Veterans are 45% more likely to own a small business than those without military experience, according to a study by the Small Business Administration.
Jody Lamb, 58, a veteran of service in the Army, fits that profile. Lamb operates two Fastsigns locations in Arlington and Mansfield that provide custom signs and graphics and is co-owner of Print One in Granbury. Lamb says his stint in the military helped prepare him for business ownership, but he had plenty more to learn along the way.
“Part of my management style is making sure my people are well trained, making sure that they have the tools that they need to succeed, and then after outlining my mission to them, so to speak, giving them the ability to fulfill that mission,” he said.
A lot of that he learned in the military where he served under senior non-commissioned officers who had been involved in the Vietnam War.
“As a young squad leader, they really taught me a lot about how to have my team organized, how to make sure that they were prepared for the mission.”
Those lessons are a crucial component of how Lamb leads his teams today.
His first opportunity for leadership following his military service was with Kinko’s, a printing and shipping franchise that was later acquired by FedEx. Lamb then began to use some of what he learned in the military about leadership to the small business world. Some of it worked, and some of it just didn’t fit.
“I probably had more of that military leadership mentality in the beginning,” he said. “That is, ‘This is the way we’re going to do it. Here’s the plan. Let’s get it done.’”
That was a less effective leadership style in the world of small business where resources can sometimes be scarce.
“I don’t believe you can just take that hard-nosed approach in small business,” he said. “I’ve learned you have to treat it more like an intimate family and know what people are going through, know what your team’s going through, know their struggles outside of the business, and bring everyone together. What I do today is completely different from my first management job.”
Despite that softer approach, employees are still held accountable, he said.
He holds weekly meetings where employees examine their goals and whether they overachieved or underachieved.
“If we overachieve, we ask. ‘Why?’ If we underachieve, we ask. ‘Why?’” he said.
Lamb admits his first management experience with Kinko’s was a bit of a trial by fire.
He was in the early days and, as he admits, he wasn’t listening to other people in the organization.
“I had that, ‘This is the way Jody wants it,’ attitude, that was more military-style,” he said.
He wasn’t getting any traction, and he called his previous manager and shared his frustration. After listening to the situation, the manager told Lamb he needed to fire his best employee.
“He said, ‘You’re going to think I’m crazy,’ and I did. My best person kept the workflow going and was getting things done. But he explained that that one person was probably keeping the team from achieving their goals,” Lamb said.
Lamb was hesitant but was considering the advice when that top-ranked employee did something to warrant release.
“The choice was kind of made for me,” he said.
He held a team meeting, told them the situation and asked the others to step up.
From then on, everyone started stepping up and working together.
“We started achieving our results that we were looking to achieve,” he said. “It taught me a lot about how to look at a problem and see what was really going on.”
Sometimes organizations have an individual who is seemingly irreplaceable, but those same people may also keep others from achieving their goals, Lamb said.
“I’ve seen it happen from time to time and it does seem crazy, but that was some of the best advice I received,” Lamb said.
The experience taught him a lot about relying too much on one strong person in an organization, Lamb said.
“If you’re not looking clearly enough, you can be blindsided by some of that,” he said. “If the rest of your team is weak and you’re relying on one strong person, you’re never going to achieve the results you’re looking to achieve.”
Others have taken notice of Lamb’s leadership and entrepreneurship skills.
Lamb, originally from Michigan, came to north Texas a little over 20 years ago and worked at several printing businesses, including AlphaGraphics. He has also mentored other entrepreneurs and leaders over the years.
And he has ventured into the game of soccer, though he admits it was his wife who volunteered him.
“In the military they teach you, ‘Don’t ever step forward.’ But the rest of your team usually steps backwards and volunteers you for them.”
He was out of town on business when his wife volunteered him to coach their son’s soccer team.
“I grew up in a small community. I played football, basketball, baseball and ran track. We didn’t have soccer,” he said.
But he immersed himself in the sport and fell in love with it and continued to move up until he eventually joined the board at the North Fort Worth Soccer Association.
“To me, soccer is the perfect sport for young kids,” he said. “There’s not a lot of equipment, it’s good exercise and it’s a team sport.”
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
Davenport University, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Bachelor’s degree in in marketing
Three children, new twin granddaughters
Fast Signs, AlphaGraphics and consulting
Soccer coach and member of the North Fort Worth Soccer Association.
When he got out of the military, he worked for a video rental business.
Advice for someone learning to be a leader
“Have clear concise plans and goals and don’t just hold it to yourself. Keep reiterating it.”