Dave Signs | Crain's Nashville

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Dave Signs


Safe Harbor Marinas was founded in 1999, and Dave Signs joined the company in 2008. Signs has two decades of marina and hospitality experience, and previously served as president of the Tennessee Marina Association. The Knoxville, Tenn.-based company has locations in Tennessee, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New York.

 The Mistake:

I invested time and energy into people who weren't as committed to achieving the level of success that I had in mind for them in those positions. In some cases, it took me too long to figure it out, and to correct it.

In particular, I've noticed that if you’re an entrepreneur, you often have family and friends who you think would be great for this and that. Sometimes they are right, and sometimes they're not. When they're not, though, it can be difficult to change those positions and damaging to the relationships when you have to.

It's not just about not hiring friends and family – I have hired both – but now I always do that with a precursor of trying it for a limited amount of time. If this isn't good for me or you, we're going to say so and not invest a lot of time in something that’s not a good fit professionally.

I've had employees who I felt had a lot of potential and ability to do well in my business. I hired and trained them, but they did not have the level of commitment needed to really excel in their jobs.

My mistake was letting it go too long before I corrected the situation. I just thought I'd give it another year and see what happens. Over time, these employees' lack of commitment to their jobs began to affect others in the company.  At some point, I just had to say it wasn't working.

My mistake was letting it go too long before I corrected the situation.

The Lesson:

I have a young man who has worked for me for six years. He's coming into an assistant manager position and he's good at his job, but because he's worked for me for six years as a summer job, I know him pretty well and what he will struggle with.

What I've had to do is set benchmarks, and timeframes for the benchmarks. You've got to be able to handle this paperwork within this amount of time, correctly. The second one is within a certain amount of time, he's got to be able to handle the staff and gain their respect. The third one is to figure out how to deliver customer service in difficult situations.

The best thing to do is hire someone who is the best qualified and the most passionate about the job. If it turns out they are not a good fit, don't be afraid to end the professional relationship. Ultimately it will be the best for them, and for the company.

Pictured: Dave Signs | Photo courtesy of Safe Harbor Marinas

Safe Harbor Marinas is online at:  http://safeharbormarinas.com/

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