Tap potential young people offer

This final Bottom Line column brings back an entrepreneur who was featured about halfway through the column’s more than 10 year run.

Greig Clark has a passion for helping young people realize their potential, and his insights apply as much to a farm as any other business.

In 1971, an 18-year-old Clark founded College Pro Painters in Thunder Bay, Ont., and built it into a 500-franchise operation with $40 million in annual sales before selling it at age 40 to become a successful venture capitalist.

“We had 500 managers at College Pro, taking 18- and 19-year-olds and training them to run a $50,000 to $100,000 business,” says Clark.

“So we had thousands of success stories.”

The key was zeroing in on what he calls the three Cs — character, commitment and competence.

“Character is the base thing,” he says.

“The person needs to have the values you have — wanting to do a good job, willing to take responsibility, tell the truth, keep their word and respect others. Those are the table stakes. If you don’t have character, then it’s, ‘OK, see you later.’ ”

Painting experience wasn’t a factor here, nor should experience driving a tractor or handling livestock be the No. 1 thing you look for. Instead, says Clark, ask prospective employees about a time that they really wanted to accomplish something and how they rose to the challenge.

Their answer will tell you a lot, he says, and so will the answer to an equally simple question.

“Ask them, ‘where do you want to go in this job?’ What’s the aspiration?’” he says.

“That’s the main thing. Do they aspire to something? And do they really want it? You’ll get a range of answers, but when someone says, ‘I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it,’ that’s a big difference from someone who says they really know what they want.

Best of all is the person who says, ‘I’ve thought about it, looked at what you do on your farm and I’d really like to do this.’”

That’s the second C: commitment.

“Maybe on a farm, an entry-level job might be driving a combine,” says Clark.

“But how keen are they to do more than that? Can you see it in their eyes? Are they coming to you and asking to do more?”

The last C is competence. College Pro’s training sessions, which range from sales to quality control, were designed to “close the gap between where this guy or gal is now and where they want to be.”

Of course, farming is a family affair, but the principles still apply.

If the heir apparent doesn’t share your values, the stage is set for years of clashes and discord. Instead, why not consider slicing off part of the operation and letting him run it?

And when you’ve asked what their ambition is, identify the gap and help them move up the learning curve, whether directly or by en-couraging them to get the training and mentoring they need.

However, the important thing is to put opportunity in their path. Don’t judge a young person on their limited track record. Give them a chance and see what they can do.

Clark’s biggest success story is a guy named Steve Rogers, a 22-year-old kid whose resumé consisted of being in a bar band and working at a lumber mill.

“He’s a street fighter. He’s still not a guy who is into wearing suits, but he is a leader.”

He also rose to every challenge Clark threw at him, and when the company was sold, Rogers took over.

“What Steve recognized is that we weren’t in the painting business, we were in the people development business. So he turned a $40 million business into a $1.3 billion one called the Franchise Company. That’s a pretty good story.”

Is there a pretty good story waiting to be written on your farm? There’s only one way to find out: give youth a chance.

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