This is the latest in a series called Lead Human, which features interviews and profiles conducted by Elliot Begoun in search of answers to the question “What is it like to be a leader?”
I stood on the patio with Norm Porges, the founder of Prime Shine Car Wash.
As we took it all in, he told me how he loved the view. Each time he looked out, it was different, it showed itself in a new way.
Norm invited me into his home to meet with with him and his son Evan, president of the company. We talked about leadership, business and family. Prime Shine recently celebrated its 25th year in business.
It’s not every day that you’re offered an opportunity to sit in a home, share a glass or two of Pinot with successful entrepreneurs, and talk about how they disrupted an industry by introducing upscale exterior car washing to the California market along with creating a unique company culture. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.
What keeps you up at night?
Evan Porges: “I’m worried about natural resources and water. That clearly is today’s concern. When we’re talking about what this state is talking about doing in terms of water flow levels, that concerns me, because at the same time, I’m full throttling development. We have a lot of projects going, and that’s exciting, but I’m also really worried about that other side.”
Norm Porges sat for a moment and then shared, “A couple of things. I believe that all businesses have a shelf life. I concern myself with, although I don’t believe it will be in my lifetime, what’s the shelf life of the car wash business as we know it today. As Evan mentioned, water is a precious commodity. At some point in time, there’s going to be some way of cleaning the vehicle, whatever the vehicle looks like, without what we know as friction and water and soap. It’s just going to be something else, so I wonder what that shelf life would be, and can we convert our system to whatever that may be? “
“I mean, it used to keep me up a lot more than now because, as I kind of go off into the sunset, I have very little concern about the management of the company under Evan’s direction.”
With a pause, Norm continued, “But, my concern is that our employees, particularly our long-term employees, continue to grow and have a viable place in our company. I would hate to see something happen to someone who’s been around and helped us grow.”
How do you try to stay in front of what change may come?
Norm Porges:“Well, I think certainly by paying attention to what’s going on in the industry and outside the industry. I think just being in the know. If you hide yourself in a cocoon, just in your industry, you’re not aware of these things that go on outside. Within the industry, they’re probably going to be the last ones to know that there’s a paint that doesn’t get dirty.”
Evan Porges: “Rarely have I looked in the industry to apply latest and greatest marketing or business philosophy or leadership skills. I’ve been a student of companies such as Starbucks and Southwest Airlines.”
He added that, “I keep my eyes open wherever I am, whether it be for infrastructure or different design. In fact, one of the big initial changes in our design of the facility came from a trip to Disney World.”
Who do you think with?
Norm Porges: “I see that one of my roles has always been, as the captain of this ship, to avoid the icebergs. So, I know there’s going to be icebergs out there, and we’re always in difficult waters, always, non-stop, whether today or 20 years ago. As the captain of the ship, you have to avoid those icebergs. I like to hear from my peers about what icebergs they avoided or didn’t, to try to keep that ship afloat.”
Evan Porges: “I’m fortunate. A lot of my friends I hang out with are business owners, so we talk shop regularly. That’s really nice, because it’s open, so you can talk numbers. You can talk HR. You can talk specifics, and it’s nice to get the feedback. We’ve always been part of family business groups, so we surrounded ourselves, not just with general businesses, but with family businesses, which tend to have different issues.”
How do you deal with doubt and fear?
Norm Porges: “Fear was not ever in the equation. Risk, I’m not a big risk taker, so I guess I had confidence enough in myself. Risk wasn’t in the vocabulary. We didn’t talk about fear, we didn’t talk about risk, we talked about a project. I was project oriented.”
Doesn’t doubt creep in at times?
Norm Porges: “You know, I’m telling you never. Now, there were issues, but not doubt about the business.”
Evan Porges: “It is in both of our natures, and it’s kind of always been this way, that if you work hard enough at something, you’ll make it work.”
How do you make time for the other things in your life?
Evan Porges: “It probably cost me a marriage. Because, something’s got to give. There’s got to be a trade off, but looking back at it, right or wrong, clearly we needed to be giving it (the business) that much attention.”
We talked a bit more and then he added, “I loved it. Couldn’t keep me away. Loved it.”
What have you learned about being a leader?
Norm Porges: “As a leader, you want to be the head of the charge and give clear direction. I could do that, but you might look around and no one’s behind you.” he smirks. “Those were burdens that I had because of my persona or my personality or, my goals were maybe too high. That didn’t always make me a good leader. I was out there charging, no doubt, and I was going to get through the finish line, but possibly no one else was behind me.
Evan Porges: “Well, I think what I’ve had to learn is that being the leader doesn’t mean you always have to have the answer. I think that’s really been critical for me. Surrounding yourself with a lot of smart folks, I think that has been certainly a key to my success.”
He then added with a sly smile, “Although I do like to be the one to make the decision.”
What have you learned about connecting with people, motivating them, getting them engaged?
Norm Porges: “You must have an environment where you can fail and not get punished for it. You’ve got to fail and learn from that experience. I think that’s an area where Prime Shine has really excelled. We’re not afraid to fail. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. Not everything is going to work.”
Evan Porges: “I was on the front lines. I was in it, and we were setting records together, breaking records together, so it was really important for me to be young in a young business.”
He added, “You have to be in it with them. That’s what motivates our workforce today. You can’t shout and scream, demand, insist, none of that works. You’ll just lose them. They drop, so it’s a really different type of style today. You can still get them to achieve, but it’s a different way to get them there.”
Evan, what was it like to go to work with your father?
Evan Porges:“I’m very fortunate that Norm was the type of mentor and leader for me that even at those early ages, whether he just liked having me along or just felt that, ‘I got to teach this kid, he’s going to be in charge my livelihood at some point in time.’ So, he took me to every architect, every engineer, every lawyer, every banker, every opportunity to take me off the line.”
I look out the at the patio, the sun had painted a new picture. Evan had to leave for a function, the recording stopped. But, Norm filled up my glass and continued to pour out the wisdom. I didn’t want to leave.
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Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and Business2Community. He serves as a consultant and thinking partner helping high performing leaders and their teams develop the clarity, focus, and communications skills they need to grow.
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