Weekly Thoughts

A snow covered ski trail in the mountains of Maine, USA

Tracking Lions

In 2008, we were invited to join a trip to the Londalozi Game Reserve in South Africa.  Being a good little dedicated Wall Street Junior Analyst, we turned down the trip because surely the global markets would fall apart (and our careers would be ruined) if we took seven days off work to luxuriate in the South African plains.  To be fair, the Lehman collapse did happen the week after the trip, but still, with some perspective, we probably should have gone.  Alas, hindsight is 20/20.

Despite missing out on the real thing, we did enjoy living the experience vicariously through Boyd Varty’s book, The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life.  Varty knows a little something about the topic since his family founded and still operates Londalozi, one of South Africa’s original and top-rated private game reserves.  A proudly family-run business, Boyd himself had the type of upbringing one might expect from growing up on a game reserve.  To put it mildly, it seems like he spent a lot of time outside.  In the African plains. Tracking lions.  You know, normal kid stuff.  Today, Boyd runs retreats at Lonadozi that “merge tracking, coaching, and storytelling into experiential learning events”.  Pretty cool. 

While the book piqued our personal interest, we were surprised when the lessons learned from tracking lions resonated from a Chenmark perspective.  To track lions—and, in our opinion, to run an SMB—one has to be pretty darn adaptive to the environment around them and be willing to trust the process.  As Boyd puts it, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I know exactly how to get there.”  More on this from the book: 

“I think of all the people I have spoken with who had said, ‘When I know exactly what the next thing is, I will make a move.’ I think of all the people whom I have taught to track who froze when they lost the track, wanting to be certain of the right path forward before they would move. Trackers try things. The tracker on a lost track enters a process of rediscovery that is fluid. He relies on a process of elimination, inquiry, confirmation; a process of discovery and feedback. He enters a ritual of focused attention. As paradoxical as it sounds, going down a path and not finding a track is part of finding the track. [Alex and Renias] call this ‘the path of not here.’ No action is considered a waste, and the key is to keep moving, readjusting, welcoming feedback. The path of not here is part of the path of there.”

This message resonates with us on many levels.  We have seen many high achievers avoid taking action due to analysis paralysis and a fear of failure.  One reason we’ve been able to build Chenmark from an idea into a real business is our ability to make decisions and take action, despite working with imperfect information and the very real potential of failure. 

Back in 2014, we had a blurry vision of what Chenmark could become in the world of small business if we a) bought smaller, cash flow positive businesses for reasonable valuations b) owned those companies for the long-term and c) reinvested the cash flows into acquiring new businesses.  Beyond those central tenants, we didn’t really have many of the details figured out and didn’t (and don’t) know exactly how it would play out.  We think to suggest otherwise would be hubris.  Despite that, new employees often ask about our 5 or 10 year plans for Chenmark and are typically disappointed to hear that we don’t have any specific goals.  We truly believe that if we show up every day ready to Chase Better, Play the Long Game, Keep Score, and Put the Team First, things will work out.  Exactly what that looks like is unclear, but we suspect it will be good.  Of course, along the way, we will make mistakes, and sometimes we will find ourselves on the “path of not here”.  When that happens, we’ll adjust and keep going.  Like the lion trackers, we also don’t know where we’re going, but we know exactly how to get there.

Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Team

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