Monday, August 8, 2011
by Kim Schoenadel, CID, ASID
KSA Interiors CEO & President
When I told my dad I was starting a business in 1982, he told me I could always get married if my business failed. I am proud to report my business will celebrate its twenty-ninth birthday on August 12th and I am happily married for twenty-five years. I have two healthy sons, one in his senior year of college and the other a recent graduate.
An abundant desire to learn is an innate skill I find intrinsic to designers. We cannot design without knowledge and we need constant education on all things impacting the built environment. Because I chose to own a business that does design, it necessitated the need to understand all elements of a sustainable business. Following are the business and personal lessons I have learned along the way:
1. Surround yourself with good people and take care of them.
My associates at KSA are good people. KSA works hard to take care of them and in return they work hard to take care of our clients and one another. There is a culture of respect, fun, and innovation.
It was not always like that. My “boss” role models in the past often used domination or coercion to motivate. One day I woke up and realized I was very unhappy running my business in a “boss” persona. With the help of my associates, we have worked hard to evolve into a group that supports one another. We are motivated by the desire to see one another succeed and we continuously nourish our abundant learning needs.
2. Understand that people have a work life and a personal life.
If there is not a good balance of work life and personal life, the person will suffer and the business will suffer. A business that respects the desire of people to engage in personal endeavors or to build strong families will develop an engaged and committed staff. Family understandably plays a large part in the lives of our team. Children grow up and go to school and become involved in activities. Parents need to be there to see that. It makes us all better people.
3. Be fiscally conservative.
I don’t take a lot of chances with money. I invest in things that will improve the quality of the work we do. This means the people at my company and the tools they need and the environment we work in.
4. No man (or woman) is an island in business.
The elements of a sustainable business are not just producing a product, but understanding the finance, operations, and business development required to support that product. In design school, a student is focused on the end product. The parameters of getting work and producing it so it is profitable is left up to their future employers. Not being schooled in business left me no choice but to rely on others to make business decisions I did not always comprehend and sometimes regretted.
Enter the Virginia Council of CEOs. The VACEO is a group of small business CEOs who connect with other CEOs to learn from each other and grow their businesses. The organization holds meetings and an annual retreat offering world class speakers that talk about current issues impacting our businesses. The VACEOs quickly became my pseudo board of directors and business advisors. Joining VACEO is one of the best things I have ever done for my business and for myself. Life before VACEO left me constantly stressed. Being able to share experiences with other CEOs allows me the opportunity to make sound business decisions. No man (or woman) is an island in business.
5. Nothing lasts forever.
If you have the majority of your business with one client and they go away, you stand to lose everything. If you ignore technological advances, you will not survive. Think Yellow Pages, Blockbuster, Borders, etc.
Abundant learning is the key to maintaining a sustainable business.
6. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The world is full of people who are purposely devious. “Cheaper, faster, better, and get rich quick,” are buzzwords that infiltrate our lives. Early in my life as a business owner, I hoped for a magical solution that would make life financially easier. Unfortunately, I chose to work with companies that did not pay us and, sadly, never intended to do so. I had a gut feeling that they were not the most scrupulous people, but I chose to work with them anyway. After all money is money, right? WRONG! What I learned is you need to know who you are doing business with. I made a conscious decision that our clients would be financially sound entities that were represented by decent and honest people.
7. Give back to those who need your help.
This can mean charity work or being involved in professional organizations. My greatest joy comes from teaching or mentoring students. I still remember seeking employment after graduating when there were gas lines and double-digit interest rates. A gentleman from a professional interior design organization took the time to meet and told me about an architectural firm that was opening an interior design division. That was my entrance into a successful interior design career. I always want to be like that gentleman and offer help so other students can enjoy success in life.
8. Enjoy what you do.
I am absolutely passionate about the business of interior design. I satisfy my creative needs by watching my associates design. I enjoy watching my company execute well and applaud those who make it happen. I enjoy writing about my profession. I am having fun right now writing this article. Maybe a novel in the future…
9. Laughter is the best medicine.
The ability to laugh has carried me through good times and bad. Laughter and happiness resonates at KSA. We enjoy what we do. We enjoy each other. And, we really enjoy the clients we work with.
This is not the first time I have written about my lessons learned. In my excitement to launch KSA Interiors Countdown to 30, I went back to articles I had written over the years. It is fun to see where my company has been, but more importantly, it is fun to see where it has gone. Hiring people that are smart, talented, and possess leadership qualities is a hallmark of KSA. I want people who are passionate about what they do, possess an abundant desire to learn, and become integrated in our sustainable business.
The KSA Interiors Countdown to 30 will be filled with visions of our people, our culture, and our accomplishments. Stay tuned. We may even have some pictures of you!