People’s lives and livelihoods are actually in your hands. It’s not actually your company, just because you own it. Every time I have had to let someone go, deserved or circumstances, it felt like a little piece of me got lost too. It’s impossible to work in a small company, to grow it, and not care for the people you work with.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Crames.
After 5 years as an Assistant State Attorney in Dade County Florida, Mark entered private practice where he represented a number of fragrance distribution companies.
In 1986 he co-founded Northern Group, a distributor of fine fragrance. In 2002 he purchased Demeter Fragrance Library with his partner, Debra Janke, and together they have grown that business to a worldwide niche fragrance brand.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Pure serendipity. After 5 years as a criminal prosecutor, I became a trial lawyer who happened to represent a number of fragrance companies in trademark litigation. That led to work as General Ousley for a fragrance company, to founding my own distribution company, to buying Demeter in 2002. That I would eventually become to perfumer was unimaginable and never intended
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Our hard times were not at the start, but the Great Recession in 2008. Sitting in November of understanding there were no Holiday orders coming was the hardest moment of my career…until now…
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
For us, there was no choice. Our entire extended family eats because of Demeter. Failure, or at least giving up, was not an option.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things were fine -strong and growing until Coronavirus. Grit, resilience and simply stubbornness saw us through. There was no great story. A hundred small decisions and a willingness to pack boxes didn’t hurt.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We make wearable fragrances With names like Dirt and Pizza, and our best selling scent is Baby Powder. Nuff said…
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
You MUST have an hour a day that is totally yours. I don’t care if you play music or listen to it. I don’t care if you walk in the forest, do yoga or play a video game. But if you don’t have a regular plan to turn off, you will not be a great boss or a great significant other. You just will not be able to bring it all the time, and you will miss opportunities and make unnecessary mistakes
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
One of my mentors, who had run large public companies, told me people already wanted to follow me-my obligation was to tell them where we were going and then help them get there-not to tell them how to get there. Do the vision thing-because it works.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
While we have done our share of charitable work, I have always taken a relatively narrow view of my circle-that the job was to take care of the needs of the family, our employees, and our customers. If I did that, I always felt I made my contribution. And if we can grow and horse more people, and have more families eat at our table, all the better.
In the past month, when we converted our perfume factory to make hand sanitizer, we made our greatest charitable contributions ever to first responders.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- How terrifying it is to make a regular payroll. And this was before the Age of Coronavirus.
- That the government is your full partner the entire way.
- Once my last company hit $100,000,000 there was a separate conference room, just for the auditors-banks, sales tax, state, federal-you name it, everyone wants their piece.
- People’s lives and livelihoods are actually in your hands. It’s not actually your company, just because you own it. Every time I have had to let someone go, deserved or circumstances, it felt like a little piece of me got lost too. It’s impossible to work in a small company, to grow it, and not care for the people you work with.
- Unless it turns out you are Bill Gates, put cash away. There will be many more rainy days than you realize. As anyone running a business in the Age of Coronavirus painfully understands.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Eliminate hunger in America. We have the food, we have the resources, and somehow we do not have the infrastructure. It makes no sense to me that anyone should ever go hungry in America during anything like normal times when the subnormal supply chain is in place. Then it is just a matter of national will.
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