Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Planting Seeds – our harvest of hope

Garden 1

Our garden

Spring! It’s the time of year I look forward to most of all. While I spend my weekdays working at the chamber, I look forward to those weekends when I can travel down to our family farm in Rock Hill and work in the garden that I have toiled in for almost five decades.

My passion for gardening began as a little boy when my Grandfather Russell first had me plant watermelon seeds in his garden. At the age of seven, I was creating little hills with my small hands, dropping in my precious seeds, and waiting for that day when I could plunge my fingers into a delicious Crimson Sweet.

Granddaddy didn’t confess up front all the work that went into harvesting that plump juicy melon. Instead, over the years, he broke me in slowly. By the age of 16, I was helping both Grandfathers (Russell and Feemster) with their gardens. Typically, on Good Friday (but never rotten Saturday), we planted our seeds and sometimes our plants that yielded the corn, tomatoes, beans, melons, squash, cucumbers, and peppers that we hopefully harvested later that summer.

A few weeks ago, I listened as a couple of local entrepreneurs shared the challenges they faced with their small business and I couldn’t help but realize the similarities between those aspiring entrepreneurs and any determined farmer.

First and foremost, it all starts with that single seed. For many entrepreneurs it might begin with a credit card and a dream sitting at a kitchen table. I still remember Jim Engel, the President of Aquesta Bank, sharing how the Lake Norman-based bank started in the basement of his home. Like most entrepreneurs, he began with a vision, surrounding himself with a close knit team, facing challenge after challenge, on their journey to success.

Both the farmer and the entrepreneur will put in long hours and hard work and for a farmer the heat, weeds, and critters will challenge you every step of the way.


Bill Russell working the garden.

Farmers can usually recount the one good year versus all the bad. They must be patient and optimistic, realizing that perhaps next year can be better than this year.

As a farmer, you pray for good weather, and in some years it seems, the sweat and tears were about the only moisture that kissed the soil that whole summer. Yet, the risks should never be obstacles from pursuing your dream. They are merely steps along the way and we learn from each and every one.

Entrepreneurs face a new challenge every day. Challenges which require perseverance and creativity. There are no shortcuts to success. Instead, they toil each day, creating new relationships, and nurturing existing ones.

Perhaps there is no better example of entrepreneurship than Tom and Vickie VanWingerden who immigrated to Huntersville from The Netherlands. They started their business in 1972 with a 20,000 sq. ft. greenhouse on Old Statesville Rd. That 1 acre plastic covered structure has blossomed today into Metrolina Greenhouses which employs 725 people year round and another 600 seasonally. It is also largest single-site heated greenhouse in the United States at 162 acres under roof. Quite an accomplishment for a farmer and entrepreneur!

My grandfather was never a wealthy man. Just an old country farmer who toiled from sun up to sun down. Yet, he taught me a great deal – not just about farming, but life.   Anyone can plant a seed, but it takes a farmer or an entrepreneur to envision what it can become. It takes passion, perseverance, and yes, luck. But in the end, the fruit of our labor is the harvest of hope.

Bill Russell, Huntersville

The above post ran as a column “Idea Exchange” in the March 29, 2017 issue of The Lake Norman Citizen Newspaper page 33.

April 4, 2017 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Asoh Defense – Speak the Truth

This past January, an airbus 320, flown by USAir Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, ditched his plane in the waters off the Hudson River on a flight bound for Charlotte, NC.  There were no serious injuries to the 155 aboard.

Shiga-overviewNow, almost forgotten is a similar flight that occurred November 22, 1968.  It’s been more than forty years since Captain Kohie Asoh, the Japan Air Lines Pilot, landed his DC-8 jet with 96 passengers and 11 crew members, two and a half miles out in the San Francisco Bay but in nearly exact compass line with the runway.  Captain Asoh landed the jet so gently that many of the passengers were unaware they were in the water until a sailboat appeared on the port bow.  No one was hurt.  No one was bruised.  No one even got their feet wet when passengers were taken off in inflatable rafts.  While the jet itself was not damaged.  It had to be salvaged before the corrosive salt took its toil.  Regardless of how competently he piloted the jet, a veteran pilot with over 10,000 hours, the fact that he landed the plane 2 ½ miles in the bay upset more than a few people.

Shortly thereafter, the National Transportation Safety Board held a hearing to determine the guilt for the deed.  Attorneys and the media scrambled to San Francisco representing their clients.  When Asoh took the stand, the investigator asked, “Captain Asoh, can you explain in your own words how you managed to land that DC-8 jet 2 ½ miles out in San Francisco Bay in perfect compass line with the runway?”  Asoh’s reply was. “As you Americans say, Asoh screwed up!”  Actually his comment was a bit more colorful, but I’m trying not to offend here.

According to the story, all that could be said was in that brief reply and the judge adjourned the hearing.  Apparently Asoh was not aware of the American philosophy of never apologize…never take blame…never explain.  We live in a business society which does not approve of failure.  How many times have military officers been passed over for promotion because of a single blemish on their record.  I’m not speaking of repeated mistakes, just an honest error or failed attempt.

Would Richard Nixon have resigned if he had appeared before the American People and fessed up to the Watergate break-in?  Would the Challenger 225px-Richard_Nixonaccident have occurred if the problem with the “O” rings had not been covered up?  The good news is many companies, particularly small businesses are practicing “Grace – the ability to forgive an error.”  Some companies are expunging records after a certain lapse of time.

The business community must provide a routine to wipe the slate clean periodically, removing adverse personnel actions from employee files.  Employees should be encouraged to acknowledge mistakes, to correct them before it significantly hampers the future efficiency of the business or organization.

Captain Asoh had the courage to assume responsibility for his own actions.  He didn’t blame others for his mistakes.  More than four decades later we need to learn from Captain Asoh, who by the way continued to fly for Japan Airlines without further incident until his retirement.  Innovation does not come from doing the same thing over and over again.  Innovation will be met with mistakes, errors, and failed attempts,  But it is through that process that we grow and learn.  I say set your goals high and shoot for the stars.  That way if you only reach the sky you’ve left the ground and cleared the treetops!

May 22, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , | Leave a comment

The Rooster and the Fox

fox In a land far away there is a story told of the Rooster and the Fox.  The fox was walking through a farmyard one morning and heard the rooster crow.  The rooster was perched high on top of a barn out of reach from the wily fox.    “Mr. Rooster,” said the fox politely.  “It is so nice to see you on this wonderful sunny morning.  Please come down from your perch so that we might chat a bit.”

 The rooster was suspicious about the friendly fox and replied, “I dare not fly down as so many animals might try to have me for breakfast.”     “You mean you have not heard the news?” asked the fox.  “All the animals have agreed to live in peace and no one will hurt you now.”

The rooster wanted to believe the fox but was surprised he had not heard of such a development.  He craned his neck and looked out on the horizon.  The fox took notice and asked. “What’s so interesting that you’re ignoring my invitation?”

The rooster informed the fox, “It seems we are to have company.  A pack of hounds are headed this way.”     “Please excuse me,” the fox replied anxiously, “but I must tend to something back at my den.”INGDMYFS0802

The rooster said, “Don’t go now Mr. Fox.  I was just coming down to chat a while with you and the dogs about this remarkable peace plan.”     “It might be possible,” the fox said as he scampered away, “that the hounds haven’t heard yet of the plan!”

Aesop’s fable has transcended time and the morals are just as true today as they were in his time – The worst liars often get tangled in their own lies.   We are living in a time where information is at the touch of a keyboard.  News is provided at the touch of a remote or mouse.  Some of the information is accurate and some of it is not.  Eyewitnesses to the same event can leave with different impressions of what occurred.  Stories retold can leave out significant details which change the context of what might have occurred or what was said.

In the end, we are left with one true business moral from the fable – Trust your instincts and don’t believe everything you read and hear.     As a manager, supervisor, or leader in your organization you need to listen carefully to what you are being told.  Examine the source of the information and weigh it carefully using your own instincts.  Eventually the truth wins the day and those who practice deceit  are caught in  a web of their making.  And the leader who understands that moral will be around to crow another day.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , , | 1 Comment