When Richard Corbett was growing up outside Pittsburgh, most of the men he knew went to work in factories or mills. In the 1970s, that seemed like a solid idea—a steady job with good pay and benefits, and the promise of a pension at the end of the line. But in the 1980s, that all fell apart. “I watched people I knew, guys 20 years older than me, suddenly on the street,” Corbett remembers. “They were at the age where nobody wanted to hire them. And because they’d been counting on their pensions, they didn’t have any money saved up. That opened my eyes to the fact that the only person in control of my destiny is me.”
When his turn came to enter the workforce, Corbett bypassed the factories and the mills. Instead, he decided to go into business for himself. In 1981, he opened his own automotive service business in Pittsburgh, specializing in expensive European cars. “If I’m going to fix cars,” he reasoned, “I might as well fix expensive cars.”
An unexpected upside of his automotive business was that most of his clients turned out to be wealthy businessmen. Corbett used every opportunity to pick their brains. “Most business people are happy to share their journey,” he says. “You just have to ask questions and listen.” Over time, many of these men turned out to be mentors for him.
One of the most important lessons Corbett learned both for his automotive company and when he launched Richlin International in 1999 was that it’s not enough to have a plan B. At any moment, he has plans A, B, C and D. “Sometimes I’ll go halfway through the alphabet with plans, just in case,” he says. “I always have a plan, but it’s not carved in stone.”
Corbett remembers the economic fallout in ’07 and ’08, when the Southwest Florida real estate market was decimated. In those dicey years, making long-range plans was nearly impossible. Instead, Corbett stayed flexible and open to change, always with a contingency on hand. The result: Richlin International weathered the storm and has thrived in the years that followed.
It Pays to Ask Around
Corbett recognizes that most entrepreneurs aren’t like typical nine-to-fivers. “We do have a little bit of a different wiring, so to speak,” he admits. One mistake many entrepreneurs make is only relying on their own opinions. Sometimes, Corbett said, they’d be better served to seek outside advice. Before he makes any kind of big decision, he turns to several sources. “I’ll ask half a dozen people their opinion, and I’ll weigh that out before I make up my mind,” he says.
He doesn’t always ask the same six people. In fact, Corbett will seek out different sources depending on the decision he has to make. “I might get six different viewpoints on one subject,” he says. “And I might use a piece of information from each of them.” In the end, this allows him to be confident in his decision.