1 hour and 20-minute listen
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
For over 30 years at Bigelow, I've had the fun of meeting with thousands of seasoned successful private business owners and working closely with hundreds of them. So, in this Positive Enterprise Value podcast, I interview some of the most high-performing successful Entrepreneur Owner-Managers from both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors to learn from their experiences. We're looking for the breadcrumbs in the forest that they may have dropped behind, or we're also relying on them to be candid with us in telling us about some of the things that they wish they did or hadn't done, or that impeded them on the way.
Today, my guests are Don Oakes and Fran Philip, who came to be entrepreneurs in the second chapter of their professional lives. Both Don and Fran were very successful senior executives with L.L. Bean. Fran, ultimately, was the Chief Merchandising Officer, and Don worked in senior positions in creative and brand. Fran has a great deal of professional governance experience not only with private companies where she's very active, but also with public companies with firms including Vista Outdoor, Vera Bradley, and PacSun.
About 10 years ago, they departed L.L. Bean for different reasons, and you'll hear them talk about how Fran called Don one day and said, "I've got this interesting business. I think we could make an investment in it or maybe even acquire most of and we could run it and it's called Maine's Sea Bags." And I think Don probably heard that discussion with a teensy bit of professional skepticism after being a senior executive of a more than a billion-dollar company and said, "Well, Fran, how many stores do they have at Sea Bags?" And she said, "Three." He said, "What do they do?" And she said, "They make tote bags out of used sails from sailboats."
Now here's a guy, as a senior executive, you probably know L.L. Bean has the most iconic tote bag in the world so I'm not sure what he thought about that. But what we'll hear today with Don and Fran is an unusual professional partnership where they get a second act as Entrepreneur Owner-Managers from professionally managing a large, mature, family-controlled enterprise to a small, early-stage, very chaotic enterprise. The question I guess I had was could they apply their experience, their professionally honed skills learned from an Ivy League education and an already long career, to a small, struggling start-up company that makes tote bags out of used sails? What? From selling the most recognizable tote bags in the world to creating a whole new brand.
So, I think what you're going to hear we have is like a double-barrel interview today because we'll hear Don and Fran talk about their individual experiences, some of their insights and ideas that they shared with each other, some of the ways that they work in different seasons of the year (believe it or not), and some of their hopes and dreams for Sea Bags. Sea Bags now, by the way, is a very widely known consumer brand with more than just bags, and I think probably as of this recording, 50 retail stores, in addition to a very robust online presence.
So, listen and learn. I hope you enjoy listening to Don and Fran. I sure enjoyed having them on the podcast.
Listen below or on Soundcloud here
What I am Reading / Listening to
Rise: My Story (2022)
By Lindsey Vonn
Contributed by Caitie H. F. Banfield
I recently finished listening to Lindsey Vonn’s memoir, Rise: My Story. “The greatest female ski racer of all time, reveals never before told stories of her life in the fast lane – and the bold decisions that helped her break down barriers for athletes around the world.”
I admit, I am a Lindsey Vonn fan, so when I saw her memoir come out, I downloaded it immediately. Rise: My Story takes you back to the small ski hill in Minnesota where a 9-year-old girl declared to her father that her dream is to become the best skier of all time.
Vonn shares about how her epic journey was anything but easy. Vonn reveals the numerous obstacles, some directly following another, she faced and how she persevered through them all. It can be easy to overlook or forget what it takes to have success like Vonn has had. In her memoir she sugar-coats nothing. Vonn opens up about her challenges with making friends in the ski world, her struggle with depression, and the physical and mental strain of rehab.
I found myself nodding my head as Vonn shared about her struggles of being a female in sport. Being an athlete for a large part of my own life, that struggle was something I could relate to. One thing I really loved about her story was that she never let people tell her no or that she couldn’t do something. From racing against the boys in her ski club as a 12-year-old, to racing on men’s skis in the Olympics. Vonn simply made decisions, which positioned herself to be challenged and have the potential for great outcomes.
Lindsey’s story was inspiring and completely enjoyable, I am in even more awe of her now knowing all that she has gone through. I was cheering for her all over again as her story takes you back to her first ever World Cup win, her first Olympic medal, and her final race before retirement.
Entrepreneur Owner-Manager Quote
“I wanted to take some equity from the Company, but I didn’t want to be the only owner, the only one running the Company. I’m an engineer and I hated being president.”
EOMs Are A Fountain of Zest
I have been engaged in a more or less continuous conversation for four decades with high-performing Entrepreneur Owner-Managers about the ways to unlock their potential and experience their freedom.
In the world of uncertainty today, where most employees or bureaucrats face the future gloomily or with suspicion, EOMs are a different animal aren’t they? Hell, they are a different species.
I have concluded high-performing Entrepreneurs are an apparatus for making zest.
Zest is a positive trait reflecting a person’s accustomed approach to life with anticipation, energy, and excitement. I think of it as energy, liveliness, vitality, exuberance, joie de vivre, vigor, engagement. The core idea of zest is to live and not just exist.
Across all occupations, zest predicts the stance that work is a calling (Petersen, Park, Hall, & Seligman (2007). Zest and work. Journal of Organizational Behavior). For high-performing EOMs, work is intrinsically rewarding and a central part of their very existence. Viewing work as a calling is central in entrepreneurial life, and enjoyable. Satisfaction is high. We don’t see the point in retirement.
So, EOMs look at the future with zest, and we get excited about future goals and impatient to make them a reality. Obstacles, especially cynical or unsupportive people around us, make EOMs even more frustrated about the present—and eager to change. The energy between the tension of these two poles sparks EOM vigor and action.
Maybe Entrepreneur Owner-Managers are just “wired” differently than the mass popular culture. But one of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals choose the way they think. For EOMs, choosing to live with zest adds 25 IQ points.