Ed Remster knows what it’s like to work hard and he deeply appreciates the value of a hard day’s work.
When he started his career working for Sam Jones, then the Founder and Owner of SJ Transportation over forty years ago, however, he had no idea that his hard work and dedication to a job well-done would lead him to become a CEO, and an entrepreneur.
Twenty years ago, Ed bought SJ from Sam, after working for him for over twenty years, initially as a truck driver, and then as a member of his right-hand team. Over the course of his tenure as President and CEO, Ed grew SJ to a highly profitable transportation and logistics business, an anomaly in the trucking industry, with over $25 Million in revenue.
He sold the company, which specializes in transporting hazardous and industrial waste and hazmat products, earlier this year to the largest flatbed and specialized transportation and logistics company in North America in a strategic buy for a very nice multiple, without an earn out.
I caught up with him recently over dinner to learn more about his lessons learned over the past 40 years. I was also curious about what guidance and advice he would give other entrepreneurs as they seek to grow a more valuable business as well as themselves as leaders.
“Start early to identify the right people for your advisory team.”
Nothing substitutes for Hard Work
“I learned early on that it’s not enough to be in the right market,” he states at the beginning of our conversation. “You’ve got to be the hardest working person in the room. I’m very fortunate that Sam Jones saw that in me all those years ago and gave me the opportunity to be a part of his company.”
Time and again, Ed also learned the power of helping others solve seemingly unsurmountable problems.
“We may be a trucking company but that’s really what we’ve done for years,” he shares. “Solve problems. Whether it’s the disposal of a hazardous material or managing a rail line or consulting with the Army Corps of Engineers. We’re problem solvers. And that reputation and the quality of our work gets around.”
Have the Right Advisors on Your Team
“I’m very clear that being a member of CEO Think Tank® for the last ten years was an irreplaceable ingredient of my success,” he shared with me. “The community, the resources like Scaling Up, having you as my Coach. All were critical components of my ability to grow my team as well as my company. Being a part of such a terrific group of people who I admire immensely. That’s been invaluable.”
Ed also promotes leveraging the power of a good team of advisors, especially when looking to sell and exit.
“Have a good attorney that you can trust and make sure the people on your team, including your financial experts, have the experience with M&A. The right advisors will look out for your best interest, but I’ve found that you only really find that out over time. My lesson? Start early to identify the right people to have on your team.”
“Your bottom-line is a very good indicator of how solid your growth strategy is.”
Manage to your Numbers
One of the biggest lessons learned in the school of hard knocks for Ed? “Keep your [financial] numbers like you’re going to sell your business every day. And the number one in that equation is EBITDA.”
“You can have a great customer base and a stellar reputation”, he shared with me, “but business-savvy acquirers want to know how your company will help them grow strategically. Your expertise, your management team and your business model are all important components to have nailed down, and for buyers, your bottom-line is a very good indication of how solid those are, along with your Cash Flow.”
Align with the Right Company
“Do your homework and don’t settle on the first ‘suiter'”, Ed shared.
“I could have sold to Private Equity,” Ed told me. “As you know…I met with 4 or 5 in Dallas, Phoenix, New York, and it was good to shop around. Gave me a feel for their business and what they would do with my company. It’s good to be courted,” he added with a smile. “But in the end, I didn’t want an earn out and I wanted my team taken care of. The transportation and logistics company that I went with wanted to grow organically, using our expertise as a bolt on. They were a fit for me.”
“I hope I can have a positive impact on the next generation of entrepreneurs.”
Cultivate Learning and Remember the Power of Repetition
“Sometimes you need to hear things again and again. Or at least I do. Repetition, repetition, repetition right? And I’ve learned to learn from other people’s stories. How they succeeded. What they did to overcome challenges.”
He’s quiet for a moment, then leans over.
“I’m also German. I don’t like to be told what to do. You were the one who broke through that barrier. Your honesty and transparency. How much you cared about me and about the other folks in the group. You started opening up my mind and when I started listening, I learned. Now, when someone comes in asking for my help, I really try and work to listen. And I hope that I can have that kind of impact on someone else.”
Tags: Business advice for the mid-market, Enlightened Executives, Overcoming small business challenges, Strategic planning for small business