Why did the businessman cross the road?

Bob, yeah lets call him "Bob" – Bob was a good businessman. He owned a profitable, national contract manufacturing business. His wife, Evelyn, and himself were on the verge of the empty nest with their youngest a senior in high school and their twins in college. Life was good.


While at a national convention, Bob was catching up with Charlie, a long-time, friendly competitor. Being in an industry niche with a definite busy season, Bob had mentioned that he was noodling with the idea of picking up something to fill in the off-peak times. 


* * * * * * *

You know how this goes. Charlie's brother's sister's friend's neighbor knew someone that was thinking of retiring and selling his business.

* * * * * * *

However the connection, Bob strikes up a conversation with a business owner in his late sixties that is tired and wants out. The business is only tangentially connected to Bob's but it had a patented product, would keep his crew busy, could be put on the back burner during his busy season, and he'd put enough extra money in his pocket to cashflow his college tuition costs.


What could go wrong?





Bob travelled to visit the shop. As shops go it was a nice little shop doing a simple little business making a nice little profit. The books looked good. The inventory was simple. And the seller was tired enough to make Bob a really good deal.


So a deal was made. Papers were signed. Ownership was transferred. Inventory was shipped. One downside was that all of this activity came on the heels of Bob's busiest time and it caused a few travel plans to be cancelled. That didn't go over so well on the homefront. It was all for the greater good he told his wife. They'd be able to keep up with tuition costs when their third child went to college and keep their travel budget intact.


As is usual with these things - the transaction took about 5 months from inital meeting to signed papers. Then integration started with inventory, systems, training, etc. taking another 3 months. These were not normal activities for Bob and he was definitely out of his comfort zone and feeling an inordinate amount of stress.


AND as is usual with these things - the stress doesn't just go away at 6pm when you sit down to dinner. A week before Bob signed the papers, his youngest was in a fender bender and admittedly, Bob didn't respond well. He wasn't sleeping well and seemed to have a short fuse with the little things.


By this time Bob's busy season started ramping up again and the new product was put on the back burner. He was satisfying orders out of the remaining inventory and figured he could make it through his busy season and then get up and running.


Fast forward a few more months and Bob has made it through his busy season and it turned out to be a pretty good year. The outlay for the acquisition made the complete picture much less appealing but his core business was growing steadily and still profitable.


With his busy season behind him, Bob focused his energy on getting the new product up to snuff. (This caused another off-season vacation debacle. Two years in a row now on top of a stressed relationship made for some icy evenings. All for the greater good, he said. I've heard that before, she said.)


Then, things started to go wrong. Wrong-er anyway.

One of the key suppliers for the new product, having not heard back from them for over a year, had closed his account and reallocated resources and materials to other products. A new agreement had to be negotitated and signed. Bob started having chronic heartburn. He'd put on some weight.


A couple of consumer injuries sparked a lawsuit that filtered down to Bob's new product. While he put his lawyer on the task of determining his liability, he had to put an industrial designer on the task of some product enhancements. He'd have retooling costs. He would be less attractive to the marketplace. Bob started sleeping in the spare bedroom. 


The product redesign was over halfway done when his normal busy season came back around. This year growth was flat and his margins were intact but his costs, i.e. legal, product design, testing were unexpected and made for his skinniest year in over 15 years. Needless to say, the off-season travel plans were scratched and money was borrowed to meet the needs of three college students.


Into year three. Bob was named a co-defendant on the liability lawsuit that was wending its way through the court system. Bob got the product redesign finished but found that vendor and client relationships were strained and tenuous making it twice the effort to get half the progress. Life on the homefront was calm but shallow. Bob was up 27 pounds.


Bob had his first heart-attack.


* * * * *

How will the story end? It's still in progress. But this we do know: 

Being good at what you do does not mean you're good at all things.

Running a profitable business does not mean you'll always run a profitable business.


So why did Bob cross the road? Mostly for a change of pace, a different challenge.

Should Bob have looked twice before crossing the street? Heck yes! But even so, Bob should have had a deliberate reason to cross in the first place. His whim cost him a fortune, his health, and maybe his marriage.


Remember: Just because you can - doesn't mean you should.