When I say that profits are at the core of the noble calling of distribution, I say it because, without profits, businesses don’t exist. This is why profits is the last of the 7 ethos of the noble calling of distribution.
Consumers have been asking important questions in the last year, especially during the pandemic, about the vast divide between large-scale businesses and the consumers they’re serving. As Jeff Bezos’ net worth climbed during the pandemic, consumers began to ask questions about the value of capitalism and the impact of business. The narrative says that profits are bad, especially when we see company leaders’ fortunes grow at exponential rates while many struggled with layoffs and closing businesses in 2020.
I want to ensure there is a proper discussion, context, and understanding that profits are a complex and essential part of any business, and businesses need them to survive, to pay their employees, and to grow. To in fact be noble.
The vast majority of distributors in our country are not Jeff Bezos—in fact, the closest I got to Jeff during the We Supply America tour was when he flew overhead during the launch of his space tourism endeavors. And I’m not trying to hate on Jeff—his innovation and growth from online book sales to corporate giant, and now into space travel, is impressive. But we need to understand is that profits are nuanced. How Amazon and other major corporations manage their profits isn’t synonymous with the way small and mid-size independent distribution companies drive and manage profits. The context is different and the goals are unique to each individual business.
The distribution industry is full of noble, independent business owners who aren’t making money off the backs of their staff—they’re earning profits with their staff and with their customers. The money they make as business owners gets reinvested into their companies so that they can create the 6 million meaningful and well-paying jobs throughout distribution in this country. And beyond using profits to pay salaries and compensation for their staff, their profits are also invested in new innovations and technologies that enable them to create the growth that further provides career advancement for their employees. Their profits drive the local economies where their employees live, and enable them to support charities, invest in their clients success, and more.
Indiana Oxygen CEO Wally Brant is very candid about the necessity of profits. We took a stroll down the Indiana speedway and he told me about his transition to leading the multi-generational family-owned company and the obstacles along the way. At the beginning of his time as CEO, he almost lost the company—they nearly had to declare bankruptcy. Having to lay off employees during this period really fueled him to get the company back on track.
Now he ties profits to his ability to support his staff. During the pandemic, his strong handle on driving profits responsibly and consistently enabled him to retain and pay his staff all the way through the pandemic, even as other companies were having massive layoffs.
The other element of profits that Wally and I discussed is how companies need profit to stay independent. Many companies agree to be sold or acquired so that they can stay afloat, but in some cases, this shift will negatively affect the vision and direction of the company as well as the jobs of employees. While being sold or acquired can be a good option and breathe life into a business, it often involves compromise over the direction and control of the company, and independent owners have to weigh the costs and benefits (literally and figuratively) of this change. Wally is aware that staying independent allows him to drive his family’s legacy and protect his employees’ job security—and he accomplishes both of these goals through driving profits.
Business ownership is an incredible part of the American Dream—independent business ownership even more so. During the filming of our seventh episode at Hill & Markes, I spoke with CEO Jason Packer about profits. We were standing on a bridge over the Mohawk River in Amsterdam, NY, taking in these incredible views, and I asked him, “What is this all about?”
Without batting an eye, he said, “Freedom.”
For Jason, and many others in this industry, being able to own a business and maintain its profitability is one of the gifts of living in a country with an economy driven by the free market. Jason said he sees it this way: they’re in business so that they can grow the wages of their employees, to give them opportunities for advancement, and to enable financial security and prosperity. By doing this, companies are enabling their employees to live the lives they want to live—giving them freedom.
Profits enable freedom.
Noble businesses, like Hill & Markes, Indiana Oxygen and so many others that I visited on the We Supply America tour use their profits to give their employees freedom—they empower their employees to take control of their own lives and destinies through financial security and growth opportunities. And the financial success of these businesses spans past their own employees to the families of their employees, the customers that they support and supply, and the communities that they create jobs for.
Profits are noble. When companies are run to drive success for their employees and their customers, and profits are shared and reinvested, profits—money—isn’t the root of all evil like it is so commonly mischaracterized. It is a tool that enables people to live freely. Business and the free market that enables business development and growth is so closely tied to the American dream because, in many ways, it is about liberty. People are empowered to make their own choices, think freely, achieve their unique goals, be the people they want to be, fulfill their potential, and accomplish their dreams. Successful, profitable distribution businesses make this possible. These businesses built this country, and they continue to be the backbone of our economy.
Distribution is a platform for freedom. It’s a platform for independence. That’s what distribution is, the industry that supplies and builds this country, that gives every single one of us the ability to be free.