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what i've learned along the way

On September 14, 2017 Brad Arends was honored as a Distinguished Alumni by the Albert Lea Education Foundation. The next morning he was asked to speak to the 2018 Senior Class of Albert Lea High School. This is the message he delivered to them:

This weekend is my 40th class reunion. Do you know that there were no cell phones back in 1977? Nobody had a computer in their home or even in their office. There was no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, YouTube, or Google. Hardly anybody knew how to type. We wrote letters, licked stamps and sent them through the U.S. Postal Service. There was no email or text. In business, we had what were called secretaries who basically typed letters, reports and proposals all day. There were no color copy machines or printers. There wasn’t voicemail. Secretaries answered the phones and took messages on little pink slips of paper, and then put them on our desks to return the call.

We couldn’t download music – this was even before CDs and DVDs. We had records and a turntable to play our music like Classic Rock, which many of you actually play today on your smart phone. There was no WI-FI or Bluetooth.

Think about it.

Now close your eyes, and think for a moment what the world will look like 40 years from now. Now think of what it will look like in 10 years, because most of these changes have happened in the last 10 years.

OK – open them.

What role will you play in this upcoming change?

Today, as a Pathways to Success Distinguished Alumni, recognized for coming back to Albert Lea and growing a business and contributing to the community, I am almost embarrassed to tell you this, but I never really did have a formal business plan, let alone a "path", until about five years ago; but we did have good ideas and great people. And I do have a father that instilled in me a "growth" attitude. Even as he was melting into retirement, he was always preaching the need to continually grow the business.

And even though I was a lawyer coming back into the family business, he made me start at the bottom, learning the business from the ground floor up. I was expected to arrive early and leave late. Saturdays were just another work day. He made it clear that nothing would be given, and that the only way to get "respect" as the son of the owner was to earn it.

Now … four decades after I graduated from Albert Lea High School, I not only a have a formal business plan, but also my Top 10 list for Business Success. Think of it as what I have learned along my journey.

  1. Find your passion. I love my job, and I love going to work every morning. We have a mission of "Financial freedom for the American worker," and I truly believe that we are helping Americans every day. I tell everyone who works for us that if you don't have a passion for financial services, you should quit and go find something that you are truly passionate about.

  2. Define success. This should be "very personal." For me it was always about my father. He had started a business from nothing, and grown it into a real company, not just something that provided an income to take care of his family. If I didn't grow the company bigger, I would not consider myself a success.

  3. Make a plan. Just think of what I could have done if I would have had a formal business plan starting at age 30???

  4. Be a Pioneer verses a Settler. 250 years ago, west of the Mississippi was essentially uncharted territory. There were no roads. There were no "paths." Pioneers saw "opportunity," and the chance for not only a better life for themselves and their family, but for others. Settlers saw nothing but risk, and waited for others - the "pioneers" - to make it "safe" by cutting paths and making the roads. Always be looking for the next "big idea.” These are the opportunities. Be an "innovative leader." Be a pioneer.

  5. Collaborate. You can't do it by yourself. You are going to have to work with others. In fact, I recommend you share your best ideas with others, even if they are a competitor.

  6. Surround yourself with great people who complement your weaknesses. Anything you don't like to do, or you're not good at, delegate it to others that are "great" at it. It takes a team with different skill sets to be successful.

  7. Always put your clients first. There are three types of business relationships - your clients either view you as nothing but a vendor, a trusted advisor, or as a partner. Partnership is the highest form of customer relationship achievable because when there is an issue or a problem (and there will be problems), partners roll up their sleeves and work together to fix it.

  8. Embrace change. Every time there has been significant disruption in my industry, our company has grown. Disruption leads to change, and change means "opportunity."

  9. Hard work. It covers up all your flaws and mistakes.

  10. Find a confidant. Believe it or not, success can be lonely. You are going to need that person that you trust and feel comfortable with talking to about literally anything. It may be someone that sits in the same chair as you do, but in another like business; or it may be someone that you just randomly "collided" with, but they see the world with the same eyes, they feel the world with the same heart, and they touch the world with the same soul as you do.

Finally, every list has an addition ...

11.You must always be a responsible business citizen. You didn't become successful all by yourself. You must give back.


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