Ahern & Associates, Ltd. was founded back in 1987 and continues to be one of the most professional and progressive Transportation Consultingtransportation consulting companies in the United States. During this time, they have sold in excess of 320+ trucking and logistics companies throuout U.S.A and Canada. The company’s success and growth revoves around one absolute philosophy; “caring”. Their client lists includes the names of all the major transportation and goods carrier companies. They have also helped the companies to cut down on the operating costs resulting to the best deals.
Q. Kindly give our readers an introduction to your business. Please include what your business is all about and in which city you are located.
Ans : Ahern & Associates, Ltd. is North America’s leading truck and transportation management consulting firm. 50% of our business is involved in assisting transportation buyers in locating companies that historically are not for sale. We analyze the business and provide a range of values, but we do not do any contract negotiations of Due Diligence. The other 50% of our business is involved in developing exit strategies for sellers, successor plans, business plans, employee review assessments, transportation software programs etc. We are involved in every facet of the trucking, logistics and warehousing industry including trucking mergers, divestitures, acquisitions, operational reviews, turnarounds, sales and marketing programs, successor plans, employee evaluations and transportation software.
Q. What ignited the spark in you to start your business, and how did the idea for your business come about?
Ans : In 1987 I lost a business that I had been involved in for 16yrs, it was in the transportation industry. I was very successful in that business because I recognized that knowledge is power. Post that failure, I started Ahern & Associates Ltd. from the scratch. I started with a vision of offering intellectual knowledge to the trucking industry. The business kept evolving as we kept growing.
Q. How important good employees are to your success?
Ans : I have employees that have been with me for 18yrs, 11yrs, and 10yrs. I consider them to be an asset to the business. They give a considerable contribution to the business and add value to the business.
I would suggest that you read my newsletters, particularly on intellectual capital. I place a higher emphasis on intellectual capital than I do on tangible asset capital, but you have to be very careful how you identify it. Intellectual capital is not defined simply as an employee that has been with your company a certain amount of time. There are only two kinds of problems; system problems or people problems. Systems problems are recognizable, they deal with fixed problems and fixed solutions. Therefore, systems problems are relatively easy to fix.
People problems are another matter, and I focus my business on treating each employee as a profit center. If they are adding value to the business, they are compensated accordingly. If they are not bringing value to the business, they are considered liabilities. Companies fail because of people problems, so I place a substantial amount of emphasis on intellectual capital.
Q. What three pieces of advice would you give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs?
Ans : I would advice all the college students to be patient, keep learning constantly as learning never stops and recognize that no matter how long you are in an industry, you never have all the answers to the questions. Lastly, always continue to strive to improve your knowledge.
Q. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Ans : There are numerous components, not just three components, but you need to start with profit performance management. Leaders know where they are going and convince others to go with them. President Harry Truman once said “Leadership is the ability to get people to do what they don’t want to do and like it”. The essence of leadership is performance. However, successful entrepreneurs need to be consistent, persistent and focused.
Q. How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
Ans : That is a misleading question. There is a solution to every problem. I don’t believe that giving up is the answer or resolution. However, If I am stuck with a situation and don’t know how to improve the situation, then I find a way to create an opportunity to offset the negativity.
Q. How many hours do you work a day, on an average?
Ans : When you own a business and as an entrepreneur myself, every waking moment consists of finding ways to excel and standout in a crowd. Even in a social situation, you always want to make a difference. You always want to standout. I don’t mean in a negative way, but at the end of the day whether it’s social or a working environment, when you leave a facility, a home or a restaurant you want people to identify with you on a very positive manner.
Q. How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
Ans : When I started my first business it affected my family life dramatically. Then I realized that in order to be successful in business there has to be a balance between personal life and business life. Today I have that balance. It is important to understand that no matter how important an individual thinks they are, family should always be the number one priority and once you recognize that and work on that priority everything else falls into place.
Q. What motivates you?
Ans : “A challenge” – I am motivated when people say I can’t do something and I find ways to do it.
Q. How do you generate new ideas?
Ans : I am like a sponge and always asking a lot of questions. I am always reviewing my competition and always trying new ideas and I am always re-inventing myself.
Q. What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
Ans : The greatest fear I have is not whether I own a successful business or not, but if I’ve made an impact to the community. I believe that every person has a moral obligation to give back to the community and to give back expecting nothing in return.
Q. What are your ideals?
Ans : I believe in ethics, honesty and integrity; which are values that are very difficult to find today. If I do not feel comfortable with the person I am dealing with and if he does not have the same value structure as me, I will not do business with that customer regardless of what the monetary compensations are. I also believe that it is very important to have a strong family network. I believe that family is the essence of life.
Q. How do you define success?
Ans : Being happy in what you do. Getting up in the morning and being excited to come to work and making a difference in other people’s lives – that is my definition of success.
Q. What is the best way to achieve long term success?
Ans : Continually learn! Continually recognize that you are not the smartest spark plug in the engine. Continually surround yourself with people that are much smarter than you and more competent than you and continually challenge yourself.
Q. Where does your organization’s funding capital come from?
Ans : The funding capital comes from blood, sweat and tears; never went to the bank, never asked them for anything and the business took care of itself.
Q. How do you build a successful customer base?
Ans : Remember that the customer is the “king”. Remember that the customer pays the bills. Provide service and always thank the customer for the business, tell them how much you appreciate their business and how much their support means to your business.
Q. How do you decide on a location for your business?
Ans : I believe it is based on lifestyle. I grew up in Chicago with Midwest values but it was a very conservative and structured environment. I wanted a more casual atmosphere. I wanted a climate where my kids could be out in the sun every day and Phoenix was a logical location for me. It had nothing to do with my customers. I believe in 25yrs I have represented 2 customers in Phoenix.
Q. Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Ans : My inspiration comes from Vince Lombardy. He took a tiny cities football team and produced championships over and over. He started each year’s football practice with a simple statement – “Gentlemen this is football. Everything revolves around this football. Our job is to learn how to control this ball more than the opposition.” My point here is, Vince started each session with basics, “this is a football”. For the majority of business, they must begin each year with their “football”, which is profits. Making profits is not your first objective then, you need to determine what your “football” is.
Q. To what do you tribute most of your success?
Ans : The tribute of my success goes to my customers, employees and longevity.
Q. What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Ans : When I receive a letter or telephone call from a customer who says that I saved their business and made their life more enjoyable. I took the stress off their shoulders and that I was a blessing in disguise. Those are moments that cannot be quantified in dollars.
Q. What do you feel is a major difference between an entrepreneur and those who work for someone else?
Ans : Entrepreneurs are risk takers and visionaries. Entrepreneurs march to a different drummer and they know how to deal with insecurity. This comes because when one starts a business, builds a business and continues to run the business, one is always fighting challenges based on the economy.
Q. How do you go about marketing your business?
Ans : Marketing programs keep evolving with time. We promote a national newsletter that started in 1997 with 300 readers and today we have 2,50,000 to 3,00,000 readers. We used to do a substantial amount of advertising through trade publications and later converted to press releases. We utilize the internet very heavily. 1 ½ years ago I started implementing weekly video podcasts and it has had a tremendous effect on our business.
Q. What kind of culture exists in your organization?
Ans : Most of my sales analysts have failed previously. I believe failure is essential in the consulting business because you can understand what similar people go through when they engage in our services. I also believe that failure builds character, and if you go through life without experiencing failure, then you haven’t experienced life.
Q. In one word; characterize your life as an entrepreneur
Ans : As an entrepreneur my life has been Challenging.
Q. What are some of the biggest mistakes you have made?
Ans : Not listening to my gut instinct! Recognizing that as an entrepreneur we all have our limitations and failure to reach out to third parties when I did not have all the answers.
Q. How do you prevent mistakes or do damage control?
Ans : Learn to know what you are good at and learn to know what you are not so good at. Surround yourself with people that take care of your deficiencies and focus on where you excel.
Q. What are your hobbies?
Ans : Cruising the San Diego Bay in my boat and spending time with my family. I am also very active in weight lifting and nutrition.
Q. What makes you happy?
Ans : My Family and friends make me very happy .
Q. What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
Ans : I have taken many risks and depleted all my savings at one point or another to fund my business, grow the business and have the business continue to perpetuate itself.
Q. Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Ans : I admire Berkshire Hathaway and his business Warren Buffet.
Q. Where do you see yourself and your business in 10yrs? 20yrs?
Ans : I want the business to keep evolving. I want to get into receivable financing. I want to expand our services. I want to get into financing of equipment, but it takes additional capital.
Q. If you were conducting this interview, what questions would you ask?
Ans : The question I would ask is; What is the most important single factor in your life? family.