Scholarship Finalist: Ben Millis

The family business

I can say with no exaggeration that the most influential factor in my life in the last ten years has been my father’s small business undertaking. But first, some back story is in order. My father originally worked as a millwright at the Continental Tire plant in Mayfield, Kentucky, for over twenty years of his life. He almost always worked seven days a week, twelve hours a day, and with an hour commute each way. Needless to say, my siblings and I rarely had the chance to spend time with him. But, in 2006 that all changed. The plant was closed down and hundreds of employees — my father included — lost their jobs. And although that sounds terrible at first glance, it was a blessing for my family for a couple of reasons. First, because we finally got to spend time with our father on an occasion other than one of his rare days off. And second, my dad found his passion: the life of an entrepreneur.

Being unemployed, my father suddenly found himself with a surplus of free time, which was unacceptable for a man with his work ethic. Coincidentally, there also happened to be a small gas station/convenience store in our town that had seen better days and was up for sale. So, he made his decision, took out a loan, and bought the place. In the years that followed, I learned many of the lessons that make me the person I am today. The most important of those lessons were that you get out what you put in, that good help is valuable, that there is no better asset than a good reputation, and that you should always do what makes you happy.

The idea that one gets out of life what they put in is a common one, but our business demonstrated this to me in a way nothing else could. I saw all of the time and effort my father put into our gas station come back to us as he turned it into the kind of place customers would want to spend their money — completely transforming it from the mismanaged business it had been. Business increased, the building grew, and I learned that hard work pays off.

Another important life lesson I have learned through business, is that reliable employees are worth their weight in gold. Good help is hard to find, as I have found out over the years from our experiences of sifting through the more questionable people on the payroll to find those rare gems. What I have taken away from this is a desire to be one of those gems. Through scrutinizing others, I have become the kind of person that scrutinizes myself, and I always seek to pass these inspections.

The third way our business has made me who I am is by imparting an understanding of the importance of a good reputation. My father always made sure to never give anyone a raw deal and to maintain a great relationship with the community. People respond well to that. Any given person is always more likely to do business with someone who has been fair and friendly with them in the past. I have taken this philosophy to heart and have tried to be the sort of man one would choose to do business with.

Finally, the most important way being involved in business has affected me is my refusal to accept anything less than doing what I love. I never saw my father truly enjoy his work until after he lost his job and started his own business, and by then he was over forty. I want to spend my prime years doing what I love, regardless of the work it will take to do so. And for that, I have my first-hand experience in self-employment to thank.

Obviously, many core aspects of who I am today can be attributed to watching and learning from the way my father operated his small business. Everything from my personal values to the appreciation I have when I walk into a well laid-out convenience store can be traced back to growing up in the business, and I am truly blessed to have been able to experience everything I have.

This essay was written by Ben Millis, one of 10 finalists for the Small Business Success Student Scholarship Program. Ben and the other finalists were selected from more than 500 applications reviewed by the Scholarship Committee. Three of the finalists will win a $1,500 scholarship to be used toward furthering their education. To vote for Ben or any of the other finalists, visit the Small Business Success Student Scholarship voting app on Facebook.

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