Cassity: Sorry, but we did build that

In a speech he gave in Roanoke, Va., on July 13, President Obama said, "… If you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. … If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. … If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

Let me take you back to early 1977.

My wife was gainfully employed as a registered nurse. I was knocking down very good money as an executive for a medical company. Although quite comfortable, we believed we saw an opportunity. We applied the first principle of marketing as I had learned it, which states: "Find a hole and fill it." In essence, it means discover a need unmet and then conjure up a way of meeting it.

We agonized for months over whether to take the plunge and start our own business to meet that perceived need. It was especially scary, as we were intending to create an all-new medical specialty all by ourselves. Finally, we took a deep breath and jumped in, feet first.

"… If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

The nature of our business was such that we had to be available on a 24/7/365 basis. The plan was for me to market and sell, and for my wife to provide the professional medical services. I banged on doors. I made phone calls. I wrote letters. I pleaded for our company to be given a chance to change the way things had always been done. Finally, the phone rang, and then rang again. And it kept on ringing.

We quickly realized we were in over our heads. Business grew so fast we very often had to work all day and all night. We hired staff. We bought more equipment. We acquired vehicles. We negotiated the first of several second mortgages on our home in order to pay for the growth. We applied for a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan but were denied.

I guess we didn't meet the "helpful" government's criteria.

I remember being asked what I did for a living. I said that I spent a third of my time trying to find new business, a third trying to keep the business we had already earned, and the other third trying to collect for all the services we had performed. In our business, payment terms of net 30 days in reality meant net almost never. On dozens of occasions my wife and I couldn't cash our paychecks so that our employees could cash theirs. Dozens.

"…If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

Through it all we were required to meet an enormous and mystifying quagmire of laws and statutes and demands and rules and regulations from federal, state, county and city governments.

Although ours was only a small business, many of the hurdles we faced were the same as those hospitals had to meet. Then there was workers' compensation insurance premiums.

I could have leased two new Ferraris, plus the costs of all insurance and maintenance thereon, for what we paid for worker's comp.

Oh, and the number of claims filed throughout our company's entire history?


"…If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

We bought Franco American Spaghetti by the case from the Price Club for our first year in business. We went 10 years without a new car or a vacation. We employed as many as 50 highly paid professionals.

We made a difference. We saved thousands of lives. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we were flattered, as we spawned dozens of competitors.

Yet, we persisted and flourished. All because we were willing to put at risk the time, effort, energy and money necessary to scratch the entrepreneurial itch. Something, as you may be aware, most others will never, ever do.

But after 32 years of operation, and almost 2 million hours of being "on call," the mountain of new laws called Obamacare loomed before us like an oncoming locomotive. We decided enough was enough.

This "tilting at windmills" thing grows tiresome after a while. We ceased operations a couple of years sooner than we would have perhaps otherwise liked, but we have no regrets. As entrepreneurs, we could not have done it any other way.

But we keep wondering, where was that "somebody else" when we really needed him?

CHUCK CASSITY is a longtime Costa Mesa resident active in education, youth sports and other causes. His column appears every other Friday.

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