Standing in front of a room full of 100 entrepreneurs, community leaders, city officials and students at the Garage Co-Work Space in Winona, Fastenal founder Bob Kierlin spoke on Tuesday about his career as an entrepreneur and what others can take from his experience in their own business ventures.
It was part of an event called Fireside Chats, hosted by the Garage Co-Work Space, and was just one of the many events the organization has planned to bring entrepreneurs closer to resources and support.
Although the room was packed with Winonans rubbing shoulders and leaning against the wall, it was mostly silent, save for Kierlin in his blue blazer talking through a microphone while standing next to a TV broadcasting the view of a roaring fire. The well-known, successful businessman shared what he believed were some key points of why Fastenal grew from a small storefront on Lafayette Street to a company with more than 2,600 branches worldwide.
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“Believing in people is really the success of Fastenal,” Kierlin said. “You have to believe in the potential of people.”
Kierlin said it’s one of the two absolute requirements for a successful organization. The first? Leaders and everyone in the organization need to pursue a common shared goal. The second? Leaders must find a way to foster, encourage and use the potential of every person who joins the organization.
Those are two simple requirements, he said, but far from easy.
“As a society, we don’t have a way to measure potential,” Kierlin said.
And it’s certainly easy for an organization to loosen its grip on having everyone pursuing the same goal.
Some things that help from his experience, he said, are stepping away from management and instead using leadership, rewarding innovation with a pat on the back and maybe a financial reward program, and not putting as much emphasis on job descriptions — which he said can set limits that box people in.
Most importantly, make sure the business is adaptable, he said.
“Things are always changing, and you have to work that into your business,” he said to the attentive crowd. “If there’s a better way to do it, we’ll adapt to it.”
Winona State University business student Zane Mattiuz said a lot of what Kierlin said is what he’s been learning at WSU, but it definitely drives it home to hear it from him.
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“It’s kind of cool to hear it from a successful CEO ... rather than our teacher,” he said.
City of Winona’s director of community development Lucy McMartin said it’s a great opportunity for the community to hear from Kierlin.
“To be able to have advice from one of the top past CEOs is real valuable,” she said.
As the room began to empty and a handful of people were left mingling, co-work space director Samantha Strand took a huge sigh of relief as she said the event went amazingly well.
Strand said although every person in the room may have not described themselves as an entrepreneur, they absolutely are, because just the act of being innovative and thoughtful in their career makes a person an entrepreneur — or intrapreneur. The plan for the future is to continue events that help people see themselves as such and grow within their career.
“Every person in this room can think of their career in a different way,” Strand said.