What comes to mind when you think of the word legacy?
As a child, I lived in British Columbia, Canada. I watched my father grow a honey business. And then a granola business with my uncle. I watched them sell that business to Kellogg’s in the late ’70s for a big profit. My father introduced me to personal development by handing me a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People.
He embodied the idea that good business isn’t about numbers but about people. When he became an investor in oil and gas, it made sense for us to move to Oklahoma City. It was a big change, but I was used to moving around. The life of an entrepreneur isn’t always stable. There, I saw him help 12 companies go public through a reverse merger.
A reverse merger is a less costly and time-consuming way to go public, one that doesn’t require raising capital for a traditional initial public offering. Basically, a private company buys out an existing public shell corporation to assume ownership and become public. I learned a lot in those years, having helped investor public relations and other behind-the-scenes tasks. I also saw my father lose all of his money in those years. Investing is tricky business and there are no guarantees.
But he picked himself back up and kept going. At 84 years old, he still takes risks. He still has the freedom to try (and fail) at new things. That’s what being an entrepreneur is. He once told me that it’s riskier to take a job than to start a business. A lot of people have potential, but the safety of what they’re doing—a cushy 9-to-5, perhaps—holds them back from achieving their full potential. That idea of a life of freedom and risk and what-ifs is his legacy.
For me, legacy is much less about the financial component—though that is important for your children, their children and so on. But it’s more about reputation. What memories will you leave with others? Will they be inspired by them? What did you stand for during your lifetime? Do those values stand the test of time?
Considering your legacy is sort of like asking yourself why?
- Why did I build this business?
- Why do I make sacrifices to further this business?
- Why did I choose to go this path and what do I hope it all means in the end?
My why is probably a little counterintuitive. My why is why not?
- Why not go for it?
- Why not see how many lives can be impacted positively?
- Why not see what this could become over time?
You have to do something in life; why not make it the best it can be? Even when you’ve reached a point where you could retire comfortably, that’s, well, boring. It feels like a loss of your identity. When you keep building and keep moving the goalposts and keep impacting lives, it feeds you. I think this is how entrepreneurs are wired.
I see goals as being continuous, so no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you can always make more of an impact. You could invent time-saving software or you could serve others in a soup kitchen; they both impact lives far beyond what you imagine.
One way I try to gauge that in the companies I lead is through the net promoter score (NPS). An NPS is a single question with a one-to-10 scale: How likely are you to recommend this [service, product or company] to a colleague or friend? Based on the response, we identify trigger points and key issues within the company, which allows us to laser focus on the things that really move the needle in terms of employee and customer happiness and company growth.
For me, the NPS is an indicator of how well I’m building the legacy I plan to leave. But truly, it’s an indicator of how well I’m listening. My goal is to always be adding value to others. But if my NPS score hovers around a three or four out of 10, it means I’m not adding enough value or adding it in the wrong places.
When you think about your legacy, I challenge you to think beyond the numbers and the size of your business. Instead, find a long-term problem you haven’t been able to find a solution for and solve it for yourself and for others. By doing that you’re creating a legacy of innovation. You’re adding value to others.
You probably already know some things you can do—and there will be plenty of work to do–but when it’s done and you look back on the work, you will see the ripple effects. And that is a legacy worth building.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.