In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is Claude Florent. Ever since I was young, I told my friends that I wanted to have my own business. I wanted the challenge of creating things that make customers feel good. After working many years with big corporations and trying to buy at least 25 companies, I finally bought Rainguard, which manufactures chemical products for the construction industry. Today, I own five companies that range from coatings to paintballs to a new line of auto care products.
What was your toughest challenge and how did you overcome it?
Shortly after buying Rainguard, I got served with divorce papers. This just crushed me and I started to second-guess everything I did. I had friends tell me to pour myself into my business, but the problem was I only did what I did for my family -- I was lost. I almost lost my passion for owning a business. I almost lost my business. This was the lowest point in my life. I can’t say that one day I looked up and there was a bright light from the heavens. My turnaround was gradual. What I do know today is I have an overwhelming desire to make the best products, to provide the best shopping experience and to have an environment that is great for the employees that are trading their time to help me accomplish our mission. I owe a debt of gratitude to all these people.
What does the word "entrepreneur" mean to you?
I belong to the Vistage coaching and advisory group in Orange County, Calif., and the business owners I meet are creative, willing to learn, humble and above all else never give up in serving their customers. This experience has ingrained in me a desire and passion for learning. I'm always searching for what I don’t see.
What’s the problem you just solved or are attacking now?
Our biggest challenge has always been to capture value in the markets where we compete. So our strategy had to change and it started this year by sponsoring IndyCar and NASCAR racing events at the Texas Motor Speedway. These are huge undertakings for large companies. But we took on the challenges and risks. Some of my friends thought I was nuts, said the learning curve was too great, the financial burden would overwhelm us, etc.
What I learned is the art of alignment and the capacity for people to step up and take challenges, one step at a time. I learned to allow others to take this company and make it into something that’s bigger than my dreams. I have learned that as long as everyone understands what needs to be done, I simply have to get out of the way. I no longer wonder if I can keep up with the needs of these companies, I just “paint the target,” which has resulted in business growth like I have never seen prior.
What trait do you depend on most when making decisions and why is that useful for you?
I am a person that loves to collaborate with people. This can involve employees at every level, vendors, customers, friends and other business executives such as my fellow Vistage members. I find that asking others for their thoughts and ideas makes a better outcome. Earlier in my career, I would try to out-think the task. Now, I find it much more enjoyable to see others grow and take ownership.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
In my office, I have a picture of water crashing a rock in the ocean by my home. The water is spraying all over the rock, but the rock does not move. The saying on the frame reads, “Be resolute while the oceans of life challenge you.” While I was going through a difficult period, my mentor simply said, “Claude, be the rock”. Those four simple words changed my life. I hope the readers of Entrepreneur see themselves as the rock in their businesses.