How a Taxidermy Caribou Head Made Me a Better CEO (Really)

It all started with a lesson from my dad.
How a Taxidermy Caribou Head Made Me a Better CEO (Really)
Image credit: Jeff Peterson
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the October 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When I was a kid, my dad, J.R. “Pete” Peterson, was the president of three liquor distributorships in Illinois. He wasn’t an entrepreneur, but he was great at what he did. I eventually started asking questions about the business and why he was so successful. In response, he told me this: 

“When things are bad in business, you’re forced to pay attention to the details. When things are going great, you stop paying attention and spend more time golfing or at long lunches -- and that’s when a giant caribou jumps out of the tall grass and fucks everything up.”

In other words, be on heightened alert even during the best times -- so you never get caught off guard. It’s good to enjoy your accomplishments and pat yourself on the back, but it’s dangerous to become complacent.

As I built my own career, I learned just how true his words were.

Related: A Desktop Statue of a Hindu Deity Gives This Founder Daily Inspiration

A decade ago, when I was working for a wholesale tool operation, I partnered up with a colleague and tried to buy our employer. We negotiated a deal and thought everything was good, but at the midnight hour, the owners changed the terms, and the deal fell through. They fired us the next morning. We were blindsided. It was the caribou I never saw coming! So we started a new company that same day, called Geneva Supply, providing Amazon strategy and fulfillment, 3PL, digital marketing, and more.

Ten years later, our company is going strong with three locations. I have a big corner office. It is, dare I say, pretty comfortable. But I put something on the wall to remind me not to get complacent: a giant taxidermy caribou head! I’m no hunter, but I knew I had to have it when I saw it for sale.

Related: How to Keep Your Motivational Mojo When the Chips Are Down

Now, every day, when I look up from my desk, I’m inspired by the lesson my dad taught me. I always want to keep my eyes on that caribou, which reminds me to cancel that long lunch and tee time.

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