There’s a children’s novel and movie that tells the story of a girl and her journey with a dog she adopts and names Winn-Dixie, like the grocery chain. The central message of the story is that while there were challenges in her life, when “good” things happened, they happened because of Winn-Dixie. But is that true? Can something come into our lives that wasn’t previously there and transform you?
The short answer is yes — if you claim it as a defining moment.
Several years back, my friend and client John Floyd was caught in the middle of one of the most difficult economic down turns in U.S. history. As the founder and CEO of Ole South Properties, one of the largest independent home builders in Tennessee and top 100 in the U.S., he understood the challenge and that the future looked bleak. He also realized that if Ole South was going to remain successful, he would have to orchestrate some changes. And, after pulling everyone in his company with him, they did.
Stressed out, pushed to the limit and staring at failure in the face what I witnessed over the next eight years was a leader who understood how to use adversity to accelerate growth. During that time he opened up to me and talked about his journey and the lessons he learned. In his darkest days, he talked about the immense pressure he felt to provide for the employees who have stood by him and with him throughout each stage of the company’s growth.
One day we were discussing how he started and the mistakes he made along the way and that’s when he mentioned Winn-Dixie. If you asked John how he got started, he would tell you his working life began at a Winn-Dixie doing every job in the grocery store except butchering. In the darkest hours, he would look at me from across the table and sarcastically suggest that maybe he should have stayed. That maybe he should have taken the security, the familiarity, the safest route through life. But that’s not John.
Just like in the movie, John realized that because of Winn-Dixie he decided he wanted more — the store had become a starting point of goodness in his personal and professional life.
John looked to the future and realized that while the opportunity at Winn-Dixie was good, that if he took a risk, he could do more, be more and become more.
John began looking to the future, and not just trying to make it day to day. He saved up enough money, built up his vacation time so he could continue to get paid after he quit, gave his two weeks’ notice and signed his name to a home purchase agreement. And with the purchase of one rental house, the idea of Ole South Properties was born. He bought the next one and the next one and … it’s 2015 and times are good.
This year his company is projected to sell more than 800 homes and the lessons he learned from previous missteps make his company one of the strongest in the region. Now lean, nimble and systems focused, John took lessons learned from Winn-Dixie and lessons learned from 2007.
John understood that going your own way requires you look for a defining moment, recognize that it could be your starting point for goodness or even greatness and move forward by going your own way.