Everyone always remarks about my entrepreneurial spirit because of my business track record. But that spirit was simply born from wanting to do the right thing, and in my mind the only way to do that was to do it myself. Combine that with no fear of the unknown or hard work, and the drive to be the best at what you do and you have a different sort of recipe for entrepreneurship.
Long before I owned my first business, I was fortunate enough to still operate independently because my bosses recognized hard work and the drive to be the best. As an auto mechanic, I ran the shop because I was the troubleshooter. If no one else could fix the car, it came to me. But well before that I had a mentor, Howard the Journeyman, who I first worked under when I was 16. He taught me my first real business lesson. Howard was a lean, medium-built, balding man about 30 years my elder who always wore a hat and a red rag in his back pocket — exactly how you would picture a seasoned master mechanic. One day we had this ‘67 Buick that had been to 3 shops to no avail for an unusual intermittent air conditioning problem. After going over everything for about 6 hours and then finally tearing the entire dashboard out of the car, leaving wiring looms and vacuum lines disconnected everywhere, I asked him, “Howard, do you know what you’re doing here?” He came out from under the dash, took off his hat, pulled the red rag out of his pocket and as he wiped his hands, he looked at me and said, “Neal, I am going tell you something you should never forget if you want to be successful. It’s not important to know exactly what you’re doing, it’s only important to know what you’re trying to do”. Well, I have to tell you I didn’t get it right then but I sure got it later. That attitude allowed me to take on any car problem and hang in there till I fixed it. And that carried over into my business life. I always knew what I was trying to do, and was never afraid to take it on, but many times not necessarily the best way to do it. In many aspects of building the businesses, I might have got things done faster with less pain but I am still here and I can say I got it done. Very often hard work will trump intelligence.
My first and only business goal was to Personalize Fitness For Every Household, which came almost 20 years after Howard had made his now famous comment. Trying to accomplish that grandiose vision within the confines of a corporation became impossible and that’s the sole reason I started my own business, Apex Fitness. I needed freedom to execute what I thought needed to be done because my goal was different than the company’s goals. It wasn’t money that moved me to start my own business because truthfully I didn’t think about the business making money nearly as much as knowing I needed to control my own destiny, make my own rules, drive to one goal and hopefully make enough money to keep going. I didn’t even have a business plan but I knew what I was trying to do. I also reminded myself that there are fates worse than death, and one would be a life of regret if I just took the paycheck and company orders rather than striking out to do what I wanted to do to make a difference.
I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, but I definitely knew what I was trying to do.