Lessons From My Grandfather

“Relationships are everything.” My grandfather has told me this thousands of times, ever since I first understood what it meant to be personable. When it comes to doing business, my grandfather has bestowed in me valuable lessons about how two people should conduct themselves and find success in what they are trying to achieve. Whether it is a formal meeting behind a desk, or a lunch meeting on a Friday, the way you present and handle yourself is everything. My grandfather, who is now in his 90’s spent his whole life since he was 16 doing business with others and building great relationships on top of it.

Being 22 & fresh out of college, there is nothing I appreciate more than wisdom from a man who has seen life from not only a different generation’s perspective, but also from a different world. He was born and raised in Vienna, Austria until he and his family immigrated the United States – but not before living through the Nazi invasion. While his family was not Jewish by religion, they were by blood, which prevented my grandfather from ever graduating from high school. Starting at age 15, he worked at a service station until one day the owner told him that he was taking a job elsewhere & gave my grandfather full responsibility for operating the station. Even at such a young age, my grandfather took over the service station, and managed it until he came over to the United States in 1939, when he began working at a lamp factory in Cleveland.

This was only the next opportunity for my grandfather, and while working at the factory in his new land, he began to learn English – and even found love. Only two weeks later, fate led him to my grandmother. A short time after that, he enlisted in the U.S. army and became a member of a mysterious, elite team that was so secretive in its mission, it was known only as PO Box 1142. My grandfather’s team was responsible for listening in on conversations of German Prisoners of War who were stationed there. No one else knew what PO Box 1142 did – it was all highly confidential because the work was very important to the war effort.

After leaving the army, my grandfather worked for the Motch & Merryweather Machinery Company and then left to join Pesco Products, a division of Borg Warner Corporation as a Senior Buyer. Ultimately, Picker X Ray asked him to provide non-magnetic stainless steel tools for the MRI. He and a German business acquaintance went into business together and became the sole importers of such products; 2 years later, his partner developed the only titanium tool line available, and they successfully sold that product for 15 years.

My grandfather’s valuable knowledge and wisdom that he shares with me to this day helps me strive for great relationships with everyone that I do business with now and in the future. I owe much of my personal and professional demeanor to my grandparents and one day I will be able to pass that along to my own children. I personally believe you cannot do good business without showing others your own commitment to and strong belief in what you are selling. Even today my grandfather takes me with him when he meets with different people, just to prove how right his statement is. Relationships in business may start with a simple handshake but end with a partnership for years to come.

ethan gpa

Me & my grandfather at my recent college graduation.

Contributed by Ethan Tanney. All photos are the author’s own & may not be reproduced without permission.


Free Your Time

Every day, I feel blessed to meet inspiring business owners through my work at RSVP. Each of them started their business with some passion, end goal or dream in mind. Each story shares that uniquely American can-do spirit & independence. I hear things like:

  • “I was tired of the corporate rat race.”
  • “Why work for someone else when I can work for myself?”
  • “I want to create a legacy.”

But their reasons run even deeper than that. At the heart of their decision to strike out on their own is the desire for a sense of control over their lives and futures. They year for independence, yet they find themselves working harder, burning the candle at both ends, no end to the workday, perpetually tethered to the business they created & nurtured. Instead of resting easy they lay awake thinking about hiring new employees or tackling the next big project, answering emails in the wee hours of the morning or at their kid’s soccer practice.


“OK, we do monkey bars until 3:15, then the slide from 3:30-3:40, and that should give us enough time to have juice & crackers before our 4:00 meeting with Mom regarding your most recent finger-painting performance.”

That original laser-focused dream that started it all becomes a little cloudy in the weary mind of that business owner. Now she may be totally in charge of her own destiny now, but she’s somehow a little more out of control. And yet she still has the same spark of passion and energy that inspires her to get up every day and do it all again, living the madness to create her dream for herself. Despite the unique challenges and struggles that come along with being an entrepreneur, most are proud and wouldn’t trade the freedom that comes along with it for the world.

Our conversations often turn to the real reason they’re working so hard: the freedom to do what they want with their downtime. The desire to be able to take a vacation without requesting time off from someone else, relying on another person’s approval. Common escapes include foreign travels, a beach, a lake, camping. Living a life of pleasure & relaxation in a place of peace & serenity. A place to reboot & recharge. I have to smile when I hear that their escapes are often jam-packed with activity, from adventure sports, boating, or other adrenaline-pumping, white-knuckle, edge-of-the-seat activity.  It isn’t surprising that the same business owners who pour their passion into creating & sustaining a business during working hours tend to approach their downtime with the same fervor.


For example, this is how I relax.

But it takes time, dedication, and delegation – and delegation seems to be the hardest part! For business owners whose ventures are in their infancy or growing years, these escapes must be postponed. Sometimes it may be for personal reasons – “We’re waiting until the kids are a little older before we buy a cabin on the lake.” – but often it’s for professional reasons. They have to wait until such-and-such employee is able to handle the workload – or even have to wait until their business grows enough to hire employees! Other business owners have grown their company & begun to hand the reins over to capable individuals. These owners are enjoying their time, living in the moment…and looking back, they wish they would’ve done it sooner.  They wish they would’ve spent more time with their children and escaped from the daily grind even if that grind is one they created for themselves. If you’re nervous about delegating business responsibilities to others so that you can enjoy the life you’ve created for yourself, let Entrepreneur magazine help you out with their 4-step guide!

In his book The 4-Hour Workweek, author Tim Ferriss recommends to readers to not to work until retirement, but rather to live your retirement a little each week. Build those little escapes into your life so you can enjoy them now, rather than waiting for some undetermined future date – when you hire more people, open another location, add another service. I know it’s hard to believe, but work can wait.  What may seems like an urgent problem requiring your attention RIGHT NOW, TODAY may simply work itself out in the hands of capable & trusted employees if only you would make like Elsa & let it go.


And now the song is in your head. No need to thank us.

So as my family & I pack up and head to the lake this Fourth of July season, I’ll be counting my blessings: not just my own personal or professional success, but also our nation’s independence, and our country’s long history of encouraging men & women to make their own way by doing things their own way, freeing us to create the life of our dreams. I like to think that the fantastic fireworks displays with all their awe-inspiring moments of “Ooh!”s and “Ahh!”s are symbolic of these blessings, and a reminder to keep your head up, dream big, be grateful, and be present.

I hope these business owners see it the same way, and that they continue to work to fulfill their dreams, but remember to get away and savor the here & now.

Contributed by Heather Craaybeek.




Image sources: 1, 2 and 3. Frozen copyright Disney 2013.



Feeling “Sew” Creative!


Image found on pintrest.com.

I have worked at RSVP for 12 years now, and I still love my job (not many people can say one of those things, let along both of them – I’m lucky!). Every day is a little different. Over the years I have been fortunate to wear many hats in the business: bookkeeper, salesperson, general manager, etc. One of my favorite hats was that of graphic designer. I wasn’t awesome at it, but I wasn’t terrible, either. I did pretty well for myself, and not only did I enjoy having a break from the dollars & cents I normally focus on, I also found it was a fun creative outlet. Our business has grown in the years since I wore the graphic designer hat, and we now have an amazing graphic design team that handles our increased artwork load, which means I have fewer & fewer opportunities to be Jodie Hook, RSVP Graphic Designer. That has allowed me to focus on what I am best at, but I felt I had lost my creative outlet.

That is, until recently.

This past November, I decided I didn’t like any of the pajama options out there for my 9 month old baby. She’s big for her age, and the stores’ offerings were just not cutting it. On a whim, I decided I could make some for her. I had taken sewing lessons one summer in middle school. It was something I excelled at but didn’t make much time for; I made a few Halloween costumes in college, but nothing since then. I moved forward with Operation: Baby Pajamas. I found a pattern with a zipper online, and I even modified it to add fold-over cuffs. I felt a real sense of pride after I finished this first project.


The pajamas that started it all!


It felt so right, and I knew that I had found my true creative outlet & passion. I started waking up early & staying up late to work on sewing projects for my kids, challenging myself with more difficult or intricate work each time.  My kids were amazed – granted, one of the great thing about kids is that they are easily impressed.


An outfit I made as a birthday gift for my youngest child.


I continued sewing for my friends and family, and when I would proudly tell people that my sons & daughters were wearing something I made, I started hearing that I should sell my creations. I played with the idea for a little bit and decided, “Why not?” Why not take something I love doing, and that I am good at, and not only make a little money from it, but – more importantly – share my labor of love with others?

A fun Hello Kitty-themed craft bag I made as a gift for a friend's daughter on her birthday.

A fun Hello Kitty-themed craft bag I made as a gift for a friend’s daughter on her birthday.

While I really wanted to jump head first in & get started, I also realized there was more to it than just making stuff & selling it. After some research, I discovered there were multiple law of compliance to make sure that children’s clothing is safe. After starting the process in January, I am finally ready to take the plunge!

As I start this adventure, I have a few tips for anyone else getting started:

  • Do your research. If you are selling anything, you need to make sure it’s safe, especially if it’s for children. Be sure to check any federal, state, and local regulations that apply to what you want to do.
  • As the saying goes, the only certainties in life are death & taxes, so be sure to track everything from the very beginning. This includes inventory, expenses, and the like. This will make your life much easier once tax season rolls around and you have to give Uncle Sam his dues.
  • Most importantly, make sure it’s something you love, and will continue to love for years to come. Otherwise, you’ll burn out & what started out as a labor of love will become just another chore or task you have to do, but don’t enjoy doing.

I’m looking forward to the road ahead, and am excited to share my love of sewing with others!’

One of my more recent creations: a colorful bear-print t-shirt for one of my sons.

One of my more recent creations: a colorful bear-print t-shirt for one of my sons.

Contributed by Jodie Hook.

Simon Sinek quote picture found on Pintrest.com here.