“It has been said by one, years ago, that history turns on small hinges, and so do people’s lives. Our lives will depend upon the decisions which we make—for decisions determine destiny.” –Thomas S Monson
I was born BYU blue. That was my school, that was my destiny, no decision needed.
So, in 1984, I headed off for my freshman year at BYU to become a computer science expert. I jumped in, two feet forward, taking physics, calculus, and computer science classes while working 4-7am as a janitor. The combination of work and school proved my demise, and my grades suffered.
I took a break from school, to serve a two-year mission, and when I returned, I switched my major to accounting, which had always been a second option. But my grades continued to haunt me as I was rejected on my first and second applications into the school of accountancy. I appealed, retook classes, tried another major all to no avail. It seemed my destiny was not to get into the BYU accounting program.
This was hard for me, and I labored over this dilemma for over a year. Eventually, I was faced with the decision to stay at BYU or move to another school.
Change was not my forte, and I couldn’t wrap my head around another school. But, ultimately with a supportive and more intuitive wife the decision was made to leave BYU.
We ended up at Utah State University and 2 years later I graduated with a bachelor degree in accounting, sporting a 4.0 USU GPA, and top of my class. It proved to be a decision that shaped my career. By comparing a USU GPA to a BYU GPA I stood out, and the recruiters at KPMG took note and offered me a position in the Salt Lake City office. Without the change, I would have had an average GPA at BYU at best.
I learned changing directions was ok, and often leads to opportunity.
It was the summer of 1992, and I was approaching the end of my 5th year at KPMG, an international accounting firm. I had been promoted to manager, a year earlier, which was beginning to weigh on my mind. I enjoyed audit, I enjoy working in small teams, and I enjoyed learning about different businesses. But as a manager, the enjoyment of the day to day work was disappearing.
You see I’m an introvert, a perfect fit for an accountant one might think, but unlike the green shades and backrooms of the movies, public accounting is far closer to an extravert personality type. I was expected to network more and bring in clients, none of which was my comfort zone. Were they self-imposed expectations? I don’t know. But it weighed me down. And thoughts of “was it time to leave?”, surfaced.
Leaving public accounting at my stage wasn’t abnormal, but where would I go? I specialized in the government sector auditing federal government, counties, cities and school districts and a few corporate clients. Government had served me well at KPMG, fitting my personality, and allowing me to be promoted 1 year earlier than most, but had no desire to work for the government.
Often you leave to work for a client, so I was kind of in a bind. I might have to network (ugh) if I wanted to leave. Isn’t that an ironic situation?
However, the bigger issue was perception. Bragging rights were at stake. It’s ok to leave, but leave for bigger and better. The public companies and the CFO positions were the ideal candidates. When you left, the objective was to create a little jealously. I wish I could say I was better than that, but those ideas influenced or at least clouded my decision-making ability back then.
You see my dilemma. I was unsatisfied with my job, would have to increase networking and had great pressure to find a prestigious job. Just moving on was not an easy choice for me and I lingered on this decision for months.
Then one evening I reached a desperation point.
I believe in personal revelation, but receiving it on demand was another challenge for me. So, after work one evening, as I sat home and realized I couldn’t go on much longer, I pleaded internally with Heavenly Father for an answer.
I flipped open the Book of Mormon and it landed on 2 Nephi 9:51 and the words “…do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy…”
It was the answer. I wasn’t satisfied, so it was clear I needed to move on. I gained courage from that experience even though the road would be challenging.
Within days of reading that verse, I told the partners at KPMG I felt it was time for me to leave and asked for networking help. I became a lame duck over the next few months, but ultimately it was a referral from one of the other managers that pointed me to my eventual job…. Ringmasters.
It wasn’t a public company, it wasn’t big, my pay did not increase, it had no jealousy appeal and even got confused with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. But once the decision was made, I felt good. It was a dream come true to be a big fish in a small pond where I knew I could make a difference.
And I did.
I learned to not let perceptions and expectations of others control my decisions.
So, in 1997 I became the controller at Ringmasters, rebranded as SymbolArts, and spent the next 11 years of my career.
I enjoyed the challenge of helping SymbolArts grow into a much larger company. I filled roles as controller, operations manager, and finally chief operating officer and along the way learned valuable knowledge about small business. It wasn’t all peaches and cream, there were many difficult challenges, but I enjoyed the journey except for one aspect.
Over the years I watched sales managers come and go and lost track of how many perished at the hands of Symbolarts.
When I arrived in 1997, the company was on pace for a banner year of $3 million in sales. But poor decisions ultimately led to declining sales and a split of partners. As I left with one partner and we tried to rebuild, it was frustrating watching the revolving door of sales managers. Why they left may be debatable, but in my eyes ever changing expectations seemed the culprit.
I had had enough. Growth would never come without a change. Leaving, was becoming a very real option for me and this time I wasn’t afraid to leave. My confidence was strong.
When I entered the owner’s office, and sat down for a serious discussion, I had no options.
I was direct, and told the owner, I was frustrated with the revolving door of sales managers and the overall direction of the company and wanted control over all aspects of the company.
The owner did not view me as a salesperson, so to ask for control over a sale’s dominated company was a big risk. But I was firm, and said, either I get control or it’s time for me to leave. Control meant I make all the day to day decisions.
I could have found myself on the street that day, but I had a plan. And the plan included taking the company from $2 million in sales to $10 million in sales in 5 years. I promised the owner if I failed to deliver, he wouldn’t have to fire me, I would leave on my own.
Lucky for me, he agreed to everything, even a significant pay increase and bonus structure.
I learned to abandon fear and act with confidence.
All good things eventually come to an end and my time with SymbolArts was moving in that direction.
Three years into my five-year plan, we were achieving the milestones, but it was getting harder. I had managed the sales team and establish consistency, structure, and focus. We had captured the low hanging fruit. But we needed more so we acquired a small pin company called Pinpros.
I was feeling we needed a sales manager to raise our sales game. So, I hired a sales manager. It was year four, we were still on track for the goal, but I could sense restlessness in the owner. And thoughts of leaving SymbolArts began to surface. But, first the goal.
I knew I would need a replacement for me if I were to ever leave, so began preparing the sales manager to be my replacement as we continued toward the goal.
The goal came with a substantial bonus attached, but not enough for retirement. I knew I still needed a job, but wasn’t sure SymbolArts was the answer.
A year earlier we had purchased a small pin company called PinPros to help accelerate the sales goal of 10 million dollars.
PinPros helped, but didn’t integrate as well as hoped into the SymbolArts sales model and PinPros sales dropped a little.
As I pondered what to do with PinPros, the idea came to ask for PinPros as an alternative to the cash bonus. In my mind they had the same value. The owner agreed after some thought on his part.
As we reached year 5, plans were being made to promote the sales manager to COO, I would step back and function as controller and also handle all of PinPros sales. The only thing left was hitting the goal which by midyear seemed certain.
By November of 2008, it was obvious we would achieve goal, the owner gave me PinPros to settle the bonus and I left SymbolArts employment with my own business in hand.
From CPA to Pin Seller isn’t a normal path, but it was my path. I learned that goals happen through patience, hard work and often in non-foreseeable ways.
As I walked away, I was excited and happy and have never looked back. Many people start their own business from scratch. I admire these people as they face challenges I never had to deal with. Even though PinPros was small, it was my business and experiencing it the past several months I knew it could grow.
When something is yours, and it came because of effort, you become attached, emotional, and protective. PinPros became my baby.
After a year of more attention and tender loving care PinPros grew. My philosophy was be prompt, educate the customers, offer a fair price, deliver on time and be honest and we saw double digit growth.
I admit, I did have a slight fear that one day I would wake up and this would be the day no one needed a pin anymore. After 10+ years I have never seen that day.
We grew from 1 employee (me) to over 10 employees, changed the name from Pinpros to PinProsPlus, sell about 2.5 million pins a year, sell to every state, and many countries outside America. Our customers include NASA, Kentucky Derby Foundation, Houston Livestock and Rodeo, Standard Publishing, Burger King, Scentsy and thousands of other customers.
PinProsPlus is my passion and my hobby. I have loved the challenge of growing, watching my kids work making pins, and seeing it be a blessing to my family and my employee’s families. It helped me achieve a 5th grade goal of reaching a financial milestone by age 50.
It made possible another goal of my wife and I to serve a senior couple mission by age 55.
At age 53, our circumstances changed such that a mission was now possible financially, but I wasn’t ready to leave PinProsPlus in others hands and besides I still had two years to work out the details. So many thoughts were running through my mind.
As in prior experiences, personal revelation came unsolicited this time. The message, it will be just as hard to leave PinProsPlus in 2 years as it is now, so why not leave on a mission now?
It was a very profound thought. The moment I heard it, is the moment my decision was made to leave PinProsPlus behind and serve a mission. Libby was ready long before me and readily agreed and the wheels were put in motion. Over the next 3-4 months my focus was to train, inspire, and trust the employees. It was hard, but as I have watched them take the helm, I have been amazed at why I didn’t trust them more sooner. They were more than capable, even more than me.
May 2019, we left for Liberia, West Africa to serve for 18 months. I’m still connected, and have oversight, but fear of letting go has vanished, replaced by trust and confidence.
The most valuable lesson learned is trust. When we trust others, we elevate others and they rise to be amazing.
Sometimes decisions require you to leave something good to achieve something better. Sometimes they require you to let go of fear. Sometimes they require being bold and standing up. Sometimes they require trusting. Many decisions will not be logical and many will not be the easiest but make the decision anyway and see what you become.
30 years ago, I could have never guessed where I would be today, decisions determine destiny.
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I was convinced for years I wasn't a writer - so I didn't. Now I'm older, and I have a strong desire to write - so I do. The blog Craig A Fry is my way of sharing with the world (but mostly just documenting my thoughts) things I've learned from Business, Personal Life and Spiritual Insights.
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