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Distribution Management

By Jason Bader

A few years ago, a client recommended a book to me: “Ego is the Enemy,” by Ryan Holiday. It’s one of those grandiose titles that immediately makes my eyes roll. I thought, here we have some know-it-all stating the obvious in a 250-page “business” self-help book.

Recently, I have been coming up against some challenging situations in my practice regarding struggling family businesses and owners killing themselves to keep the ship afloat. Not every company is living in the postpandemic days of wine and roses. A lot of them are struggling to find themselves and create their identity. Needless to say, the subject of ego has arisen many times and it drove me back to this book recommendation. So, I read it – well a condensed version of it – and I realized that much of the misalignment I was seeing in these companies was steeped in the curse of ego. How does ego prevent us from building a successful distribution organization? Can entrepreneurs succeed without a manageable dose of ego?

Over the past few years, I have worked with a few small business owners who have found themselves at a crossroads. Should they pour enormous time and resources into an entity that might be better off sold? Is the juice worth the squeeze? First-generation founders would cringe at this notion. Hard work and dedication will always prevail. Businesses only fail when complacence and negligence enter the culture.

I’m not sure I agree. The technology arms race, the changing desires of the workforce and the challenges of global supply may be too great an obstacle to overcome. For many companies, all the elbow grease in the world isn’t going to save them. The trouble is, the next generation owners of these entities have been conditioned to believe that putting the company in the hands of another is a failure. In some instances, I have seen owners so overcome with guilt about a possible sale that they pull out of a deal that would likely save the entity and those who depend on it for their income. That’s not leadership. It’s pure ego.

Over the years, I have been asked many times what a struggling business owner should do. This can be a challenge for me, to be brutally honest. This was especially true early in my advisory career. I bought into the notion that there was always something I could do, or say, to bring them out of a tailspin. That was my ego wanting a certain outcome. It wasn’t that my heart was in the wrong place; I truly wanted them to succeed. The failure was my inability to recommend what was really best for the client. In many cases, the best advice I could have given was to clean up the books and get their company on the market. Ego is a fear-driven emotion masking itself as strength.

Is it really a failure to sell your family business? This is a scary one, and I suspect that it resonates with many next-generation owners. Come on, let’s be honest. When we see a next-generation owner “sell out” to a private equity firm or other consolidator, don’t we experience some degree of negative thought? Sure, we congratulate our colleague, but we still whisper behind their back. Even though it is the absolute right thing to do for the financial health of the entity, it always comes with a little tarnish. In privately-held companies, and this is very true in the distribution arena, we don’t respect the passing of a business. This is ego getting the upper hand on better judgement.

When ego-based thinking takes hold, failure is seen as the worst possible outcome, but it’s a way to move on to a better path. Therefore, we must be at peace with failure.

Entrepreneurism is all about taking risks. Don’t our greatest learning moments come when we step outside of conventional thought and method? By its very nature, risk invites failure. I like to tell people that business failures are simply tuition. I must pay my tuition to get an education. Some lessons are more expensive, but they all involve tuition.

Abandon ego’s attachment to success. Becoming fixated on the outcome will only lead to disappointment, frustration, and resentment. When we become selfish, self-centered and take credit for organizational successes, ego is coming out to play. Falling into its trap will prevent you from reaching your creative potential.

Humility is the antithesis of ego. My favorite definition of humility is the ability to remain teachable. Become a student of your organizational challenges. Study how others overcome these challenges. And remember, it’s ok to ask for help. Good luck, and know that I am always here to share my experience.

Jason Bader, the principal of The Distribution Team, is a holistic distribution advisor who is passionate about helping business owners solve challenges, generate wealth and achieve goals. He speaks at industry events and provides executive coaching services. Episodes of his Distribution Talk podcast are at and most podcast apps. He can be reached at (503) 282-2333, via email at or through his website:

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2023, Direct Business Media.


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