What It Takes to be a CEO

 Hey Paul: I am in middle school but know that I would like to be CEO of a business when I grow up. I already have my own my own business mowing lawns. What advice do you have to reach my goal?

My middle daughter just completed WJMS and is also an entrepreneur so I asked her what advice she would give to someone like yourself. The first thing is that you don’t have to wait until you are in college or a working adult to start a business. Holly hand knits scarfs and hats. She learned some of the challenges that all businesses face – competing against machine-woven scarfs that looked about the same but didn’t have her custom stitches, the local market won’t pay premium prices, and a $20 sale works out to much less than minimum wage even with her father springing for the yarn.

In your case you’ve already taken on starting your own business so may also have learned how to market your skills against established competition. I’m guessing you undercut the prices of the pro landscapers. But compared to the standard fee of $50 for a yard there is plenty of room to prove yourself at a very good hourly rate. One valuable trait of a CEO is that they often learn the business from the ground up. This will give you an appreciation for the entry-level workers as you move into leadership roles.

Holly also recommended that you do something different than everyone else. Finding a niche is easier said then done. In her case she would customize the scarfs in any way the customer wanted. She also invested a lot of time watching YouTube videos to develop her skills. In your mowing company perhaps you can learn to pattern cut the lawn – make it look like Wrigley Field.

Holly’s next advice was to not work too hard. You are only young once and at some point work will become mandatory. Until then enjoy spending time with your friends and family. Play a sport or other hobby just because it’s fun. I know several of my high school friends who gave up sports to work after school to pay for a car. Don’t let your spending budget control how you spend your days.

Holly’s last piece of advice was to work for a higher purpose. She saved enough to sponsor a needy child for a year. A good practice at any age and income is to see your work as more than just for yourself or even your family. That can be hard to do when you are mowing lawns in 90 degree heat and have a long wish list of toys you’d like to buy. One suggestion is make a service gift – identify someone in your neighborhood who could really use help with their yard but doesn’t have any money.

I would add to Holly’s advice to continue to dream big but work and live for today. The best business men and women usually showed and honed their talents at an early age. Middle school offers some opportunities for leadership – if you can change the administration’s rigid lunch seating policy then you are on your way to becoming a stellar CEO!