Control what you can and let others control what they can. Sounds simple enough to think it’s obvious? It’s true. It’s a very simple piece of advice that’s so obvious on a granular level that it can be easy to forget. In fact, it cost me more than a million dollars to learn this lesson. The best advice isn’t always the flashiest, newest tip; it’s the most practical. Without it I wouldn’t be here today as CEO and Chairman of OrthoLite, the insole technology found in billions of fashion, casual and athletic shoes.
When I entered the footwear business nearly three and a half decades ago, I was on a quick path to success. My career began with a company called G2 where rubber soles were the name of the game. I manufactured and imported them across the globe and then sold them back to clients in the U.S. My clientele roster was impressive; I worked closely with Clarks and Timberland. On paper I was successful, which prompted me to make the decision to sell G2 and accept the role of footwear division president for a competing organization. A year in, I realized the role wasn’t entrepreneurial enough for me and made the decision to found my next business called Onshore Productions.
If my background thus far was any indication of what results I could expect with my new endeavor then I was looking in great shape. I soon found out the hard way this was not the case.
Onshore Productions had unimaginable growth, and in the blink of an eye, I went from producing rubber soles to making the entire shoe. Since I was fluent in the language of sole manufacturing, I figured that making the rest of the shoe must be the same. It’s right here where I showed my Achilles’ heel. I assumed that I understood the manufacturing process when in fact I didn’t. I was an expert in insole development, but I was clueless when it came to supply chain management. I ended up getting in a rhythm of where I was contracting more people than I could afford to pay combined with not actually owning the means of production. My problem was that I had given up all control, and this was evident when the business began to lose profit. I lost at least a million dollars personally while attempting to regain control, which ultimately, I did not.
Therefore, my motto became to control what you can and let others control what they are responsible for. Taking on too much or too little is never effective. If you have all control or no control at all, one side will be overburdened, which will subsequently affect all other entities. You have to find the happy medium of what you and others can control in order for a business to succeed.
I didn’t do my homework and relied far too much on third parties to get things done for me, which became a recipe for failure. Having said such, this was a vital business lesson that I could only learn the hard way. Although painful in the moment, it changed everything about how I would run my next project and all business decisions moving forward.
As I sobered up from my losses with Onshore Productions, I decided to establish OrthoLite where I would do things differently and where control would be the overarching theme for operations. Since I understood the insole industry, I focused all my efforts to produce the best insole in the market. Reflecting on past experiences, it was critical to vertically integrate our own factories. This endeavor offered the opportunity to have nearly 100 percent control of operations and oversee each step of production to develop only the highest quality products. While it may be good to the pocket at first glance, you open yourself up to risk and error when you no longer control the production process. Lastly, I knew I had to empower my staff so I made sure to give authority to middle management to control their departments. You can’t have one sole decision maker and you can’t let everyone have control over every decision. You have to give employees enough authority to fulfill their duties. If you educate your employees and arm them with the right tools, they will be able to execute their job efficiently while understanding how their role fits into the big picture. When every piece understands how it comes together, only then is your business on track to success.
As a result, OrthoLite now has the trust of over 250 footwear brands including Adidas, Clarks, New Balance, Nike, Reebok, Timberland and Vans. It took me seven figures to really understand what it means to balance control, but my advice is very simple. Be realistic of what you understand but most importantly, learn to flag issues or areas of what you don’t know how to manage.