Early on in building my distributorship to $20 million (I sold that business in the early ’90s to focus on our franchise model), I realized there were only four activities that would make me wealthy. Today at Proforma we call these the 4 Pillars of Success.

  1. Earn new customers.
  2. Sell more to current customers.
  3. Hire and manage sales reps.
  4. Buy the competition.

I had a nearby competitor in his 80s. Let’s call him Ray Italiano. I heard good things about Ray. So I called him to schedule lunch, to get to know him and see if I could buy his business.

Ray agreed to lunch. We had a great conversation over a great bowl of pasta. When I asked about buying his business, he told me that he wasn’t yet interested in selling. So I asked if we could get together again in six to eight months and he agreed.

I call him again six to eight months later. We shared more great conversation and pasta. He told me he liked me, and that if he were ever going to sell his business it would be to me … but he wasn’t ready to sell yet.

And so it went for five to six more years. Great conversation and great lunches. But he wasn’t ready to sell.

A few months after one of our lunches, I received a call. It was a person named Jim Italiano. I remember his words to this day. Jim said he was Ray’s son, and that Ray had passed away a few weeks ago. He told me, “My father always spoke fondly of you. He told us all the time how proud he was that you wanted to buy his business.”

Then he asked if I was still interested in buying the business from the estate.

Wow. I had no idea my conversations with Ray had such an impact.
I conveyed my sympathies to Jim and told him I would be honored to buy his dad’s business. That company was a great addition to my growing distributorship. Great sales. Great people—one of whom is still with Proforma to this day.

I learned a few lessons from this experience:

  • Persistence and patience pay off.
  • Persistence and patience are easier with a bowl of pasta.
  • The valuation of a living person’s business is different than that of someone who has passed away. (No disrespect, it’s just the truth.)

There are only four activities that will make you wealthy. All other activities will make you crazy.

To adopt a line from one of my favorite movies, “The Shawshank Redemption”: “Get busy getting wealthy or get busy going crazy.”