Bill Jhung: Looking out for the little guy

Posted by CDA Press on Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bill Jhung, the director of the North Idaho Small Business Development Center.
Bill Jhung, the director of the North Idaho Small Business Development Center.

If it’s success stories you want, Bill Jhung is your man.  The director of the Idaho Small Business Development Center in Post Falls cites business after business that the nonprofit has assisted over the years.

There’s Alternative Molding Concepts of Post Falls.  There’s Laughing Dog Brewery in Sandpoint.  And Bullet tools in Hayden.

How do they do it? How does any business succeed?  Excellence, Jhung says. There must be excellence.

“Businesses in this economy cannot afford to be average. Customers have so many options that an average business will have trouble gaining quality repeat customers,” he wrote. “An average business has only one thing to compete with – price. A business built on low price will have difficulty with profit margin, cash flow and likely face extinction. The key to thriving and growing in a recession or in any economy is to become an extraordinary business.”

Can you outline your role at the Idaho SBDC?

Our mission is to “help business thrive and grow.” Our team is very busy and in our haste it’s easy to forget the big picture… our purpose. All to say, vision and mission buckets leak constantly. So one of my primary roles is to clarify, refresh and refill our mission and vision buckets so we stay aligned. Quality personnel is our primary resource so recruiting business executives with exceptional industry experience who deeply care about people and our community as coaches is a key priority. All of our coaches are outstanding leaders.

Each community in North Idaho has a unique make up and different needs. So cultivating a strong partnership with these communities, along with local, regional and national resource partner organizations is crucial for successful economic development. This partnership allows us to identify needs and develop new services, tools and leverage resources for businesses.

One of my favorite responsibilities is actually working face to face with CEOs and presidents of local businesses through Entrepreneurial Leadership Training program. Each year I take 20 business leaders and take them on a yearlong leadership development journey. It’s a mini-executive MBA for business owners and has been a powerful resource to help them accelerate their leadership quotient.

 How does the Idaho SBDC impact small businesses?

Running a business is an intense, consuming experience. Needs of the businesses are so numerous and urgent that owners have difficulty actually leading the business. These needs are so intense that often they overrun the lives of owners and even their families. The end result is stressful personal lives and businesses that are not high performing. We assist business leaders by clarifying personal and business goals then refining their business models to ultimately build extra-ordinary businesses that are profitable and sustainable. We accomplish that via business and leadership coaching and training.

Could you share one success story?

Good news is that we have many success stories… businesses that are thriving even during the recession.

Doug Larson, president of Alternative Molding Concepts in Post Falls is an outstanding leader. He has great industry experience and has recruited an excellent team around him. They deliver outstanding quality, service and value to their customers. Every year the demand for their services is increasing and the business is growing by leaps. In just a few years they may be one of the major employers in our community.

Laughing Dog Brewery in Sandpoint is another wonderful success story. The beer industry is a competitive, mature industry. Yet Fred Colby and Michelle Douglas are true innovators and their products are distributed not only regionally but around the country and they have started to go global.

In addition three North Idaho businesses have received some outstanding honors. Dalen Gunn the president of Bullet Tools (a manufacturing company in Hayden) was chosen as the Exporter of the Year in 2009 for the Pacific NW. Erin Yinger of A New Hope Social Services, with almost 100 employees, was chosen as the Business Person of the Year for Idaho in 2010. And in 2011, Kat Vercruyssen, owner of Comfort Keepers, was chosen as the Business Person of the Year for Idaho.

Can small businesses survive in this economy?

Absolutely! As I mentioned we have many businesses that are thriving and growing.

What would you recommend to someone considering going into business on their own?

About 75 percent of our work is with existing businesses and 25 percent with new businesses. For starting a business the most important first step would be to get hands-on experience. I am always surprised by people going into industries they have no experience in. It’s helpful to talk to people who are in the business but actual hands on experience would be crucial. The second would be to make sure you and your family are ready for the level of time, energy and financial commitment. Third, would be to prepare thoroughly like running the Ironman. Really understand the business you are going into. Plan out the first 2-3 years making sure you have adequate capital to get through the highs and lows of the first year. It’s most helpful if you have another source of income during the first year of business. Lastly, get coaching and mentoring.

How did you get into this line of work?

I used to build and run manufacturing plants, and worked with large corporations as a management consultant. I led a few businesses of my own for 10 years. And over the years my wife and I have also been involved in mentoring individuals and couples. In a way my work at the Idaho SBDC is combining 30 years of business experience with a passion of investing in people.

Were you interested in business/money/finance growing up?

Not at all. Looking back I was so unprepared for adulthood and responsibility. It really wasn’t until I was married and had children that I began to think seriously about finance, and business. When it dawned on me that I was now responsible for them into adulthood it scared me awake. My wife and I have tried to help our daughters be a little better prepared for life, finances, and careers than we had been. I believe this is an area of opportunity for many families.

What’s the biggest challenge you face at work?

With so many struggling businesses the need is great. Yet our resources are tiny in comparison. This is the smallest budget I have ever worked with in my entire career even as a rookie engineer. So we have had to be entrepreneurial. Almost half our coaching team is made up of volunteers. And likely, there are thousands of retirees in North Idaho with outstanding business skills and experience. Many want to give back and make meaningful contributions, our communities need those skills.

The biggest challenge I have is connecting with these seasoned retired executives so that they can channel their skills and experience by assisting businesses in our communities.

What are the rewards of what you do?

My team and I get to leverage our business experience to assist business owners in their leadership and business development journey. The overflow of that journey is healthy businesses that create jobs. Jobs allow employees to support their families and engage in their communities. And as owners become more effective leaders in business, those skills spill over into their families and to their communities. Our reward is seeing a stronger, more diverse economy which contributes to building healthy, thriving communities in North Idaho.

For us, the work of building a strong diverse economy begins with each business. Coaching is really about the relationship with each business owner. Sometimes coaching relationships are brief but some can stretch for years. We recognize that when business owners seek our assistance that we are not just dealing with business issues, it’s also about stewarding livelihoods of individuals and families so these relationships become precious to us. We had a client who was on the verge of going bankrupt due to lack of cash. Their receivables were over $100K but many months old. They were at their wit’s end and thinking they would be forced into bankruptcy. One of the coaches advised them on a collections process. They went back and implemented the process with huge success which they reported back with joy and celebration.

That’s our reward.

What’s down the road for you?

Our 2010 impact was about 259 jobs created and saved. Our five-year goal is to create and save 500 jobs each year. To create this level of impact we will be focusing some of our resources at the industry level.

We understand that 96 percent of consumers live outside the U.S. and 85 percent of economic growth in the next five years is expected to occur outside the U.S. There is a great opportunity in foreign markets. We want to help businesses in North Idaho to not only become tough competitors nationally we want to help some of them become global competitors. We were so fortunate to have Gene Malvino join us as our export coach. He will help businesses who are exporting to become even more effective, and help businesses who should be exporting begin this journey of going global.

In 2012 we will be adding Technology Commercialization service to assist those with innovation ideas to take them to the marketplace.

Personally, my youngest daughter Rebecca is leaving for Notre Dame in mid-August. So my wife and I are facing life without children at home for the first time in 27 years. But last Christmas morning my daughter Stephanie and son-in-law Matthew blessed us with grandson Elijah. So we are entering a new season of life.

Family: Married to Sally for 31 years. Daughters: Stephanie, Catherine, Rebecca. son-in-law, Matthew. Grandson Elijah.

Hobbies: Volleyball, biking, hiking, reading, meeting over coffee, ethnic food

Favorite authors: Too many to list. Most recent authors: ‘Love and Respect’ by Emerson Eggerichs was helpful even after 30 years of marriage. Peter Drucker’s insight on leadership and organizations is exceptional. Smithwigglesworth was a man of deep faith and his writings have been very inspirational.

Favorite book: Bible

Favorite spectator sport: Rugby, Michigan football (especially when they get a rare win)

Favorite type of music: Classical, worship, folk

Quality you admire most in a person: Authenticity

Best advice you ever received: Life is about loving God and loving people.

Any one thing you consider your greatest accomplishment: Marrying Sally. She loves me even after 31 years of marriage.

Historical figure who most influenced your life and why: Jesus. He poured His grace to me, now I can extend grace to others.

Any other person who influenced your life and why: Roger Haining, a retired dentist. He modeled for me servant leadership with family, friends and even strangers.