top of page

Eyes on Relationships

Some time ago, I was walking into my office downtown Champaign, Illinois, and passed someone in the hallway. He looked familiar but I couldn’t quite put my finger on where from. I couldn’t remember his name (which happens to me often lately), so we said hello with a casual wave and walked on. But a few seconds later I heard him say, “Mr. Stephens? My name is John Spencer, and I worked at Horizon Hobby for fourteen years.” He continued, “I told myself if I ever saw you, I’d thank you for what you did for us. So, thank you for setting my family up financially so we could do whatever we wanted to do.”

We had sold Horizon nearly six years earlier, and moved on with life, but oh, what a blessing it was to hear John say that to me. Interactions like the one I shared with John happen every so often, and each time I hear it, I feel greater joy than anything else my career has produced.

What we did was essentially give half of our wealth to all the people like John who helped us succeed, through a 100% ESOP. Our vision at Horizon from the start was to create a company that God could use to impact and enhance the life of every person. So, we built Horizon on three strong values that helped everyone involved be the best they could be at work, at home, and at play. 

Those values were: 

  • The Golden Rule: We wanted everyone at Horizon to treat others as we would like to be treated.

  • The Customer Is Boss: The customers were the ones who paid our paycheck, so we made sure to take really good care of them.

  • An Upside-Down Pyramid as our organizational chart, or in other words, servant leadership. Our org chart had me, the CEO, at the bottom. My job was to promote, lead, guide, support, and love those who reported to me, and then teach them to do the same for their reports.  

These values were the heart of Horizon. And it is these values that led us to share the wealth with the hundreds of people who had just as much to do with our success as the leaders did. 

The point is that life is all about relationships. As you find yourself in your own career, striving for financial success, greater authority, promotions, and the like, know this: there’s nothing wrong with any of those goals! But building good relationships with people, treating others as you’d like to be treated, and putting others first by helping them succeed will give you greater joy than all the rest combined.

I’ve always loved riding Harleys across the country and snowboarding in two feet of fresh Colorado snow. These two hobbies have something in common, and that is: where you lock your eyes is where you’ll go. If you’re negotiating a turn on a bike, you don’t want to look down! You need to lock your eyes on the road as it turns in the distance and you will automatically go there. On a board, if you want to turn to the right, you have to bend your neck around and lock your eyes on the trees on that side. It’s amazing, but your board will start turning that way on its own. 

As you navigate your own personal career and life decisions, I urge you to ask yourself what kind of success you have your eyes locked on. If your eyes are locked on financial success, I bet you’ll make a lot of money. But if they are locked on building relationships—being a great leader by treating others well, and helping others succeed in life—I bet you’ll enjoy life a whole lot more!

bottom of page