Instructor Spotlight: Lin O'Neill

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We often speak about the caliber of our Instructor Network, and Lin O’Neill, our Dallas Instructor for the past 10 years, is no exception. A business consultant, thought leader, and coach, Lin was recently recognized among the 2019 Dallas 500  by D CEO Magazine. The Dallas 500 features the region’s most powerful leaders in 60 categories. D CEO editors compile the list based on extensive contacts in local business circles, hundreds of interviews, and months of research. Lin O’Neill was one of only six business consultants recognized among the 500 leaders.

What is your personal mission statement?

When I started my business in 1980, my personal mission statement was “To change the way the world manages.” At the time when I got my MBA in 1974, it was all about management, and command and control. Over the years, an alteration has occurred, not only for me with a lot more experience, but also in the way companies are run. So now, my mission statement is “to change the way the world leads.” If you’re a strong leader, people will manage in accordance with how you lead. The leadership sets the culture and management will follow that by experience.

I love chaos and messes – it gets my adrenaline going! - so that is what I attract. I attract teams and companies that are broken, and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. There’s a Leonard Cohen song, Anthem, which says, “There’s a crack in everything. It’s how the light gets in.” When people see that something is broken, it’s just saying ‘maybe we’ll do this differently,’ or ‘this just needs a tweak.’ That’s my consulting work. They have a lot of room to get better, and I have a lot of room to grow, too. It’s a mutual mentoring that goes on.

What is unique about how you work with small business?

I am a healer. It took me a while to feel comfortable saying that, because I didn’t know how people would respond. But it does describe what I do. As a healer, I heal companies, executives, hourly workers, processes. A consultant in Dallas once said to me, “78% of the challenges we believe are people problems are actually process problems.” Over time, I am seeing she’s right.

My 12 plus years of experience in the corporate world with Fortune 100 companies and working with the federal government was great preparation for working with small business owners. Being orderly is not often in the job description of a small business owner, and I can be a bug about infrastructure. When working with small business owners, I don’t only talk about goals and plans, but we address how to staff for growth, train for growth, and identify where culture fits in. These elements can sometimes feel like an amorphous blob, but I find that my corporate experience offers some insight on structure. I also dealt with regulatory issues working with and for the government as an HR professional for 30,000 employees. My job was to understand regulations and ensure that we never had a show cause issue, and we never received a conciliation agreement. This understanding of government regulations and function has helped small business owners with whom I work scale rapidly through government contracting.

One example is a General Contractor with whom I worked at first through Emerging Leaders in 2009. He had an up and down business in Dallas at the time, but he's now over $20MM with locations in Dallas, Houston, and Austin. This expansion required a substantial “infrastructure build”, as well as an improved understanding – and accountability regarding – his delegation. Areas where I was able to support and guide him. Each of these locations also includes government contracts. When business owners come to me, they don’t think anybody else understands – they’re the only one who has ever faced the shame of not being able to make payroll, or whatever challenge they’re facing – but I’ve owned my consulting business for over 36 years. I understand. And I’ve worked with hundreds of small business owners who have been where they are, too.

Given your corporate background, why small business?

We are an economic arm that could be unstoppable. According to data from the Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs, there were 5.6 million employer firms in the United States in 2016.

  • Firms with fewer than 500 workers accounted for 99.7 percent of those businesses.
  • Firms with fewer than 100 workers accounted for 98.2 percent.
  • Firms with fewer than 20 workers made up 89.0 percent.

Small business is special. My grandparents were farmers, both sides. Farmers are entrepreneurs. If they didn’t grow what they needed to feed themselves, they probably didn’t eat. That spirit and nature of people who will do that is what inspires me about small business. Now, I’m grateful when small businesses make a lot of money - they’re often very wise with how they spend it, and their give back ratio is really good - but it really is the spirit. I’m patriotic to a fault, and I feel the spirit of this country is epitomized by entrepreneurs.

Small business owners are also fighters – even the most shy among them. They get up every morning because of their responsibility to the people on payroll, or their vendors – people in their ecosystem and the understanding that they contribute to their ability to feed their families. That is such pure goodness to me.