Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe talked about how small businesses can be successful, at Wednesday morning's meeting of the Mid-Missouri Business Improvement Group.
Before entering politics, Kehoe ran a successful Ford dealership in Jefferson City, and Chris Scott, one of the group's organizers, said he invited Kehoe to speak to the group, telling the lieutenant governor during a chance meeting in a local store: "When I think of successful businessmen in Mid-Missouri, you're the first name that comes to mind."
Kehoe said he was honored, but noted: "There are a whole bunch of businesses in this community that are really, in my mind, successful — that I look up to."
A St. Louis native, Kehoe was introduced to the car business by working at the Dave Sinclair Ford dealership, beginning with washing cars.
Eventually, he moved to Linn in 1988, and began working at Osage Industries, which then was owned by several Ford dealerships and specialized in converting passenger vans into more comfortable vehicles.
Later, the company switched to building ambulances and now is the nation's third-largest ambulance outfitter, Kehoe reported.
He bought the Jefferson City Ford/Lincoln-Mercury dealership in 1992, borrowing money and selling Osage Industries to its employees to raise the money for that sale.
Kehoe said his ownership of the dealership was successful because he concentrated on customer service.
"I was brought up on (the idea of) 'Take care of the customer first. Take care of the customer first. Take care of the customer first,'" he explained.
But, Kehoe recalled, he also worked on team-building among the employees, helping them understand some of the business decisions that were made and listening to their ideas and concerns.
"Finding the people who had talent," he explained, "who really hadn't had a chance to step up, and giving them that opportunity" was an important key to the company's success.
Eventually, Kehoe became a part of Ford Motors' National Dealers' Council.
"I had a lot of exposure to other dealers around the United States and, boy, was that a great lesson in learning some best practices," he recalled. "No matter what business you're in in this room, you can learn things from other businesses.
"But you can really learn things from other businesses that do the same thing that you do."
Kehoe said he also was successful because he got involved in a lot of local activities, including Boy Scouts, the United Way, the Chamber of Commerce and civic clubs.
"That networking piece, (especially) for businesses in a small market, is the best thing you can do," he said. "This is not 'rocket science,' what we did
"It really was just trying to listen to people."
Kehoe said he started his "Flapjack Tours" when he ran for the state Senate in 2009 and 2010, based on a suggestion from one of his employees, after Kehoe had been cooking pancakes once a month for the technicians at the dealership.
Those tours, he said, gave him a chance to meet people and talk with them about their issues.
Those skills also got him elected into the Senate's leadership and eventually resulted in Gov. Mike Parson's request that Kehoe fill the vacant lieutenant governor's office.
He said there "are a lot of similarities" between running a business and serving as a state executive — and he's been working to visit many state offices and their employees, to learn more about the work the state does.
"Some of these folks have never seen any elected official in their cubicles, that they have no windows in," the lieutenant governor said. "I'm not going to get to them all," but he wants to try to meet many state employees.
"Communication is a big thing," he explained, "that's a problem in politics and often is a problem in business (when) people get very territorial.
"You find a lot of that in state government — not because there are bad people, but because they have never been given the opportunity to step up and work with somebody else and maybe try to implement something that they think would work better."
Both in his business and in his Senate office, Kehoe noted, he posted a lot of visual aids to keep track of goals (or legislative bills) and the progress being made to accomplish those goals or get those bills passed.
He said his success also came from his almost-daily habit of writing down goals and other people's thoughts on a paper plate that he could look at and make new notes on as necessary.
Kehoe said he loves marketing and is "a believer in consistent marketing," including regular advertising and consistent customer service.
His job as lieutenant governor involves some of the same principles, particularly when he's working with the Tourism Division or the "Buy Missouri" program.