It’s a distinct pleasure for me to be here, and to share a couple of thoughts with you. You all have your little black books, right? I want to have you write down five scriptures and a link to one of my favorite songs. And these five scriptures embody what I think are the ground rules and the opportunity for starting and operating a business. Now you’ll probably find out by the time we’ve finished talking here that I’m somewhat obsessed with business and how business works, and how they get started. And I’ll share some stories with you.
So number one of the scriptures on my top five list is 1 Nephi 3:1-7. The second one is 1 Nephi 4:1-7. The third is Mark 9:23, and Moroni 7:33, and Mosiah 2:17. I guess that’s six scriptures. Is it five? Oh, I haven’t given you the coolest one. It’s a link to a Primary song called “Nephi’s Courage” (Children’s Songbook, p. 120). “Nephi’s Courage” is kind of fun. So I want to talk about Nephi’s Courage in a minute here, but you’ll remember the way “Nephi’s Courage” goes, right?
“The Lord commanded Nephi to go and get the plates.”
Good, good; it’s international. So He told him to go and get the plates, right? And then, “from the wicked Laban inside the city gates.” And Laman and Lemuel were “afraid to try.” And “Nephi was courageous, and this was his reply.” Then verse two:
The Lord commanded Nephi to go and build a boat.
Nephi’s older brothers believed it would not float.
Laughing and mocking, they said he should not try.
Nephi was courageous. This was his reply…The Lord gives us commandments and asks us to obey.
Sometimes I am tempted to choose another way.
When I’m discouraged, and think I cannot try,
I will be courageous, and I will reply:“I will go; I will do the thing the Lord commands.
I know the Lord provides a way; he wants me to obey.
I will go; I will do the thing the Lord commands.
I know the Lord provides a way; he wants me to obey.”
Very good! So did you think you would come to a devotional and sing a Primary song? Well, we didn’t sing it. What I want to do is to share with you an experience I had as a bishop on Mercer Island. Mercer Island is a small island just east of Seattle and west of Bellevue, Washington. It’s five miles long, 2 ½ miles wide, 22,000 residents, half Jewish. So as bishop, there had been a program started called the Mercer Island Clergy Association. I inherited being the representative of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Mercer Island Clergy Association. It became my turn to be the president of the Clergy Association. There were 13 churches on the island. I remember going to some of our meetings and telling the brethren and sisters who were the leaders of the other churches—the Baptists, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, the Jewish, etc.—and I said, “If what we are all trying to get done isn’t helping our members grow and develop, I don’t think I need to be here. Because I think that’s what it’s about, to help our members grow and develop.”
In another meeting, I said to them, “I have some members of my ward who don’t come to church. And if they want to come to your church and they come, that would be great!” So these guys thought, “What kind of a guy is Bishop Dunford to say such a thing. I thought we were all competitors.”
Well, as president of the association, I said, “I’m going to propose we have our monthly meetings at the various churches. So we did, and et cetera. I got a call one day from Mike, who was the pastor of the Congregational Church. Mike said, “Bishop, we can’t hold our meeting at our church as you asked. I’ve taken another job and I’m going to be moving to Minnesota.”
“Oh Mike, that’s too bad. We’ll miss you.”
So I’m thinking—this happens in an email about 11:30 at night, I’m reading Mike’s reply. I just had this flash—what an idea. And I wrote Mike a letter. I said, “Mike, if in the process, in the transition, you are short a pastor for the day, I’d be happy to do that.” And I just sent the email. Well, now it’s 12:30, 1:00 o’clock. I came to bed. Annette was still awake, and I said, “I’ve got to tell you what I just did.”
“You what?!? You can’t do that.”
“What do you mean? I’m the bishop of the island. I can do that.” So anyway, it was quite interesting—I can do that, you can’t do that, and et cetera. Well, it’s sort of out of the box, but I’m the bishop of the island. Do I need the stake president’s approval? No. Why? All of the people on the island are in my jurisdiction. Do I have to have permission to talk to them? No.
So, two weeks later we get a call. Annette is on the floor when she hears this call, because it’s a call that says, “Bishop Dunford, thank you very much. We’d like to accept your offer. Would you come and let’s see if we can find a time on our schedule that works for your schedule.”
“Okay.” So we went over, and we laid out a plan, and this is going to be fun. Now, how many of you think that, before I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was a Protestant minister? President, there’s no hands. Oh, it’s a joke. I wasn’t. I’ve always been a member of the Church. And so we knew the date, we knew what we were going to do, and this is the thing, because there’s two groups of people saying, “You can’t do that.” And the other group was saying, “Well, that’s kind of cool. You can do that.” It was kind of interesting. There was nobody in the middle.
So I asked my counselors. I said, “Here’s the date. I’ll be gone two Sundays. I want to go the Sunday before to find out how it works and what the drill is and what they do, and then is the time that I’m the pastor for the day.” So I’m sure the members of my ward thought, “What is he doing? How could he possibly do that?”
I went the Sunday before. It was just great! It was super. And there they introduce people who are there for the first time. They give you a chance to get up and introduce yourself. I said, “I’m Bishop Dunford. I’m the bishop of the Mercer Island Ward just up the street here, and I’m your pastor for next week, and I just came to get acquainted and see how the services go.”
And it came to the time for the sacrament. And the sacrament was a new drill for me, because they had the bread and they had the wine, and I’m thinking, “How is this going to go?” It went great. I mean, they didn’t do it. So after the meeting, the next Sunday was our turn. And I had Annette and some of the grandchildren come and teach the children some songs. And they taught one of these songs, like Nephi. It was just great. It was a great time. And I preached the sermon.
The sermon came from one of my favorite prophets in the Book of Mormon. Have you ever heard of—let’s see, what was his name—he had a missionary thing, and he had something with arms and stuff. Ammon, right? And I talked about Ammon. And I just had my Book of Mormon, you know, our books all leather-bound, and I would hold it up and I’d read in the scriptures about Ammon and the king, and it was a great time. And what in the world does that have to do with business?
I have a goal here, and if I’m successful in my goal in our time together, number one, I’d like you to ask a question: What if I can start a business? What if I can?
And then I’d like to move from “What if I can?” to “I think I can. I think I can.” And my goal isn’t to say this is the kind of business, because businesses do four things, and they’re really complex. They do four things. Number one, they find a customer. The customer is someone for whom the business solves a problem. And before that, you’ve kind of got to be looking around and asking this question like, “What’s missing?” And I have a way that I remember how to look around and see what’s missing.
In one of my former lives—oh, I’ve got to tell you this—in one of my former lives, I got a tattoo. It was a unique tattoo. Further, it was in a unique place. And I can arrange—I know Bob the tattoo guy, and I made arrangements, so if you’ll see me afterwards, I’ll tell you how to be introduced to Bob, and he’ll place the tattoo on you. This is a unique tattoo. And the tattoo he put inside my right eyelid. It was a little hurtful, but the message of the tattoo was so great. It says, “What’s missing?” So every time I blink my eye like this—you get it?—I get this, “What’s missing?”
This is the kind of song the entrepreneur sings. This is the song the entrepreneur makes up. What’s missing? What’s missing? And it has worked, because you start to look at the world and ask what’s missing. What could I offer that could solve a problem. And that’s how it begins. That’s how they all begin. Somebody solves a problem, because it’s not likely that somebody will come forward with money out of their wallet for something they don’t value. So you get a customer.
Then they do four things—all businesses do these same four things, and not surprisingly, all of these concepts are taught right here in the LDS Business College. This is a business college. My goal for my students, and this is how I evaluate myself, is that when they finish our classes they start a business, or they have started a business, that puts $2,000 a month in their wallet. Beginning. Just two grand. And then by the end of 90 days, they are putting $5,000 in their wallet. It’s starting a business, and it’s taking a risk. So this is what they do; this is what business guys do. Four things:
- Buy low.
- Sell high. Complex? Buy low, sell high.
- Collect early.
- Pay late. Now I’m not saying pay late that you violate the terms of your agreement with your vendors or suppliers, but you want to manage and honor cash. All right?
Sometimes it’s possible to sell high before you buy low. What do you think of that? What if I sold something, and then I bought it? What’s the value of that relative to cash flow—buy low, sell high? And there isn’t a requirement that you’ve got to do them in this order. I’m just telling you those are the things that happen.
So I had the experience to move—you know, I grew up in the family doughnut business, and I made those big fat chocolate doughnuts all night long to go to the University of Utah. And it was a great experience. Do you have any idea of how many doughnuts I have eaten? Less than I made. I made lots of doughnuts—all night long, the doughnut machine popping out doughnuts. It turns out that my father, who was one of the owners of the bakery, had an operation they had to take over in southern California. He asked if I would go do that. We did. That didn’t turn out so well, because the company that we had to work with didn’t have what they said they had, and we had to discontinue.
One of the lessons I’ve learned, to share with you is where you start out isn’t necessarily where it’s going to go. In other words, if you say, “I have to have all of the lights green between here and Los Angeles before I take off on my trip,” it doesn’t work that way. You only need one light—the first light. And so my encouragement is to start. And the scriptures that I gave you will say how this works. The Lord commanded Nephi, and what does 1 Nephi 3:7 say? “I will go and do…because I know the Lord… provides a way.” So southern California got us into a new world.
Another lesson I learned is the importance and significance of knowing people and building relationships with people. And I encourage you to look around the room and look at all the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed students here, and the faculty, and say, “What do I know about them?” Because people open doors, and my experience in my life is that the doors that have opened have opened because I had a friend. I made a friend and an opportunity opened up. I’ll show you how that works.
We’re in southern California, and we’re going to make frozen bakery dough, and we’ve built a bakery and put in a nitrogen freezer—it was the bakery process. We put the dough into a nitrogen freezer. We discovered one day as we’re looking at this bread coming out of the oven that it wasn’t quite right. And we puzzled and puzzled, and figured out finally that the problem was the formulation, and that was our partner’s responsibility. So we’re trying to survive, and we do things, and one thing led to another and I said, “This isn’t going to work, so we’ve got to say goodbye.”
Failures are wonderful. That’s where real learning happens. And if you think for one second that failure is bad—they may be at the time—but I’ll show you why failures are wonderful, and how the doors will open up. So in our ward was a guy named Ron Hendrickson, and he was the ward mission leader. He was a Seventy; I was a Seventy. He knew the company that we had tried to work with was going away, and he said, “Wyn, will you come with me and let me show you about our business?”
He was in the medical business. By that time in my life I was so sick and tired of bakery. I can’t tell you how tired I was of it. I’ll tell you a little aside—when we moved to southern California, we didn’t have a place to stay, so we stayed in the bakery. Now this was a great bakery, and I couldn’t imagine why Annette would be grumpy about it—I mean, come on, she had a 5,000-square-foot kitchen. She had a walk-in refrigerator; she had a walk-in freezer. And we had so much fun living in the bakery. The kids would bathe in the rack washer. The rack washer had these big arms, like a big cross, and they’d whirl around and spray all over. It was the greatest! Standing in the rack washer, you just stand like this and you get all clean and stuff. Rinses off the soap really fast. And they started playing games in the dough troughs. So you can imagine, 10-foot-long dough troughs and the kids would get in and push each other around. It was a ball. We slept on the floor in the office. It was super.
And finally—I could never get her to try making soup, because the soup cookers in this bakery would handle like 100 gallons of soup. She just never got into it.
What door that opened was an introduction to the medical world. As I looked at the bakery world at the time and growing up with my father and his brothers, I said, “People don’t make money here.” I remember talking to my dad and saying, “Dad, I’d like a raise. Is this possible here?”
And my father said this to me: “Wyn, isn’t your carpet thick enough? Aren’t you warm enough in the winter?” Somehow I felt like I had just committed a sin by saying, “Hey, what are the possibilities of making more money here?” And that’s the way it was. So by this time in my life, I said, “No, no, no, no bakery. No possibility. Don’t even ask; it’s not..” I said, “Here’s an opportunity in the medical industry.”
And that opened up a new world for me. So we sold equipment. We sold stuff to doctors and physicians, and it was great. And then one of my customers said, “Would you move to Salt Lake City and open up a surgical supply branch for us?”
The point is that you start something, but it doesn’t necessarily always end up that way. You start something and you say, “Now, things may change along the way.” That’s why I gave you the second scripture: “And I was led…not knowing beforehand” where I should go or what I should do.” I have had that experience happen to me in spades, over and over. You just have a hunch, and you’ve got to do that. Mike, how about I be pastor of the day for you? It was a ball. Did everyone in the congregation file out of church and go straight to the baptismal font? No. Nobody did. But we made some great friends.
So I’ve got to tell you about this company we started. Because I moved to Salt Lake City, and the joy was being in Salt Lake City again. We’d been away for four years. And I started this medical supply company for this other company, and we were doing great. Six months later my boss came to me and said, “Wyn, thank you for the work you’ve done. You’re fired.” You’re fired. Why? Well, just things weren’t working out, so you’re fired. To this day, I don’t know why that happened. And I went home and I saw Annette, and she and our four children had gotten used to eating. I didn’t know how I was going to break it to them, to say, “We’ve got to cut expenses. No more food.”
So what I was hoping for as I walked in the house, I was hoping for some sympathy. “Please feel sorry for me; I don’t know what to do.” Hoping. Nah. She says, “Who cares? I’m glad you’re getting out of there. You’ll figure something out. Another lesson learned along the way.” It’s incredibly important to have a good, supportive partner. Incredible. Because it wasn’t, “Well, you dummy. What did you do? Why did this happen? What are we going to do? We have food to get, we have bills to pay.” None of that. It was only, “You’ll figure out something. This is going to be great.”
I thought, because I grew up in the bakery business and people didn’t show up to work at 4:00 in the morning, I thought that if you got fired you were the biggest loser on earth. That’s what I thought. And so I thought I was unworthy to ask somebody for a job. Really. That was my belief. Because I knew that they would ask, “Well, Wyn, why aren’t you working?”
“Well, because I just got fired.” And I didn’t know how to overcome that objection. And so the only thing that I knew that I could do was to start a business. We were really very creative—really creative about the name of this business: Dunford Medical Supply. I knew where to buy products. I knew how to go to hospitals. I knew how to tell a story. And you’ll be so impressed, you’ll be so impressed with what happened.
I carried money to work and flushed it down the toilet. We have a way of saying that, whether it went in the toilet, wherever it went, it wasn’t a bottom line that you are proud of.
Now I want to help you understand. Do you need a lot of money to start a business? No. I am a boot strapper. That is to say, I believe that it is possible to start a business without a lot of money. If you think you need tons of money to start a business—not true. My experience with a lot of money—funny thing with a lot of money—it makes you stupid. It does. It really does. You get a lot of money, you get stupid. Why? Because you are not accountable for “I have to have the result.” It requires some planning. It requires some understanding. So the blessing is that I didn’t have any money, but I had a home, and I had good credit.
So I borrowed $5,000 to start Dunford Medical Supply. This is in August and I’m excited. I’ve got some stuff to sell. Annette comes to me one day—I’d been fired, this was May—and she comes to me in August when we’d just started Dunford Medical Supply. And it starts to rain out in the parking lot, and she brings lunch to me and says—this is so good—tears are rolling down her cheeks and she says, “Wyn, I’m pregnant.” It was the best! So here we are—we have four children, we have number five on the way. I’ve just started a new business. I don’t have any money, and my wife is in tears.
Do you kind of get how fabulous this was? It was in fact, fabulous. So for 18 months, we carried money to work and we flushed it down the toilet. And then somebody came to me and said, “Wyn, have you ever thought about renting this stuff?” Because I had been in all of these hospitals for a year and a half, and I knew the people in the hospitals and I knew the doctors and the nurses and the department heads and the purchasing people and all this stuff, everything changed. And the idea for this concept of renting medical equipment came to life. So that’s what we did. And it grew and grew and grew. You’d be so impressed with our first office out of Salt Lake City.
Our first office out of Salt Lake City was Denver. I want to talk to you about clever market research here. Have you ever heard of a company called Hughes Air West? It was an airline. They had a flight to go to and from Denver for $19.00. So that was it. That’s our next office. We figured out a way to have the manufacturers loan us the equipment, and that was our cash flow strategy. I can tell you a long time about how we financed this business. But it grew. It was great. And eventually, I got tired of the business. It was running great, we were making money and stuff, but I said, “This isn’t for me anymore.” And by the way, somebody came along and said to me, “We have to have your business.” We had that same experience in the pharmacy business. And we had another business. And so as I reflect upon my life in business, I’m impressed to share with you lessons learned.
Lesson number one: God has a purpose for every one of us. Every one of us, He has a purpose for us. And if you’re Heavenly Father and you say, “How do I want to raise these people? What attributes and strengths do I want them to have? I want them to be confident, and I want them to be involved and energetic.” That’s why I love business. God prepares us for life’s opportunities and challenges. Along the way—I have so many stories to tell you about the challenges and opportunities. I’ve got to tell you this one little one.
In the first grade, if you can imagine this, I wasn’t behaving in my first grade class. The teacher said, “Wyn, you’ve misbehaved. Now you have to go to the closet.” And she locked me in the closet. This was at Uintah Elementary School. It was great! Why was it great? Because in the closet there was a tumbling mat and there was a window. And it was far more fun to be in the closet with the tumbling mat. Then the next day David Sjoberg was in the closet with me. Okay? You can kind of see how this works, when I was a shrimpy little kid. This kind of stuff happens.
So the next one: There’s a relationship between what we believe and what we do, because if I believe something is possible, I’ll try. If I don’t believe it’s possible—the biggest issue I have in our classes is to say this is possible, you can do this. You can start a business. Are you sure? I’m positive.
Anyway, prayers are answered. Knowing the right people—they open doors. And my encouragement is just start. And what happens here in this college is the opportunity and the groundwork to start a business. Start a business. Buy low, sell high. Collect early, pay late. Find a problem; create a solution. And it happens. So it’s important for you to know, for me, that of the great things in life that I love more than anything, is the Savior and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because the Church gives goofy guys like me the opportunity to express and try to learn when it’s a relatively low-risk situation, and making contacts and relationships at church opens tremendous doors. All the opportunities in our business lives have been opened because of relationships we had with friends and people.
I have a testimony. I know Heavenly Father lives. I know He loves us. And I know He is patient with us. In my case particularly, I know He has a sense of humor. I love you. It is the treat of my life to teach and be here at this college, and push ideas around. I’m grateful for the gospel, and I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.