7 Keys to Success: Avoid Being an “Old Steel Guy”

How Not to Be a Know It All in Business

Through our years of coaching and helping small business owners chart their paths for more profitability, we often run into business owners who feel that they know everything.

My business partner, Jack Mencini and I, have a name for these folks … we call them “Old Steel Guys.”

You probably know some Old Steel Guys. Maybe you’re even one of them!

We named this type of individual over the years because they think they are experts on everything. The phrase comes from our Cleveland roots. Back in the day, Cleveland was a big steel town and there were lots of Old Steel Guys who were stuck in the past, knew it all, and quite frankly were a pain in the butt to deal with or be around.

It really doesn’t matter if you are old or young, man or woman. If you have the mindset that you know everything, we are going to refer to you as an Old Steel Guy. Deal with it!

As a small business owner, you need to stay current and you need to keep learning. If you keep learning it keeps you young, vibrant, and relevant.

One key thread we have found within every successful business owner is that they are always trying to learn, correct and get better.

Jack and I have never met a successful Old Steel Guy, because they are of the mindset that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and why should I even try to learn or engage in anything new when my way is the best way?

Engaging and trying new things are key ingredients to keep you and your business growing and moving forward. But it just seems that the only thing moving forward with Old Steel Guys is that they get grumpier and meaner.

Who wants to be around someone like that? The fact is that, as a business owner, you can’t know everything!

Not all Old Steel Guys start out that way. It usually takes years to develop, so beware, just because you aren’t an Old Steel Guy today doesn’t mean it’s not in your future.

Your attitude as the owner is the number one key for improving and increasing your small business’s profitability. Attitude is infectious and Old Steel Guys tend to beget more Old Steel Guys.

How Not to Be a Know It All

As a small business owner you need to embrace learning and looking for ways to improve yourself and your team within your small business. If you aren’t coachable, why would you expect your team to be coachable?

One of the challenges we give each of our business owner clients is to master the seven keys to success.

These seven keys were developed over many years and modeled on successful companies both big and small who were able to achieve growing and sustainable profits. While the premise of these seven keys seems almost simplistic, the work and learnings behind each key can open doors to new insights for how the business is functioning.

The seven keys to success are:

  • Vision
  • Profit Planning
  • Marketing Planning
  • Organizational Planning
  • Leadership
  • Cash Flow Forecasting
  • Presenting

The simplicity and clarity that comes from focusing on the seven keys can be very empowering and exciting for both you as the business owner and for your team.

One thing is certain. You can’t focus on all seven at once, but you can dig more deeply into a couple at a time. If you’re not sure where to start, begin with a 10-year vision for where you want the company to be and what it will look like in 10 years.

Old Steel Guys can’t think this way as they are too focused on today or the past. Don’t aspire to become an Old Steel Guy. Be open to learning and growing and your business will grow too!

Steel Worker Photo via Shutterstock


Adam Sonnhalter Adam Sonnhalter is the co-owner of Maximum Value Partners providing coaching and direction for the profitability and sustainability of small businesses. He is also co-host with Jack Mencini on the weekly radio show/podcast Dirty Secrets of Small Business® that debunks the common myths of business ownership, exposes the impact of government regulations and shares small business success stories.

3 Reactions
  1. Business owners should have the mindset of needing to learn. If not, they will become stagnant. The world is always changing. It is therefore important to adapt to the changes.

  2. Engaging and trying new things are key ingredients to keep you and your business growing and moving forward. It was the height of the Gilded Age in 1889, and Andrew Carnegie, a pioneer in the steel industry, laid out why he would be donating the bulk of his wealth. Old Steel Guys can’t think this way as they are too focused on today or the past.

  3. LOL Corten, Andrew Carnegie would never be accused of being and old steel guy!