Matters Column

Biz challenges too much for you? Tell it to Nobel winner

July 15, 2016
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If you have ever felt overwhelmed by the sacrifices of building a business, you need to examine your situation from a different perspective.

The hurdles are high. Dealing with state federal and local taxes and regulation can seem overwhelming. Your competition may be large businesses with unlimited resources, or unethical competitors that misrepresent the quality of their product.

Some days when you feel like giving up, consider the events surrounding the life of Aung San Suu Kyi.

I first heard of her about 15 years ago when my wife and I went to a movie, “Escape from Rangoon.” These events took place in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The government had been taken over by a repressive military regime that was one of the most violent and corrupt in the world.

Suu Kyi had left Myanmar as a young woman to study in London. She met a young British student, married and settled into an urban life with her husband and two sons. In 1988 she returned to Myanmar to visit her ill mother. She saw the degradation of her homeland and witnessed the crushing burden her countrymen endured. Her father had been a highly respected military officer who had been assassinated by the regime. A group of scholars and community activists begged her to lead an opposition movement.

Suu Kyi was under house arrest for five years. She was separated from her family for 10 years. Her husband died of cancer during her ordeal. The government offered her an opportunity to see her terminally ill husband in London with the understanding that she would never return to Myanmar. She stayed in Myanmar. Her struggle was 22 years in total.

She received the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, and Myanmar recently held free democratic elections.

So what does this have to do with your business?

Suu Kyi stated one time that she did not believe in hope. She believed in hard work and results.

No one expects you to sacrifice your family and freedom to accomplish your goals. You certainly must see that Suu Kyi was an exceptional human being, much like Nelson Mandela and other political heroes around the world.

You may not go to their extremes, but their accomplishments emphasize that you can achieve what seems impossible.

How could you stand up to a brutal threatening repressive government? You don’t have to. All you have to do is join with your small-business advocacy organizations and put your money and your efforts into changing the things that are wrong.

I can tell you honestly that I never dreamed of Michigan being a right-to-work state, or that we would rid ourselves of the cursed Michigan Single Business Tax. Michigan is steadily moving up the ranks of a state to do business in. The small-business advocacy organizations in Michigan got it done. Who were they up against?

Such powerful adversaries as the UAW, the Big Three automakers and the Democratic Party. We won, and you didn’t even spend a day under house arrest.

Suu Kyi sacrificed so much and had the steel will to face potential death, torture and confinement. The only thing that prevented her assassination was her world wide support. Imagine a military regime intimidated by a five-foot-tall, 95-pound young mother.

Things have improved for women-owned businesses in the 40 years I spent in small-business advocacy, but a woman who is confronted with gender-based bias should remember the diminutive woman who faced down a brutal dictatorship. If she can do that, you certainly can confront the obstacles in your path.

Her statement about hope versus  hard work caught my attention. I once heard a speaker talking about Parkinson’s disease state that hope was merely delayed devastation. That is true if all you do is hope. If you exercise, eat right and keep your head screwed on straight, you can add years of active life. Hope without effort is a fool’s mission. 

We face a pivotal election in November. We have the worst candidates I believe in the history of American politics. That we get to choose between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb is our own fault. We got into this mess because the politicians were allowed free rein in the process. The wonderful thing is that with either one of these mega-flawed candidates as president, we will survive.

So get involved. Both hope and work. Get ’er done.

She did.

Paul Hense is the retired president of local accounting firm Hense & Associates and past chairman of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

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