(As appeared in Forbes.)
As a founder and CEO, I thrive on being in the company of entrepreneurs—particularly high-growth, strategic entrepreneurs.
I am heading back from this year’s EY Strategic Growth Forum in Palm Springs, CA and the quality of discussions and thinking is still reverberating around me. Unlike other conferences where people sit idly listening, here people were completely absorbed and broke-off only to pitch an investor or make a deal.
Knowing What’s Next
The theme of this year’s forum is ‘getting to what’s next,’ basically being dialed into coming trends. Not just the buzzwords, but major trends that shape business models and business behavior.
I spoke with an entrepreneur whose personal story reinforces the influence of formal programs like EY’s Entrepreneur Of The Year® in driving rapid growth and maintaining a hyper-vigilance about the future.
Clane LaCrosse, the CEO of Bosque Systems, was a freshman in college in 1998, when he sat in the audience to watch his Uncle, Joe Mitchell, receive an EY Entrepreneur of The Year Award for his work in telecommunications.
For LaCrosse, who comes from a family of entrepreneurs, this sets a bar for performance. He dreamed of one day winning the very same award. He actually did more than dream about that day—he worked toward it.
In 2007, LaCrosse founded Texas-based Bosque Systems. The company provides saltwater disposal and water treatment including programs to help those in the oil business recycle water from fracking operations and reduce operating costs. Joe Mitchell, LaCrosse’s role model, and mentor was his initial investor and business partner.
LaCrosse, who got his MBA with a concentration in finance from Southern Methodist University, took a disciplined approach to his business. He focused on the things he calls ‘classic MBA stuff.’
The Day ‘They’ Know That You Know What’s Next
With a family of entrepreneurs invested in the business, LaCrosse didn’t need to focus on raising capital. Instead, he was able to analyze his operations and plan for growth.
He put the development of the company business model above the business itself. He also emphasized a consultative approach with customers, which enabled him to modify offerings to accelerate growth.
The company went from a few employees to 850 at its peak when oil was selling at $100/barrel.
Then in 2014, one of LaCrosse’s dreams was realized—he was recognized by EY as an Entrepreneur Of The Year. He was proud at that moment but didn’t have time to bask in the glory because the analyst in him saw troubling data trends.
The Day You See That Next Is About To Get To You First
On paper, the business was performing wonderfully, but LaCrosse knew his entire industry was in for a rude awakening as oil prices began to plummet. ‘Next’ was coming at him, and he did not want it to get to him first before he could act on what he was witnessing.
He came out of the 2014 EY Conference, called Mitchell and said, ‘I know revenue is way up, but we need to layoff at least 25% of our employees. And that’s just a start. We’re going to need to adjust our operations to enable us to exist in a different reality.’
2015 was a horrific year for the industry as oil dropped from $100/barrel to $29/barrel. The crash essentially dried up most of the customer base and Bosque’s competition.
When Next Gets To You & You Still Prevail
LaCrosse laid off two-thirds of his staff, including close friends. He says, ‘You just have to go with your intuition and make decisions immediately.’
It was painful, but it was necessary to survive. LaCrosse eliminated layers of management and re-imagined how every job in the business would operate in a new reality. Although the cuts were brutal, Bosque was eventually able to upgrade some of their talent—including their technical team—as other businesses tanked around them.
The team hunkered down with their best clients and continued to innovate in any way that could deliver operational value to their key accounts. LaCrosse says 200 people now do the work of 600 thanks to the changes they have made in structure and approach.
LaCrosse continues to watch oil prices which have come back to $49/barrel. When asked if he thinks the worst is behind him, he says, ‘The farmer always fears the drought.’
When speaking to LaCrosse and others at the conference, I noted how profoundly confident everyone was. They were discussing strategy and action not theoretically, but as if success was a foregone conclusion. They believe it is simply a matter of whether you get to success via the road on the left, the road on the right or the new one you intend to build.
No doubt they all read The Art Of War with their morning coffee. As Sun Tzu said, ‘Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.’
Planning your victory is the surest way to achieve it. Is that what’s next for you?
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