After 27 years serving his country in the United States Marine Corps, Colonel Lou Puleo set out on a new mission, creating jobs and career opportunities for veterans and their families. After exploring other business ventures, Lou found that franchising was the best match for his personal S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis and is now set to open the first of several fitness clubs as a Workout Anytime franchisee.
With Veterans Day approaching, I wanted to share how a retired United States Marine Corps Colonel arrived at the decision to build his own corporate ladder in the civilian world.
LK: I am sure it’s not easy to encapsulate your military career into a few sentences, but please share a bit about your experience as a Marine Officer.
Col.: Being in the military has been an extremely rewarding and educational experience. You cannot avoid feeling extremely fortunate to serve with some of the hardest working, most dedicated and honorable people this country has to offer. You learn early on, success is achieved through training, education, and teamwork. The trademarks of all Marines...honor, courage and commitment become a way of life. While I believe Marines are a special breed, all service members share this commitment to excellence, a common heritage and a sense of duty.
LK: Have you always wanted to own your own business?
Col.: Yes, for two reasons. From a family perspective, I wanted my two kids to experience true entrepreneurialism, the independent spirit that made America great. Secondly, I wanted to give veterans, especially those who have physical challenges, much-needed job and career opportunities and the chance to be part of a team. I should mention that I have two sons, one is currently a United States Marine stationed in Hawaii, the other a freshman at Auburn University. This is as much for them as it is for me.
It's a matter of pushing myself beyond my comfort zone in a different realm with a different set of circumstances to see if I could succeed.
LK: How do you reconcile a structured military experience with your entrepreneurial spirit?
Col.: On its face, entrepreneurship and military service seem diametrically opposed; the former very unpredictable and uncertain and the later very disciplined and methodic. However, the same attributes that make successful Marines also apply to the business world. You define your mission, construct a disciplined plan, train your people and execute. Whether you are a General or a Private, everyone understands his or her role in the success of the mission (business). The same disciplined approach to mission success in the military is the same approach you should take in business. The benefit of franchising is, with a solid franchise, you have a “command” already in place to help you with both planning and execution of your business. However, the ultimate responsibility is yours and yours alone. The obligations you have as a Marine Corps Officer are similar to a business owner; your decisions are going to affect others, the only difference is the degree to which you decisions affect their lives. Both take a great amount of faith and self-confidence to achieve.
LK: Why did you look to franchising as a means to business ownership?
Col.: Franchise ownership provided a logical bridge. It allows you to keep one foot in a disciplined structured environment while being responsible for leading and making your own decisions.
LK: You could go out and do just about anything in your retirement; why start a business?
Col.: True, I could go back to work for the government or start my own private law practice, but it's important to me to build something that my kids can share in if they choose and to help those veterans who may be struggling after their military service. I also wanted to do something I’ve never done before.
LK: What do you feel was most helpful to you in coming to the decision to move forward with a fitness franchise?
Col.: Part of the attraction was the education and guidance provided by your FranNet process. Most importantly to me, FranNet was the sounding board allowing me to talk through my goals, requirements and resources and to ask the right questions. FranNet provided me the framework on how to “think” about franchising and how to evaluate seemingly endless opportunities. Together we systematically broke the franchise world into smaller parts and filtered out the wrong businesses based on my goals to find the right place for me.
LK: Most of my clients tell me they are surprised at the franchise business model they chose. Were you?
Col.: I was surprised because a semi-passive business model was not where I was going initially. After a process of due diligence and a change in circumstances, we found the right model that affords me the flexibility to pursue all of my interests while growing my business.
Even if it’s not their life long career, military people take physical fitness seriously, so it’s a natural fit. This business aligns with my goal to create a place where other military members can find career opportunities. Part of the responsibility as a military officer is to be a mentor and leader and I take that seriously. It's more than just a job; it's about serving the community, providing a service that adds value and doing it in a way that ensures you preserve that value for your consumers and employees.
LK: Why do people who have served in the U.S. Military make great franchise owners?
Col: Because where they may be lacking in entrepreneurial experience, they bring a disciplined and logical approach to running a business. They understand and appreciate the support and guidance from experienced franchisors. Former service members know how to follow a “defined process” and bring the lessons of leadership and responsibility to the franchise system.
For entrepreneurs coming from military service, success comes from executing a clearly defined method, whether that method is a military operations plan or a franchise system. It identifies the means and procedures to achieve your goals. Once they are clear, you have to decide which ones you are willing to accept and which ones you will ignore, but you do so at your own risk. Either way, to quote the line from the movie Heartbreak Ridge, you have to "improvise, adapt, overcome”.
LK: What will be your greatest strength as a franchise owner?
Col: My word is my bond. If I say I am going to deliver, then I deliver. It has been bred into me from the beginning to set goals and to honor commitments. I believe this will serve me well as a business owner, managing my business with the same sense of honor and integrity that I lived by while serving.
We honor all who have served our country and wish Colonel Lou Puleo all the best in his new chapter.
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