Reflections on 2023

We published 15 blog posts for the year, including this one. This is far fewer than our earlier days, when I was ripping out 4-6 per month. I suppose one can take comfort in that I’m ranting less and working more? Our publication frequency certainly felt less intense this year than previously. Looking back at this year, and reflecting over time, topics included philosophical concepts like knowledge, wisdom, purpose and capabilities to practical applications around key performance indicators, general manager training and conducting small business expansion through organic launch and acquisitions. We also include upcoming events and summaries of past events

Philosophical Concepts

In 2023 I enjoyed an after hours beverage with a friend who I asked for feedback on a blog post regarding knowledge, wisdom and righteousness. He pulled out a printed copy of the post. We had a nice conversation about the matter and I updated my thinking.

I appreciate meeting people who are wrestling with life and purpose in their lives. If I have one purpose on this planet, I feel it is best when I am helping others climb. My natural state is one of intensity and control. I can oscillate from extreme patience to a pounce. How do you behave? Are you willing to think through it? How about working through it outloud? Taking an in person meeting to address your rough edges? I find it rewarding and I’m grateful for the people that confront me in a helpful spirit. I’m also thankful for those who simply encourage me to press on. Thank you.

Practical Applications

Defining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and then raging about how there can only be one “key” is a favorite activity of mine. This attitude makes me annoying sometimes but words matter. Back to the practical stuff… securing one KPI for each business unit has been a transformative move for Little Engine Ventures. Some simple math helped make this meaningful to everyone. Take your contribution margin and divide by your KPI. Use this CM per KPI to check against your break even. Do this on the whole and on the individual. Tell people what is expected, what the best do, where they are and how they’ve changed. Do this regularly in one on ones and in team settings. Get the drumbeat going and watch the people excel.

If you intend to succeed in business you are going to need to develop a training method and then work to refine it. If you have not written down a training method your method is slower than one that it written –guaranteed. If you send people in to shadow the processes and procedures will drift toward entropy. Write it down, train to the standard. Then, test to the standard. Raise the standard. Talk it. Walk it. Once cadence is started do not be afraid to hire in help. We have had great success bringing in instructors for everything from vendors supporting technical training and certifications to hiring corporate and public school teachers to deliver business lessons to experienced General Managers. Philosophy alone will not get your team up to speed fast enough to make a profit. You have to systematically assemble people and processes and execute them reliably.

Upcoming Events and Summaries of the Past

In 2023 we launched a General Manager Training program built from previously published management training material we had compiled over the prior two (to 20?) years of being small business owners. We conducted four cohorts with 18 students, 17 of them internal teammates. MIkel and I taught the first series of classes, divided between logic and soft skills of management. Then, Aaron Gutwein began taking over more and more of the hosting and instruction. By the fourth cohort, Adam Kurtz and Aaron were able to run through six classes in a row without Mikel or I present.

Control company expansion resumed in 2023. Since late 2019 we have been net sellers. Some outcomes have been fantastic while others have been extremely disappointing. In February we reinvigorated two business lines with new managers. One of these resulted in a spin out of a new to us business line. The other has seen revenue surge 45%. In late July 2023 we launched 3 new locations for one business line, spreading our geographical territory to adjacent states. In November we conducted our first acquisition since July 2019. In December we closed another acquisition. We have a third signed LOI scheduled to close in January 2024.

In summary, 2023 will go down as a turning point at Little Engine Ventures. But, it will not be our last turn. The hill we set out to climb is long and the journey is storied.