The Wichita Eagle
Jack DeBoer screwed up, and he wants you to know it.
That’s why he’s written “Risk Only Money: Success in Business Without Risking Family, Friends and Reputation.”
The book, published by Rockhill Books, which is part of Kansas City Star Books, is on sale now.
It details DeBoer’s ego-fueled rise in the apartment building industry and the, as he puts it, “personal crash” that followed.
They’re lessons he learned from that painful time that he then applied to building hotel brands — Residence Inn, Summerfield Suites, Candlewood and Value Place — and it’s those lessons he wants to share.
“After I got my head screwed on straight, I thought hard about what it was that allowed me to get out of a deep mess and turn my business life around,” DeBoer writes.
“With a list of 25 or 30 specific things, none of which was money, I committed to share my experience with college and high school students and business people as often as I could.”
The 225-page book is something of an in-depth compilation of the speeches he’s given for the past couple of decades.
Much of it could have been titled “All I Really Need to Know About Business I Learned in Kindergarten.”
“Of all the simplifying rules in the world, perhaps the most helpful is the one we call the Golden Rule,” DeBoer writes and expounds on at length. “Treat others the way you would want to be treated.”
DeBoer shares stories of incredible good fortune, such as lucking into $20,000 after someone bought his $100 option on property where he planned his first apartments.
He’d been about to lose the $100, which he’d borrowed from his wife Marilyn’s household account, because he couldn’t get financing.
“Just like that, I went from wondering how I was going to pay back Marilyn’s $100 to sitting on $20,000 in cash. And I thought, ‘How long has this been going on without me?’ ”
He also shares stories of incredible arrogance, such as turning down a $100 million offer for his apartment business simply because that’s how much his biggest competitor got for his company.
Six months later, with 1970s interest rates skyrocketing, DeBoer was broke.
“It didn’t feel like it at the time, but failure was a huge gift to me,” DeBoer writes. “Failure focused my attention and energy.”
He offers a lot of concrete advice on business, such as the importance of entrepreneurs and managers working together, why taking a company public may not be the way to go, picking the right segment of your industry in which to operate and knowing when to cut your losses.
DeBoer also devotes a substantial section of the book to philanthropy, which he calls moving from success to significance.
All proceeds from “Risk Only Money” will go to World Vision, a global ministry to help children and their families. It’s a group that Jack and Marilyn DeBoer have been involved with for years.
DeBoer ends his book by telling readers, “I have written this book in hopes that you might better enjoy a wonderful life and make it to the significance stage more easily (and sooner!) than I did.”
Excerpts from Jack DeBoer’s ‘Risk Only Money’
On going broke
“As I lay in my darkened bedroom and pondered the real possibility of going bankrupt, I wondered whether I could muster the courage to fly my airplane into the side of a mountain. To me, that seemed a better option than facing people after declaring bankruptcy. Just the thought of a Wichita Eagle headline reading, ‘Jack P. DeBoer and Associates Bankrupt’ was all it took to keep me awake.”
On business advice
“Closing a business is much harder than opening one. Knowing when to fold is more important than knowing when to bet.”
“I kept the books for the company and wrote the checks to pay the bills while I was flying on autopilot at night; I had a special light hooked up over my seat. I did this every week for 14 months.”
On naming a company
“If you’re starting a new company, my advice is to consider almost any other name for your company besides your own. I realize it’s a headache to have to vet company names to be sure you don’t infringe on somebody else’s. But it’s worth it; you don’t want to be making business decisions geared toward promoting your personal name.”
On private aviation
“I have bought and sold several airplanes in my life, and never for a profit. I have always said that there is no way to justify an airplane. It can only be rationalized. Thankfully, that rationalization is something I do very well. So here’s my rationalization: Late one afternoon just as we took off from LAX in our Learjet headed to Wichita, the phone in the plane rang. It was Bill Johnson, who was buying sites for Residence Inns. He told me there was a piece of land on Highway 101 south of San Francisco that we could buy if we could get there immediately and meet with the seller. As we climbed out, we turned left and headed for SFO. I met with the owner, signed the deal, and bought that land and a site nearby. As those deals unfolded and we built two Residence Inns, we made enough money to pay for all the airplanes we have owned. All of this because we had our own aircraft. How’s that for a rationalization?”