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The economy -- just another challenge

By "Your Business" anchor JJ Ramberg:

Earlier this week I hosted a panel for NJ Entrepreneur about turning hurdles into opportunities.

The room was filled with entrepreneurs, many of whom said that although the economy is a worry, as business owners they're used to dealing with challenges.

Paul Lewis, a serial entrepreneur who founded four companies (two of which he took public, and two of which were acquired by Fortune 500 companies) is working on his fifth company. He had some heartbreaking but wonderfully inspiring (and quite funny in the way he told them) stories about the many challenges his companies have had to overcome.

First, there was the Blizzard of 1996. It caused the roof of his New Jersey office building to cave in. His entire inventory was in the office. All of his computers were in the office. And although he ran a company that helped people back up their files, all of his back-up files were in the office.

While Lewis' space was still intact, the police condemned the building and he was unable to get in to get his things. A few weeks later, he and a few close employees snuck into the building in the middle of the night to gather everything. Then they moved from a very large office into a very small one. Talk about getting to know your staff!

As he tells the story, though, the company came out of the experience much stronger. Employees that used to never see each other now communicated every day. And it became clear in that closed space what (and who) was working and what (and who) was not.

Then, there was the time his VP stole all of the clients from his Los Angeles office.

Lewis hired someone to open the office in order to broaden the company's client base. One day, out of nowhere, that employee called and said he was quitting the company for health reasons, effective immediately. Paul jumped on a plane to get things in order. When he arrived at the office, he found a piece of paper where his former employee had jotted down his plans to take over the business (including the script he recited to Paul about having health issues). Paul said he was shocked, but had to put the whole thing behind him rather quickly in order to continue to grow his business.

He had many stories to tell, and he's a wonderful storyteller. They were riveting to listen to. You'll have the chance to listen to Paul yourself sometime soon because I invited him to be a panelist on our show in the upcoming weeks. 
The other panelists also shared their experiences -- many of times when their companies were on the edge of failure.

When discussing the panel ahead of the event, the organizer asked me to touch on the economy, but not to dwell on it. Given the stories I heard, I think she was right. As things right now are hard for so many small businesses, I think it's a good time to remember that while it's not easy, you can certainly turn hurdles into opportunities.

Do you have any stories of adversity or good fortune to share?