Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in professional development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with John Philbin, Co-Founder of Spectacular at Work (S@W), located in Chicago, IL, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

We do leadership and organizational effectiveness consulting, which includes a good deal of coaching and succession planning work with leaders of companies who want their people and culture to be a competitive advantage. We help companies and leaders make sure that the best and the most talented people want to work, and we help get the next generation ready so that our clients build high-performance organizations that sustain their performance over time.

We work with CEOs and senior leaders at companies large and small who are serious about having a consistent flow of the right people to make their companies spectacular - this ranges from small private companies starting at about $100MM in revenue up to industry-leading global companies with tens of billions of dollars in revenue. I also teach at top business schools, currently at Kellogg Executive Ed at Northwestern University.

Tell us about yourself

I am a psychologist trained to be a traditional office shrink, helping people with their emotional challenges and life struggles. Along the way, I found that there is a whole lot of psychology to manage in order to be a great leader, build a powerful team, or create a successful company, and so I have focused on corporate consulting for the past 25 years.

I am especially motivated to help people see themselves (their strengths and weaknesses) and their situation (their big opportunities and what the company and team need from them) more clearly. Humans have a very strong tendency to get out of sync with one another and revert back to seeing the world the way they think it should be rather than the way it really is. Helping people and teams be more clear-eyed about their world helps them be much more effective and happier in their work. This makes it fulfilling. I also find it endlessly fascinating to become a part of their world and help them untangle these issues.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

I co-founded a firm, set some goals for it, and ran the firm for 15 years. We grew it to the point where I had about 25 amazing colleagues all doing our life's work together. The firm did well enough that people were thriving personally, professionally, and financially. We worked with leading companies around the world and built powerful and lifelong relationships with clients.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

It doesn't happen very often, but occasionally someone isn't a good fit for our team, and we have to help them see that our firm is just not the right place for them. That's never fun, particularly when the individual wants to be a part of the team and can't see the situation clearly themselves.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Start with a mission and build a business plan that supports the mission.
  2. When things are not working on a team or with an individual, deal with it immediately. Don't let issues that hold people back from doing a spectacular job on your mission continue one minute longer than they need to.
  3. Recognize the freedom and fun that comes with being responsible for your time and success.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

It takes a good deal of energy to create something that wasn't there before. It is very different than running an organization that already exists, so get your sleep, take good care of yourself and build a team that can support you in your life and your work.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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