another airline that could care less about its passengers and it’s a whole other story—that’s not bad employees, it’s bad leadership.
In your role as a leader, you take a very hands-on approach in terms of empowering and encouraging your employees to develop themselves and their careers. How do you manage to keep your team so motivated? Why is that so important to you?
BUD: I think people expect me to have a higher opinion of myself. I’ve actually had people say to me, “Bud, I can’t believe you’re such a nice guy, such a humble kind of guy.” But I’m the first one to recognize that my success has really been dependent upon others. Good teams win with good talent.
If you want to take proper care of customers, you have to hire people who believe in doing so at their core. That’s really what we did at Budco Financial. We’re a very non-hierarchical organization. Although everyone knows who’s in charge, nobody wears stripes on their sleeves. Everyone on our team is treated with dignity and respect.
It’s not terribly complicated. If you strictly focus on making money, odds are you’re not going to be terribly successful. Take care of the customers, take care of the employees and the rest of it will take care of itself.
In case you missed it, read Part One of this exclusive interview—an inside look at how and why founder and CEO Bud Brian started his burgeoning payment plan company, Budco Financial.