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    Mondays With Mac: Fail Forward

    January 21, 2008 2205 Views

    It is emblazoned on my brain forever. I simply refer to it as the "fall of '94." From 1990 to 1993 Successories grew over one hundred percent each year. We were mailing more than ten million catalogs annually and had opened more than sixty retail stores. We were on a roll. The simple concept o "decorate your walls with great ideas" had taken off.

    Then Murphy's Law hit us like a ton of bricks. Everything that could go wrong, did. In June, Jim Allison, our CFO, was diagnosed with brain cancer at 47 years old. I was devastated for Jim and his family, and because of Jim's illness, software and fulfillment projects critical to our holiday success were delayed.

    As hard as we tried, we couldn't catch up. The rapid growth had outstripped the company's infrastructure and our ability to manage it. It was every entrepreneur's nightmare, and when the dust settled in February, we discovered that our losses were significant. I must admit that for a guy in the attitude business, mine was pretty lousy for a few weeks.

    Help came from Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, who had joined our board of directors the previous year. He recognized the problem, walked into my office, and closed the door. He said, "Mac, I want you to listen very carefully to what I'm going to say. This is only a bump in the road, and there is no doubt in my mind that you can fix what's broken. We've grown over one hundred percent each year... and I'll guarantee you one thing- it didn't happen by accident."

    As Mike continued to speak, I could feel the goose bumps. I could feel my spine begin to stiffen. I could feel the belief and the courage returning. It was a pivotal moment in my life.

    What did I learn about Mac Anderson- and my team- from that failure? I decided my strengths were my people skills and my creative abilities, while my weaknesses, like many entrepreneurs, were in the details- accounting and operations that were critical to success. I needed help in those areas. I needed people who had done it already, people who could rebuild our infrastructure to grow the business again.

    It was a painful wake-up call. I had failed greatly...but from that failure came valuable lessons.

    Failure is a big part of life, but it's how we react to failing that will determine our destiny. If we learn from it and move on, it can help to make us all we can be. If you fear it to the extent that you never take risks, you'll never grow.

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