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Well, are you Feelin’ Lucky?

Risky Business 101

Remember the iconic 1983 movie “Risky Business”? 18 year old Joel Goodson (Tom Cruise) spends a weekend doing things not repeatable in public blogs, making thousands of dollars, being chased by bad guys who steal all his parents’ furniture, finally having to spend his profits to buy it all back.

Getting lucky and making a fast buck is great. But what if your luck doesn’t hold out?. I learned this, as we often do, the hard way.

It’s 1987. My father drives a beautiful PRISTINE 1975 Monte Carlo Landau. I’m the proud new driver of a 1987 Nissan Pulsar.

Source: Curbside Classic

I’m 5’1”. My dad’s 6’ 2”. I always have to adjust the seat to drive. One brisk October night, I need to move his car from behind mine. I back the Monte Carlo, then the Nissan on to the road. With the MC’s big engine purring, I ease back into the driveway. Having ignored Dad– “adjust your seat before you drive” , means that I can only reach the gas pedal by sliding down the seat, levering off the steering wheel.

Some interesting statistics:

  • Curb weight of a ’75 Monte Carlo: 4000 lbs
  • Engine specs: 350 cubic inches. 4 barrel. 155 HP. V8.

This car has power to spare, and tons of latent velocity. I gingerly touch the gas pedal, delivering a wallop of gas to the idling V8 engine. As designed, it accelerates. A LOT.

The Scene:

  • I am hovering over the front seat and
  • I have to really quickly hit the brake.

I miss. Worse still, I hit the gas. (cringe).

The MC launches up the driveway, eventually crash landing in the carport. You can imagine the casualty list – especially my pride.

HOLY COW – you’re saying. Thank goodness for insurance, I’m still saying. Filing the police report (you can imagine the looks), I realize how lucky I have been.

Choices make the difference.

Why ignore perfectly sensible, disaster-averting advice? If we believed we were actually at risk, we wouldn’t do “it”.

Substitute “it” for YOUR risky tendency. Harvard Business Review recently published an article on ‘risky decisions’. They found that repeat ‘near misses’ make us feel invulnerable.

When we make poor choices and get lucky, our ‘bad’ decisions seem ‘good’.

We Entrepreneurs see ourselves as risk takers – leaving jobs to pursue dreams; giving up certainty, a regular paycheque, and , often, sleep.

But successful entrepreneurs don’t accept uncontrolled risk. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos believes that instead of leaving outcomes to chance, great entrepreneurs use their resources systematically “to eliminate the risks” from largest to smallest.

Hmmm…. sounds more like planning than luck to me.

Six Sigma, the international Business Certification process, says that risk is impossible to avoid, but stresses that there are a few key things that CAN be done to reduce risk as much as possible. These include meticulous planning, making room for things you can’t predict (aka ‘variables’), and accepting that some times, you’re going to have to hit the proverbial carport wall (also known as ‘failure’) before you can correct and move on.

Are you leaving your business success to chance?

It’s the 25th of the month, the bank is empty, but there are bills to pay. ChaCHING! Saved by a cheque on the 30th. “Empty bank – NO PROBLEM. Something will come up.” Or, you prefer putting all your money to work – you can always catch-up on tax remittances at year-end. But when year-end comes, that bonus you were planning (sob) turns in to borrowing to pay those taxes.

Your employees miss payroll because while travelling, you and your CFO are in an accident. No one else has the accounting password. Maybe your single customer with its wonderful margins gets scooped by an aggressive competitor or ex-employee , taking ALL the business – ouch.

Do these scenarios make you cringe? (have you lived them?)

Disaster Recovery 101

  1. You’re not a cash flow adrenaline junkie. (You just think you are.) Expecting a last minute reprieve is a sure way to crash. The odds of winning a “pick six” lottery are 1 in 13.9 million – a probability of .000000007151:1. Build a trap door – put a little money aside. (Yes, your dad also told you that).
  2. Lady Luck HAS been at your side, but she’s eyeing another gig. You HAVE narrowly avoided disaster – remember that classic “saved by the bell” experience – imagine that bell never rang. What would you have done? (How ugly is ugly?). For enduring success, build a proactive plan – data, HR, suppliers, system passwords, clients and key-man issues to start.
  3. Become an “Eagle Scout”. Be prepared for the worst-case scenarios – resolve risks. Need motivation? Your finance & strategic partners already know what your risks are when you come looking for cash, help or business. If your plan solves their fears, the badge is yours!
  4. Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. For every disaster (or near miss), there was a sign – ignored reports, close payables call, health/safety infractions, numbers that didn’t make sense. Read the signs – build your own Continuous Improvement plan – track errors or close calls and fix the ones that crop up over and over.

In “Risky Business”, Joel learns that you can make a lot of money in one night, but poor research and planning leave you vulnerable to the bad guys. AND, it could take everything you’ve made to put things right.

As for me? 25 years & counting, I always buckle my seat belt, and I now drive a car with seat memory so my 6’1” husband and I (still 5’1”, sigh) never have to call the recovery team to OUR garage. Until our girls reach driving age, anyway.

Take it from me, don’t wait until your Dad has to haul you out of the car. For goodness sake, take the risk out of the ride , and adjust your seat.


  1. John Su on September 17, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Great blog entry! I really appreciated how you highlighted a so called “negative” topic and gave some perspective on how to see things for “what they are” not how “we are” Risk is part of life and in the business of money, it’s part of the game and the inevitable. Great authentic blog

  2. Jason@BCC on September 17, 2012 at 5:33 pm


    A topic near and dear to my heart! Good of you to mention key-man issues – don’t forget, too, about buy-sell. I find this an often-overlooked element of risk management. Even when it gets addressed, it is often done in a haphazard manner.

  3. Angela Armstrong on September 17, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Too true, Jason – key-man can become an issue when you least expect it, and when you can least respond in an effective way (ie by way of externally imposed circumstances, dramatic health events or the like). Great comment!

  4. Angela Armstrong on September 17, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Yes, risk is inherent in life. We can’t remove it, but we can be better prepared for the consequences of engaging in life’s risky endeavours. Also, risk spurs innovation, so I can’t think of any better environment for creating great new innovations, than one where key risks are managed, allowing you to spend your intellectual and financial capital on setting a new bar! Thanks John!

  5. Gord Myers on September 18, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Great blog Angela. I love the way you tie personal experiences into something we all have to deal with on a daily basis. I will be sure and share with my kids (16 & 19) as your experience is something they will relate to.
    Keep up the GREAT blogs.

  6. Angela Armstrong on September 18, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Thanks Gord – the truth is that my Grandpa also told me LOTS of things that I remember when it’s just a little too late. Hopefully, our life lessons can pave the path for those around us – some pain is required for learning, but we CAN reduce the amount of pain experienced! Great to hear from you! hope you are well.

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