Early in his career, Bruce Watley was like the Ty Pennington of the business world. He’d buy businesses, tear them down and build them back up better than ever before. And then he’d sell them for a profit and move on to the next one. But while Pennington may make flipping houses look easy on Extreme Home Makeover, Watley’s story makes it clear that making over a business is no small task.
His career began when he graduated from college and joined his father in business. Together, he and his father bought Knight Rifles in Centerville, Iowa, taking the company from the edge of bankruptcy to being number one in its industry. He then bought and repeated this process with two businesses of his own.
So what is Watley’s secret to a successful business makeover? The first step, he says, is identifying the need for change. “First, you have to recognize the problem,” Watley advises. “It’s really hard to do anything until you recognize the problem and what you have to do to fix it.”
While successfully owning two companies, Watley spent 225-230 days a year on the road. Eventually, he felt the need for a change that would allow him to spend more time with his three sons. “With the sheer amount of time I was on the road having to devote to business, I felt like I was missing out on the kids’ years,” he says. “That was really the deciding factor. Family was more important than making a buck.”
So in 2007, Watley sold his business and made over his career. He decided to take the business lessons he learned from his father and pass them on to aspiring entrepreneurs. In 2010, Watley took a teaching position in the University of Sioux Falls entrepreneurial studies department, where he now works full time.
Although the transition was drastic, Watley says that many skills he learned in his first career have carried over. “There are a lot of similarities to managing and running a classroom as there are to managing and operating a business,” he points out. “You are able to be creative, to manage people and projects and to brainstorm and share ideas.”
But whether he’s teaching students, making over businesses or advising entrepreneurs, Watley has one piece of advice that he believes applies to everyone: “Find something you are passionate about and just do it!”
Sue Ford, entrepreneur and Executive Director of Sales & Marketing Executives (SME) Inc., of Sioux Falls, is the kind of person who doesn’t just think outside the box – she thrives outside the box.
Take her daughter’s wedding, for example. Not only did Ford plan most of the event, but she even made the bride’s dress, transforming 30 yards of silk taffeta into a beautiful gown with only a pair of scissors and no pattern.
“I enjoy anything that allows me to be creative,” Ford says. “I’m able to see a bolt of fabric as an end creation.”
Both vision and creativity are necessary skills in Ford’s field. At SME, she’s constantly planning corporate events with the help of volunteers – from large-scale business functions, such as the SME Women in Business® event for up to 1,600 people, to small networking mixers for 50 people. Much like creating her daughter’s wedding dress, Ford needs to envision the end result of whatever event she’s planning, and then work through each small detail until everything is accounted for.
Managing those details is a main priority of her job, Ford says. To ensure everything runs smoothly, she keeps a thorough to-do list and sticks to it.
Despite her efficient methods, this kind of work can be incredibly stressful, she admits. On any given day, Ford is managing finances, planning multiple events, selling ads, arranging speaker accommodations, launching invites and RSVPs, negotiating with a possible facility, and tracking lastminute changes to an upcoming function. About a month prior to a large event, Ford says her stress level can easily “reach a 10!”
“It’s a lot of work,” Ford says. “But I love the fact that I’m involved with very bright people, and I’m always learning something from them or from the speakers we bring in for our events. That’s what I love most about my job.”
According to Ford, having a quality speaker is the most important part of her business functions. Ford’s events have consistently attracted wellknown national speakers, including Vicki Lawrence, Erin Brockovich, Jane Seymour, Lisa Ling, and Mary Lou Retton.
Ford also encourages businesses that are planning events to ask around for ideas, so they can learn what works and what doesn’t. This is an important step—whether the event is an office holiday party, a board meeting or a corporate conference.
“The biggest mistake I see from businesses planning an event is not seeking advice from someone who’s done it before – even if it’s just their friends and peers,” she says. “You can learn from them what the obstacles are.”
After 10 years in the business, Ford certainly knows her way around the obstacles to planning a perfect event. But despite the fact that she’s planned hundreds of functions, the feeling she has on the day of an event – when she sees all of her hard work put into action – never gets old.
“There are times when I’m almost in tears,” she says. “To see everything being executed so smoothly by our committee members – that’s very heartwarming. It’s fun to see all of our hard work come together. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Q & A with Darrin Smith
Director, Community Development
City of Sioux Falls
Why is Sioux Falls a great place to attract businesses and people from other cultures?
The Midwestern work ethic remains strong within our community, and this, combined with our stable regulatory and business friendly tax environment in addition to good schools and high quality of life, makes Sioux Falls very appealing. Sioux Falls continues to grow at a steady pace of about 3,000 additional citizens each year.
How does bringing in more international business benefit local business people here?
By bringing more businesses into Sioux Falls that conduct international trade, opportunities for new job creation will continue to grow. This results in more production of goods and improves companies’ bottom-lines, which enables our economy to diversify and grow.
How many different nationalities are represented here?
Currently, 150 various nationalities contribute to our economy. Many of these individuals are employed by our local industries and service providers while some have chosen to start their own private businesses.
How is Sioux Falls working to attract international business into our community?
The leaders of our city continue to seek and attract both domestic and overseas businesses that conduct international trade – both of which are looking to increase their production through relocation or expansion. Some of the advantages to locating into our city: its proximity to both Interstates 29 and 90, its outstanding medical facilities, public and private school systems, higher educational facilities, its diversity of industries, its newly improved airport, its low crime rate and the high quality of life that it offers. Also, South Dakota is an extremely “business friendly” state as it doesn’t have corporate or personal income taxes, personal property, business inventory or inheritance taxes