An entrepreneur’s take on the vital role business plays within healthy communities
Today’s CEOs can’t open the newspaper without seeing headlines discussing the rising role of business in meeting societal needs. Too often, that spotlight focuses on the actions of Fortune 500 companies, when in reality over 97% of Georgia businesses have less than 10 employees.
In a conversation with Ira Jackson, President of Perfect Image, he shares a shift in perspective on the definition of community from those that business helps, to the concentric circles that nurture a small business. Meeting needs isn’t about charity as much as it is about mutual reciprocity and care.
Honoring humanity in business and in life
“Honestly, thanks for asking. Because I think it’s important to be reminded of our purpose and the need to continue to look at the business and frankly myself in light of it,” says Jackson. “It’s not a static truth. It’s dynamic. And as a leader you have to consider and reconsider what it means personally and to the company.
“I think that the love of humanity informs my life and I’m hopeful that it can inform every aspect of the business too. Because when I look at my team, we hail from Bankhead to Ballground; from Georgia to Guatemala; from Southwest Atlanta to South Africa. It’s a rich experience to lead this team. And if you start with humanity, if you lead with humanity, you will find the opportunity to appreciate how different people can come from very different backgrounds but can serve a common purpose.”
Putting “community” into context.
“When it comes to defining community, context is important. First, let’s consider the mindset of the entrepreneur, the small business owner. You have to remember the rugged individualism needed to launch a business.
“Alone you are inadequate – Heck, objectively, if it had been up to me alone, I would have had to fire myself at least a half dozen times. Building a successful business only comes from the mutual support of the concentric circles of people that surround your fledgling idea. Circles of teammates, clients, vendors and suppliers. There were days when we did not perform at our best, and the circle of clients saw our vulnerability but showed us the meaning of community when they believed we could do better. When suppliers extend more grace than is our fair share when we had a rough patch – in those moments it’s suppliers that show us the meaning of community. They each teach us what community means when they demonstrate a long-term view of relationship, support and trust.
“As entrepreneurs, our individual aspirations are great. But there are things greater than the accomplishments of any one leader or any one business. It’s in achieving greatness, alongside and for the benefit of those concentric circles of community – your city, state, clients, vendors, teammates, and family, that self-interest gives way to a “greater good.” Along the journey you must find ways to yield to that greater good – extend kindness and resources back to the broader community that nourishes leaders and business owners. Over time you realize success is less about rugged individualism and more about building those concentric circles of community that nurture your business and frankly, you as a person. Together you create something, and you see it come to fruition on a daily basis, something that’s bigger than you could ever accomplish yourself – but it requires a commitment to community.”
Hope as a Decisive Contribution.
“At the beginning of March 2020, we were all set to do client video vignettes or testimonials onsite at the various schools, nonprofits and small businesses that we serve. Clearly, that plan was not going to work due to the pandemic. But the prevailing wisdom of the time for our industry was communicate, communicate, communicate. There was this recognition that employees, customers, people in general needed to know what was going on, on a daily basis.
“I knew there were a lot of fears out there. I had them, my team had them. It became clear that what we all needed was a shot of hope that everything was going to be ok.
“Hope is hard. Hope is believing when the evidence can’t quite confirm certainty. Hope is a relentless decision to do the right thing.
“So, we reached out to luminaries and experts in different fields that we work with and asked them to give us just a few minutes to do a video of inspiration – a “hope shot” of insights for the road ahead.
“The first person I asked was Ambassador Andrew Young. When he actually said yes, I knew we were on to something. We decided this would be our contribution back to our community, this would be our investment to strengthen those around us. It’s been such a great success that we plan to continue to provide The Hope Shot to our community.
Mr. Rogers as a Business Leadership Role Model.
“Yeah, Mr. Rogers is such the unlikely role model for a guy like me, but I promise you, he’s my hero. I’m inspired by his leadership, consistency of character and integrity.
“Have you seen the video of Mr. Rogers sitting beside a baby pool with his pants rolled up, and he invites Officer Clemmons, a black police officer to share his pool and his towel? They sing, they laugh and have an enjoyable moment. “Sometimes, just a minute like this will really make a difference,” says Mr. Rogers. Unremarkable, maybe except for the timing. That video came out right after a widely publicized incident where black patrons were swimming in a hotel pool and the general manager came out and poured bleach and ammonia into the pool.
“Mr. Rogers shows us as leaders how to demonstrate integrity, love for another, care for the least of these.”
No margin, no mission but profit is not the purpose.
“Look, profit is not the purpose of a business, it’s the function of the business. If you have no margin, you have no mission, but that margin, that profit, is not the purpose.
“Businesses are symbiotic sets of relationships – employer, employee, customer, consumer, vendor, supplier. Well-run businesses, enterprises that thrive are those that recognize, nurture and care for those concentric circles that make up their immediate and larger community. To run a thriving enterprise that also nourishes those people – that is the most noble pursuit there is.”