What did they do that had such an influence on you?
I saw my dad work very hard to support his family and put food on the table. My dad had a great work ethic and I admired that a lot.
My grandfather passed away in the early 1990s. He was a leader. He didn’t speak any English either but very quickly became president of the Russian Jewish Association in San Francisco and helped a lot of people. I always admired that in my grandfather. A lot of people came to him for help and he would volunteer his time and effort to help them. I admired that a lot as well and try to do my part in helping people.
What are some significant experiences in your life, and explain what effects they have had on you?
I came to the U.S. at age 8, as an immigrant from Ukraine, with my grandparents, parents and sister. My grandparents were in their late 60s. During those times just as it happens currently, older people got taken care of by the government through various programs. My parents though were in their 40s, and there was not a lot of governmental help for people in their 40s. My dad, who was an attorney in the Soviet Union, had to get started here washing dishes and cleaning bathrooms. He worked really hard and for the last 20 years of his career worked as a shipping clerk making minimum wage in San Francisco. He used to wake up at the crack of dawn and got back home very late at night. The highest wage he ever earned was $4.25/hour which was the minimum wage at that time. We always had food on the table and never starved but we were definitely poor.
My parents didn’t speak any English. When other kids got help from their parents, for example, with college selection, application and admission processes. I had to figure that out for myself.
Seeing what my dad went through, I decided at a young age that I never wanted to work for someone else like he did. I wanted to control my own destiny. I remember having to drive my dad to work very early in the mornings I definitely did not want to have to drive early in the mornings to earn $4.25/hour. I did not want to have such a hard life. Not that I didn’t want to work hard. But if I had to work that hard, I wanted to make good money not just minimum wage.
What are a few things about yourself that make you uniquely you.
I have a desire and need to get things done right away. I don’t let grass grow under anything. I get things done. Many times it is an advantage but could also be a disadvantage in some instances. I don’t look far into the future but look far enough to make it more palatable and not overwhelm myself. I like to talk but also get things done.
Did you have aspirations of becoming a business owner while growing up?
When I was 13, I started working at my uncle’s furniture store, first delivering furniture and then selling furniture. Very quickly I started making commissions and making more money than my dad was. Working just the weekends, I was earning $500/week as a 14-15 year old boy. Of course, I gave all my earnings to my parents.
I guess I was entrepreneurial from a young age. Looking back, I’ve done a lot of hustling, selling furniture, baseball cards, and garden chemicals to name a few.
Did you ever aspire to do anything else with your professional career than to run a business?
I always wanted to have my own business. Didn’t know early on what line of business but I wanted to be a business owner nonetheless. When I was in my mid-20s I went on a cruise with my wife and my mother-in-law. On that cruise I met a business owner of a moving company. We were smoking some cigars and chatting and I remember telling him that one day I was going to own my own business. He asked me what kind of business. I was working for Consolidated Electrical Distributors (CED) at that time, and as a knee-jerk reaction said, may be a circuit breakers company. My future company Any Breakers (ABI) was not even a thought in my head at that time. About 4 years later, in 2001, circuit breakers turned out to be my first business venture with my partner Michael Feltsman. ABI was run from Mike’s garage for many years. In 2004, after All Industrial Electric Supply (AIES) was founded, we got a warehouse and moved the ABI operations out of Mike’s garage.
What do you find interesting about your business?
All aspects of the business are interesting to me. We started out with a desire to grow a business from scratch and we now have a decent size company with revenues, profit and 50+ employees. I enjoy the processes involved in growing a business and like the business part of the equation. The business could be selling anything. Product could be anything.
How did the social, economic, environmental, technological, legal and political environments impact you in becoming a business owner?
We are affected by the economic climate just like every other business. Back in the 2001-2004 timeframe when we started our businesses, business economy wasn’t booming but was on a growth path and we kept growing. Then the 2008 economic meltdown happened. Fortunately, our business lags the economy by about 6 months. So, we were able to foresee what was coming. We were able to make necessary operational changes without impacting employee headcount. Today it may be difficult to make such operational maneuvers as we have many more employees. When economy recovers after a slowdown, we lag by about 6 months. This 6 month lag on both ends of an economic cycle give us a little bit of runway and works for my style.
As a business owner, the buck stops with you. You are accountable to no one else but yourself. How do you bring accountability to yourself and your business?
I’m accountable to myself through processes like TAB, weekly meetings with my employees, and management teams. Lot of that accountability comes through TAB membership. TAB holds you accountable to yourself through its Board members and processes.
In the beginning when starting out a business, you are doing so many things, it is like throwing darts and something hits a bullseye and sticks. As the business grows, you have to be much more systematic. The good thing about being a business owner is that you are your own boss. Many business owners like that freedom. The bad thing is that you are not accountable to anyone else but yourself. It is easy to let things slide and not hold yourself accountable.
TAB forces you to be accountable to yourself. If I wasn’t part of TAB, probably lot of stuff wouldn’t get done.
What is the single most critical talent you possess in your role as a business owner?
I’d say, it is setting the right culture with the company to serve our customers. For example, I’m willing to get up at 3am to service a customer. Is everyone else within the company willing to do that to serve our customers? I’d say that is true for our companies.
How do you define success as a business owner?
A big part of it is profitability of the business but just as important is achieving the things you set out to achieve. Business plan includes other things, not just hitting certain profitability targets. If you achieve those things, your business is also going to be profitable. I look at the roadmap and achieving things on the business plan. That is how I define my success as a business owner.
What would you recommend to a small/medium business owner to help enhance the valuation of their business?
For example, if you are a baker, growing a valuable business requires more than just baking more bread. You have to develop the entire organization and implement operational processes and financial systems and everything else required for scaling the business.
For example, if the business owner is a skilled sales person, just focusing on selling alone is not going to create a very valuable business.
A valuable business requires many different things and most importantly requires other people. Getting the right people onboard is critical. At ABI and AIES we recognized the need for a solid management team. My partner and I didn’t know how to manage managers, nor did we know what the managers would do when they came onboard. Instead of sitting there and writing job descriptions we decided to get the right people onboard. We let them figure it out addressing everything from financials being in order to bathrooms being clean.
What would you like to tell people who want to start a business in your field?
Take it one step at a time. Don’t overanalyze. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Get a simple business plan on paper. Just do it. Figure it along the way, make lot of mistakes, making mistakes is part of it. More mistakes are made from indecisions than bad decisions.
What are some of your life philosophies or life views that you would share with others?
If it is important to you, you will find a way, if not you will find an excuse. I read this in some book. I don’t take credit for this saying but I live by it.
If someone gave you $100,000 and told you that you could NOT give it to any of your friends, family members or use it for yourself, what would you do with it?
I’ll use it for someone else’s benefit but definitely will not give it away. Giving it to somebody who doesn’t know how to use it is a recipe for disaster. I’ll invest it on behalf of somebody else or buy a piece of real estate for somebody else or advice someone on what to do with the money. Teach them how to fish. Otherwise it will be a wasted gift.
What are a few things that you are grateful for?
Definitely grateful for my incredible family, wife, children and their health. My oldest son was sick for a while when he was younger and put things in perspective for me.
What are you most proud of?
Proud of the companies my partner and I have built. Was not an easy task. We are also happy for the opportunity to enable 50+ employees to support families of their own.
How and what do you want to be remembered for? Write about what you are doing now to create a legacy worthy of remembering.
Would like to be remembered for being a go-getter and a generous individual who helps people.
What are some of the things you enjoy doing in your leisure time?
I like to relax and spend time with family and friends at our place in Grass Valley.
What are the items on your Bucket List?
I never let anything stay on my bucket list for too long. Whenever something comes to mind, I just go do it. I currently don’t
have anything on my bucket list.