Growing up in North Dakota provided one of the bottom-line experiences to which Jerry Helgeson credits his success: a strong work ethic. Farmers know what hard work is and what it takes to make a day productive.
As founder of American Eagle Distributing Co., a wholesale beer-distributing company in Loveland, Helgeson infused that ethic into how he focused on the daily tasks of his business, as well as how he focused on people who are on both sides of the counter.
“It’s so important to treat everybody as fairly as possible — that means treating small accounts the same as big accounts,” he said.
How often have you started to write a memo on policy updates, an annual report or even an email only to find yourself staring at a blank screen? Many professionals struggle to get started writing — even though they have a general idea of what they should say, they don’t know what to say first.
“It was a challenge working with so many different suppliers — we had to keep all of them in the top of our minds and continue to represent them in the market. We worked to keep that in front of us every day.”
Working a steady 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. day helped Helgeson meet the goal.
Making sure he extended that same appreciation and value to his employees gained his company a reputation that attracted a loyal team.
“What makes a company successful is hiring the right people and making sure the attitude of the company is positive,” he said. “That means treating employees with respect, creating a good atmosphere, a good facility, great equipment, and providing good health care and pension and profit sharing.”
Another key to success is knowing when to make a move and which move is the right one to make. With that wisdom well in place, Helgeson’s risk-taking confidence compelled him to sell some of his companies in order to acquire others, sometimes against the advice of financial advisers.
That intuition and drive also led him to cash in life-insurance policies and borrow money from friends when the going got tough.
In terms of results, Helgeson’s diligent efforts, strong work ethic and relationship-based principles have paid off.
Anheuser-Busch InBev, the second-largest beer distributor in the United States, made an offer to purchase his company last year, which he agreed to, as long as he could keep his office.
“A-B was attracted to us because we were always trending in rankings as great in the market and great in having some of the best employees in Northern Colorado,” Helgeson said.
Having started his business ownership with six employees, he ended it with 125.
As a true entrepreneur, Helgeson’s advice is clear. “I encourage anyone who wants to start their own company to just do it. Just remember that capital is really important.
“It takes a lot of determination — there will be days you fail and days that you’ll win. The real key to success is work.”