Strategy Talks Podcast Recap: How to Create a Sustainable Business Strategy

The following is a summary of a Harbourtime Strategy Talks Podcast session. A summary of the topics discussed is below. The recording date was January 12, 2021.


*Please note, this is not an exact transcription, as I took some liberties in transcribing from the Podcast discussion.*

Trent Simmons is the CEO of Hardeman Company and has a passion for small family businesses. Trent and his brother took a natural gas marketing company from their father which was the genesis of Hardeman. Trent has a passion for small business. In a previous life, Trent trained in Europe and competed on the world stage as a Triathlete.

Hardeman seeks to purchase businesses that they can own and operate as owners for the long haul. Not looking for a quick flip. They want businesses that are built the way we are built. We want businesses that ran for the previous 25 years, the way we plan to run them for the next 25 years.

  • Small businesses built through character, work ethic, and relationships
  • Manufacturing, Distribution, and Service-related industries
  • Business owners who want to see their legacy preserved and their employees and customers are taken care of

Trent is a business leader – he has acquired several companies over the years. He knows what it takes to be a business strategist, private equity guy, and owner-operator of established businesses.

He was also a professional triathlete, and we discuss how that experience translates to business strategy. During this part of the podcast, Trent discusses lessons he learned from world class athletes, gold medal winners, and a former Australian boxer! The lessons are great — everyone can learn from them.


  • The man on top of the mountain did not fall there.
  • Don’t try to swim like Michael Phelps if you are not Michael Phelps.
  • Don’t waste your time on comparative analysis — you’re probably not going to be the next Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos . . . but that’s okay. Reach the highest level you can.
  • The secret sauce of world class athletes (and CEO’s)? Their minds. They put in the work. Most of the time, they put in the work when no one is looking. Day in and Day out. Hard Work, Over and Over Again. What we see are the “medals” the awards, but the hard work is almost never seen.
  • Work on your weaknesses for improvement but MAXIMIZE your strengths!

Referencing Hardeman company’s LinkedIn page, how are you built? Hardeman = Perseverance, Survival

Hardeman Company is named after the first of their family that got here, Thomas Hardeman Simmons. Hardeman stands for someone who is hardworking, perseveres and survives. Small businesses are integral to this country and that is why Hardeman focuses on small businesses.

These business owners took a chance and their employees took a chance with them. Hardeman Company is a holding company for other small businesses. They try to create a graceful way for business owners to exit the business. The look to find ways to take over the company and employees that are integral to the business, and hopefully grow them in the future.

If you had to pick 2, maybe even 3 key traits of the CEO/leaders of these businesses, what stands out? What drives a business leaders/CEO/entrepreneur to build a successful business?

In the beginning, the entrepreneurial spirit got to them. Ultimately, all entrepreneurs decide to take a chance and want to be their own boss. They want to own a company and have that tangible feel that comes with owning a business. Many entrepreneurs start when they are young, and it is a new experience for them.

Then, it moves from an idea to a company and many of them achieve year over year growth. That is when they realize the responsibility is on their shoulders. They begin to see the weight they carry. It’s not just the financial weight. Many of them are “Hardeman types of companies.

Of these businesses that have made it through the years, usually one of the first or second questions they ask of potential buyers is, “What are you going to do with the employees?”

Private equity has gotten a bad name with the slash and dash model. That is, they buy a company and slash 50% of the assets (including employees) and sell it again in a few years.

Many business owners don’t want to see their identity (i.e., their legacy) dragged through the mud. Trent and his team like to tell people, “Hey, let’s make your last decision your company the best decision for your company.

Entrepreneurial spirit can lead to strong business leaders.
Great Business Leaders Have An Entrepreneurial Spirit

If a small business owner makes a bad decision, a lot of people/employees can be impacted. Large company CEO’s have different burdens, but they have the ability to move on to the next gig or other options. The smaller companies have 30, maybe 50 employees at the most. These employees become family based on the amount of time they spend with each other through the years. For small business owners, it can be more than just a mechanism for financial wealth.

Hardeman has a nice portfolio of companies – a good mix of service, manufacturing, and other types of companies. How do you decide your portfolio strategy? Are you looking for a specific mix, or do you look for specific revenue targets, or any combination thereof?

Hardeman Company has an entrepreneurial bend to it. They are always curious and willing to learn. The moment they stop wondering is the day they need to retire.

Hardeman Company looks for a specific type of business owner as opposed to a specific type of business. If Trent and his team get excited about an industry, they will take a deeper dive. They like meeting other business owners and talking to companies in various industries.

Hardeman Company truly invests in people and looks for a type of business owner as opposed to an industry. If Trent doesn’t understand the business model in 5 or so minutes, then it’s probably not something he is interested in acquiring.

You’ve looked at a lot of companies – You’ve acquired some of them, and I’m sure you’ve passed on more than you’ve bought. What strategic advice would you give a business owner who is thinking about selling their company in 2021? What should they be doing to prepare their company for acquisitions?

Selling your company is kind of like selling your house . . . you have to get it ready. Much like your house, a business needs to look good for potential buyers . . . clean it up.

Take a look at all the expenses and ask, did they help or hurt the business? If they hurt the business, you are not preparing it for a future owner.

Take a look at working capital. Do you plan on taking this out of the valuation?

If you want to see your legacy continue after the company is sold, make sure to clean up the business and consider all assets as critical to the business, particularly as it moves away from you after the deal.

When reviewing a company, you are competing against many factors: Owner Expectations, Family Member expectations, other acquirers, and many other factors. How do you balance seller expectations and other competing factors when you are in trenches of a potential acquisition?

First impressions go a long way and owner expectations are key. Hardeman is looking for business owners looking to sell their business for reasons other than just the pure transaction.

If the seller is only looking at their bottom line, looking to take their money and leave, then it is probably not a business they are looking to acquire.

Hardeman is looking for owners/sellers that care about their business reputation and their legacy. They can usually tell early in the first meeting if the business owner fits that mold. In those cases, the business owner/seller askes, “who are you going to keep, who are you going to fire”? This line of questions usually lets Hardeman know they are on the right track, and that their interests are aligned. Hardeman cares about these things. It’s not just a quantitative deal, but a qualitative deal, too.

What lessons did you learn in training and competing in triathlons teach you that can be translated to business strategy? I know this is a bit vague, but what business lessons did the rigorous training teach you?

Trent rained with a professional triathlon squad in Switzerland and he considers this his MBA. His Trainer/Coach was a gruff former boxer from Australia and imparted a lot of wisdom on Trent.

Trent thought, there must be a secret that the top 1% of athletes and business leads must have in order to get to the top . . . a “secret sauce.” This makes sense and they must all have this specialized formula of what they are doing. Needless to say, Trent jumped at the opportunity to go train with future Iron Man winners, Gold Medal Winners, and other world-class athletes.

What he found was that there wasn’t necessarily a training secret. What he observed was, every day, day in and day out, the biggest secret was their mind. They loved doing what they were doing. They loved swimming for 2 hours and then running and then biking. They loved going to sleep and getting up and doing it over again.

It was consistent, hard work. Keep in mind that nobody saw this hard work. Day in and day out. Hard work. People only saw the finished product of winning races and the medals and awards. Again, nobody saw the hard work they put in daily.

These world-class athletes loved the hard work and that meant a lot to Trent. That meant a lot. Day in and day out – consistent work.

His trainer once told him, “The man on the top of the mountain did not fall there.” Instead, he or she had to get there and it was a journey.

If you really want to go after some goal, go after it and GO HARD. Put one more day in and know that not every day is going to be the best day of your life. It may be a mundane day, but you put in the work towards that goal. People forget about that in today’s day of instant gratification.

World class athletes put in consistent, hard work. They also enjoy putting in the work.
World Class Athletes put in Consistent, Hard Work – and they enjoy doing it!

Trent remembers one time complaining about a training section that he did poorly and the trainer said, “I really don’t care. Did you do the training?” He said, training sessions are like stones . . . some days they’re diamonds and some days they’re rocks. You’re going to go pick up those stones and put them over on this pile, and you’re going to do that the rest of your life. That eventual pile of rocks will be a mountain of work that you take with you wherever you go.

This concept is the same with business and all other aspects of life. Maybe some days you just really have to kick yourself to get going, but you need get out of bed and do the work. That consistency and work and the work behind you (the pile of rocks = experience, knowledge, trials, tribulations) will help you into the future and will help you achieve what you want to achieve.

One of the other best things his trainer told him was around his swimming abilities. The trainer pulled him out of the pool and asked, “why are you trying to swim like Michael Phelps?” Trent was reminded, you are not Michael Phelps. The trainer’s point wasn’t that Trent would never achieve excellence in swimming, but that he would not achieve his best if he tried to swim like the best in the world when he wasn’t made that way.

It was suggested that if Trent can swim to the best of his ability, as an average American man, then he can still get to some other heights. Trent was still competing against some of the best in the world, even as an average swimmer.

The point here is that people get lost in useless comparative analysis. Is Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos the richest? Guess what? Someone will come along and be richer. Lebron James is a great basketball player. Guess what? Someone will come along and be better. People get lost trying to be Jeff Bezos and don’t focus on what’s important.

Don’t focus on your weaknesses. Work on weaknesses to make them better, but focus on MAXIMIZING YOUR STRENGTHS. When people compare themselves to other individuals, they might try to move towards strengths that they simply don’t possess. When trying to maximize other people’s strengths, they are missing out on a lot of opportunities goals that they can achieve.

For instance, small business owners can hit a level of success that they wanted to achieve. Just because it is a small business, doesn’t mean that they have failed. Someone may have owned a $1 million company by hitting their highest potential, the highest level of success they could by maximizing their strengths.

So many people get lost by comparing themselves to those that go before them. Guess what, again? You can’t be that. Trent didn’t become the world’s greatest triathlete. He became the greatest triathlete he could become.

Who is your favorite business leader and why?

Trent reads a lot of biographies about multiple leaders and multiple topics. But when asking the why . . . why they started Hardeman Company and how they moved from Natural Gas to looking for other companies to buy, it’s all because of his dad.

The greatest businessman he knows is truly his dad. This next story is specific to Tristar and his dad, but every small business has a similar story. Enron was Tristar’s largest customer, to the tune of $2million. That money wasn’t big to Enron, but it was big to Tristar. When Enron failed, they realized they weren’t going to see that money. It would all go to the creditors. This situation left his dad with a dilemma. He had a couple of options, including taking a personal $2 million loss to protect the business and take care of his employees, or he could fold up, lay off employees, and move on. His dad chose the first option and took a $2million loss so that he wouldn’t have to fire people.

While all this was happening, Trent and his brother were getting ready for college and a lot of bills were hitting his dad at a personal level. Even so, he put the employees first. He wasn’t going to punish the employees for what Enron did.

He could see the feelings and the passion in his dad’s face. Trent wishes he could bottle it up and sell it. Trent can also see it in other business owners faces. He can see the hard work and the legacies being created.

Small Business Strategies – Podcast Summary #smallbusiness #strategy #podcast

Collin Harbour

Collin W. Harbour is the Principal Founder of C Harbour Services LLC, a business transformation and strategy company that develops strategic plans by aligning sales and plans with company goals, people and process.

Collin is a client growth and business strategy leader with experience identifying new business opportunities, as well as managing and growing client revenues. Through C Harbour Services LLC, Collin focuses on creating customized solutions that deliver valuable services, allowing clients to focus on their core business. He is a Co-Host of Strike a Chord Live Podcast with his lifelong friend, Marcus Ellis. SACL Podcast is a Motivational and Inspirational podcast, with a mix of Nostalgia and Fun! Harbourtime Strategy Talks is a blog and podcast providing strategic content for companies of all sizes.