“I assumed that growth equals danger.” Those were the words of Danny Meyer, founder of Shake Shack, a venture that started as a seasonal hot dog cart before exploding into a public company with more than 100 locations worldwide. Admittedly, I used to feel the same way Danny did.
I worried that growing my business meant losing control. That was before I was challenged by not one, but two of my most trusted mentors. “What does your business do?” they asked. Confidently, I responded, “We help credit unions gain perspective, get unstuck from what’s holding them back, and grow.” As soon as the words left my mouth, a light bulb went off in my head. By stifling the growth of my own company, I was actually being selfish and keeping us from serving more credit unions. Ouch.
Early in his career, Meyer was afraid of growth. He opened his first fine-dining restaurant at the age of 27, but he waited almost 10 years to launch a second location. He opened the first Shake Shack in 2004, and it took five years before he opened another. As his career progressed, Meyer began to understand staying small was a selfish decision. It not only limited opportunities for his company, but for his employees as well. “It was like a horse that wanted to run, and I was the guy that was holding it back.”
I see many credit unions stuck in a similar mindset. Growth equals danger. Growth means becoming one of the big bad guys. Growth requires us to compromise our values. All of those statements can be true, but they don’t have to be. Over time, Meyer began to see a difference between forced expansion and healthy growth. “Companies that grow for the sake of growth or that expand into areas outside their core business strategy often stumble. On the other hand, companies that build scale for the benefit of their customers and shareholders more often succeed over time.”
While it’s natural to fear the risks and unknowns that come with venturing into new territory, purposefully avoiding growth is one of the most selfish things you can do. Preserving your credit union as a “best-kept secret” isn’t something to brag about. There’s an old proverb that says, “A smart person learns from their mistakes. A wise one learns from the mistakes of others.” Learn from Danny Meyer’s mistakes. Learn from mine. Stop being selfish and find ways to help more people enjoy a better life through what you do. When you serve your members well, you’ll find additional opportunities are the fruit of your efforts. And just like fruit, your credit union is either green and growing or ripe and rotting. There is no in between.