If you believe what it says on my calendar every morning, I am a relatively busy guy. I have places to go, people to see and appointments to set.
Every day I have one thing on my mind—my business, which happens to be banking. I am glad there are people who know how to get things done, who I can turn to when I need help with the other stuff. Ninety-nine times out of 100, those people own or work for a small business.
That, by the way, is no exaggeration. According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses continue to represent 99.7 percent of all employers in this country. Here in Illinois, there are now more than a million of them, including educational services companies, IT consultants and retail stores. I admire them all. It takes intelligence, guts, hard work and a certain leap of faith to start a business in today’s world.
I really look up to the successful ones, the businesses that will still be here and growing five, 10, even 25 years from now. They’re the ones that, as Hungarian scientist Albert Szent-Györgi put it, are skilled at “seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” They’re innovators, like the small manufacturing company that developed a patented process for using holograms to improve product security. They’re the niche creators, like the local women who made a business out of picking up and delivering time-sensitive materials that have been flown into the airport. They’re the forward-thinkers, such as the disabled veteran who expanded his cleaning business by opening a retail store that sells only “green” cleaning products.
While applying their energy in different areas, the successful small business owners I know share much in common. They are largely self-made men and women who don’t mind getting their hands dirty. They’re patient. They recognize that few small businesses are an overnight success. They believe in the old-fashioned values of hard work and humility. They don’t cut corners. They believe that anyone can succeed against any odds. They are good people.
Yes, I admire small businesses that work hard and grow into bigger ones. But I also value the many successful small businesses that stay small. These are the true “quiet companies” that fly below the radar, doing everything from administering our payrolls to printing our brochures and business cards, and even providing some editorial assistance to a busy banker like myself. But their numbers may be shrinking. In some parts of the country, the number of new small business startups has declined in recent years. A 2005 study of entrepreneurship found the number of Americans involved in starting new businesses had dropped by 20 percent. Does this trend mean anything? Maybe not. Small businesses are notoriously difficult to track. Some are here and gone without ever being noticed by the people who track these things. However, this slight dip in numbers isn’t something we should ignore either.
As a banker, it’s one of my responsibilities to help small businesses grow, not simply by loaning them the funds they need to add a truck to their fleet or advising them on the best way to purchase new manufacturing equipment, but also by patronizing them and encouraging my friends and colleagues to do likewise. In fact, it’s especially important for those of us in “Big Business” to support the businesses on Main Street, as well as those on all the side streets and alleys where small businesses are often tucked away. They’re the ones that have generated 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs annually over the last decade and make up about 45 percent of all U.S. payrolls.
Our jobs, in a very real sense, depend on theirs. So, yes, I may be a busy guy, but not too busy to say “thank you” to small businesses for all the things they do for us every day—and for all they do in helping the rest of us prosper. TPW