In 1928, Walt Disney was riding high off the phenomenal success of his cartoon character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, when the young cartoonist was dealt a stunning business setback. While in New York on business, Disney discovered that not only did his film distributor own the rights to the Oswald character, but that the company had hired away most of Disney’s animation staff. Virtually overnight, Disney’s dream had fallen apart.
As he prepared to board the train back to California, however, Disney cabled his brother: “Don’t worry. Everything OK.” And on the trip across country, he sketched out a new character – one that would become known as Mickey Mouse.
Today’s entrepreneurs and small business owners can learn from Walt Disney’s never-say-die attitude, business expert Jerry Ross told attendees at the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce’s annual breakfast, held March 4 at the Renaissance World Golf Village Resort.
“‘Don’t worry. Everything OK.’ Who thinks like that?” asked Ross, president of the National Entrepreneur Center. “We all need to start thinking like that.”
Addressing the several hundred local business and community leaders in attendance, Ross noted that 99 percent of all U.S. businesses have fewer than 100 employees.
“We’re a small business country,” he said. “So anything we can do to move small businesses to the next level is critical to strengthening communities.”
The key to reaching that next level, Ross said, is collaboration. Drawing on his experience with the National Entrepreneur Center, Ross recounted how the center was born after the September 11 terrorist attacks and consumers’ fear of flying crippled the Orlando tourism industry. With funding and support from the City of Orlando and key business partners – including Disney – the center was founded to help revive the local business economy.
Today, the center coaches thousands of businesses each year through the efforts of a dozen organizations, all of which collaborate and share office space in the center’s Orlando offices.
“At the National Entrepreneurship Center, our mission is helping small businesses move forward,” Ross said. “If someone doesn’t agree with that mission, they don’t live in my center.”
But collaboration isn’t always easy. “The day we opened with eight businesses, we had eight coffee pots in the breakroom,” Ross recalled. “So we had a funeral that afternoon for seven coffee pots. I told them, ‘If we can’t even share a coffee pot, this will never work.’”
Ross pointed to the St. Johns County Chamber’s recent initiatives – including merging with the Ponte Vedra Beach chamber, moving to new offices, increasing communication and government advocacy efforts, and implementing a three-year strategic plan – as examples of how businesses can embrace the unity of purpose that transforms “cooperation” into “collaboration.”
He also encouraged chamber members to collaborate with one another, sharing their successes and their setbacks so that others may benefit from the lessons they’ve learned.
“There are people in this room who have already gone through what you’re going through right now,” Ross said. “Business is not a solo sport. It’s a team sport, and you can’t play it alone.”
St. Johns Chamber of Commerce
Annual Breakfast Highlights
St. Johns County Chamber Chair Michael Scine outlined just a few of the benefits of chamber membership, including:
• Increased business presence through event sponsorships
• Advertising opportunities
• Ability to build relationships
“We speak with so much more volume when we speak as a group,” Scine said.
President Isabelle Rodriguez reviewed recent chamber accomplishments, including:
• Sale of chamber’s former home and move to new offices
• Visitor information center working to analyze and define the visitor experience
• Addition of Lin Jones as new head of Ponte Vedra Beach Division
• New partnership with Ponte Vedra Recorder to increase communications
• Greater advocacy under the direction of Government Relations Manager Bob Porter