An experienced mentor can guide and challenge you as you reach for your goals in business. And it’s something I would recommend to any entrepreneur. I’d like to share 3 stories about mentors that helped me in 3 of my businesses: George’s Cycles, Rocky Mountain Bicycles, and Justea.
It’s been one of my greatest joys to offer be a business mentor to younger entrepreneurs, especially because I have experienced so much value from having mentors in my life. If you’re interested in having a mentor for your business, let’s chat.
This is a transcript of the video, provided for those that prefer reading:
Finding someone experienced to guide you, to challenge you as you reach out for the goals you
have in business is one of the things I would recommend, higher than most anything else –
finding a mentor.
This is my story – three stories actually about mentors in my business life.
Let me start with my dad though. He was the one who started the bicycle business and he
invited us – four boys into it. He’s a professional geologist. He was the chair of the Vancouver
parks board and was also a university professor but didn’t really have a business background.
He saw this as an experiment, as a great place for the four boys to get into business together
and this is in the early 70s and 10 speed bicycles were huge back then. I didn’t really see any
interest in that so I wasn’t there and after about a year he called me and said “Grayson would
you come back and run this business for me?” I came back and actually really enjoyed it. He
went off to do his professional life and I stayed on and opened two more stores and asked him
if I could buy in and start owning the business. He didn’t see that and wasn’t interested in
talking about that and yet on the other hand I was interested in opening up more stores and
having potentially national brand of retail bicycle stores. There was a store for sale in Edmonton
called Georgia cycle – 19 000 square feet of retail and warehouse space – big store. It was for
sale for 1.1 million and I thought there’s no way I can even touch it and I talked to my dad about
it. We actually flew up there to see it and it was just not interesting to him at all.
My first mentor, a man named Dolph Hoffman who was a CFO of a steel company said “Well
Grayson, why don’t you just buy it without your dad?” and I just thought it’s crazy how could I
do that? He showed me how I could put together a leveraged buy-out which the owner actually
accepted. She accepted it and I jumped into that store in Edmonton, moved our family up there
and started in the bicycle industry on my own. It was an amazing experience – some of the best
years of my life. My dad saw this “Wow, this isn’t viable anymore in Vancouver with these three
stores. I better sell to Grayson.” So, he ended up selling shares to me and also to the staff of
West point Cycles during that time. It fractured our relationship. It was tough to see that
happen and I regret some of the things that happened – even today. That’s the story of my first
Then let’s move on to Volcker Wagner who helped me with two different issues. One was with
Rocky Mountain Bicycles. Halfway through the time of owning rocky mountain, we had some
really significant supply chain problems with Asia and we were putting an ERP system in and the
data was just in terrible shape so we weren’t really getting good financials. Volcker and I went
out for lunch and was new in our relationship and he asked for financials and I reluctantly
showed them to him and he took a look and he got back to me (and) said you know this is in
bad shape, you’re going to lose a lot of money this year. Well, this is 1993 and we were doing
really well. I thought sales of over 15 million and I saw lots of growth potential and my CPA
thought this was crazy, we’re not going to (lose money). My external accountant auditor said
“No you look good, things look good.” Well, it ended up he was right. His projections were right
and we lost a lot of money that year. It caused the bank to get extremely nervous and Volcker
instead of just walking away volunteered to take on the role of shareholder and president and
really brought in new operational efficiencies, new machinery and created a viable organization
that eventually was sold.
The second time Volcker walked in was much later when I was starting a business with my son
Paul. First in Kenya, to help small holder tea farmers create a viable income and then here in
Canada called Justea beverages. Now at the beginning, it’s just a lot of work and a lot of money
and volunteer labor and Paul was making just minimal wages. I was just shoveling in money
year after year to try and prop up this business. During this time Volker said you know you
should just turn all the shares over to your son and not have the issues you had with your dad.
Just let it be his company and I thought that’s just crazy. I saw three reasons why that shouldn’t
happen. In fact, I thought well you know this is a viable business (that’s) going to have a really
good track record. We’ve got a factory in Kenya that sell that produces for us. I like it and I like
the profits number two that could come from it and the dividends I could get and then number
three it’s just the bragging rights just having a big business that’s global. I looked at those three
reasons and I looked at my son who could easily be mentored as a CEO and I chose the second.
I said look you take the shares. So, in 2019 he took the shares of the company and I walked
away and put in place some protections for the loan I had. It is remarkable how the relationship
has continued and grown since then.
I have now benefited from the lessons taught by others and want to pay it forward so I coach
business leaders. Recently, an owner wanted to sell and retire and so he we was looking around
externally for buyers for this business. We positioned it, got the finances done, legal
documentation, figured it all out and surprisingly to him one of his long-term internal
employees came to him and said look I think I could do this. It was interesting how that was
mediated and how I could just help kind of stick handle some of the issues between them
because they had long histories. Some of the doubt they had, some of the distrust they had and
make it so that one became the seller and the other became the buyer. The outcome has been
very pleasant to both of them – both gentlemen. I would say relationships are never the same.
It takes a while to develop trust and as each client slowly develops trust with me I can add value
and carefully and sensitively and without any need for acclimation.
So mentors are one of the most valuable and important relationships a leader can experience.
I’ve told you three stories. I wonder what stories you have. I so much appreciate my mentors.
Who do you appreciate from your business life or who could you appreciate today? Look
forward to hearing from you.