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Success Through Sharing Your Blessings

The Story of Phil S. Willis, Principal Owner and CEO, Willis and Jurasek, P.C., CPAs/Consultants
Small Business Person of the Year for Michigan

by Willy Rasmussen
Power Homebiz Guides

The mark of a truly successful man is his self-less giving of his talents, time and riches to his community. Phil Willis has demonstrated in his brilliant entrepreneurial career that sharing your blessings to others is much more rewarding than all the accolades and awards combined.

Phil S. Willis, CPA, has given much to Jackson County, Michigan, both through his business activities and through community service. The principal owner and CEO of the accounting firm, Willis and Jurasek, P.C., CPAs/Consultants, Mr. Willis has found success in consulting as well as in the more traditional tax and audit business. After graduating from Albion College in Michigan, he worked in an accounting firm for five years, gained his CPA qualifications, and purchased a "very small" CPA practice.

The accounting firm he organized in 1967 has since expanded to offer financial and estate planning services and consulting. In 1999, revenues stood at US$2.5 million. Willis & Jurasek has grown in manpower as well, and now stands at twenty-six employees. 

Flexibility in the Face of Adversities

Business, however, was not always easy for Mr. Willis. In the 1990s, he was faced with what he calls a major challenge: the technology market was stealing his business! Demand for accounting services waned because of the proliferation of accounting software. The PCs could now do the work that people used to ask accountants to do. 

The solution he found exemplifies the flexibility for which small businesses are known as they set the pace of innovation in today’s fast-paced environment.  Instead of watching his business shrink, he started a new company, Willis Information TechNologies, Inc. (WIN), to help people meet their computer needs. WIN provides "recommendations for the best hardware and software, along with installation, training, and most important of all, continued support and service."  The new company helped businesses with complete automation services, including hardware, software, installation, networks and service, making sure that they had "the right fit."  Because of Mr. Willis' optimism and fortitude, the PC problem turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Giving Back

Mr. Willis has parlayed his entrepreneurial and consulting skills into community service. After "thousands of hours and ten years of forecasted financial statements," Mr. Willis won a license from the State of Michigan Strategic Fund to start a Business Industrial Development Company (BIDCO), which helped provide an increased tax base and increased employment opportunities in Jackson, Michigan. BIDCO has now "assisted forty Michigan companies in providing small mezzanine and equity capital for growth of their businesses." The greatest accomplishment for Mr. Willis, though, comes from helping others fulfill their business aspirations. "We are able to help many people achieve their lifetime dream," he said.

Mr. Willis, however, was not content with the assistance his BIDCO provided the Jackson community. Jackson hit a deep recession in the eighties, Mr. Willis said, and he grew frustrated with the oppressive stagnancy. "I saw three of Jackson's major businesses close," he said. "We needed more investment capital in the community." Mr. Willis, determined to meet this need and revive his community, founded and organized the non-profit Jackson Venture Capital Forum and served as its president for four years. This new organization provided a forum for investors and entrepreneurs to meet and develop strategy. "We teamed up with four other venture capital forums around the state. We had over one hundred members and were able to help start twenty five businesses." Among his biggest success stories was transforming Universal Phone Books, Inc. from a small company without the capital needed to publish enough phone books for the Jackson area into a nationally known and award-winning company hauling in over $7 million in sales. As chief architect of the project, Mr. Willis reinvented the company. "We were losing money at first because it was expensive to publish such high quality books," he explained. Mr. Willis also corrected the company's poor management, faced lawsuits over labor problems, and was able to fix a "horrendous problem with accounts receivable collections, bad debts, and poor cash flows." In the end, however, Mr. Willis was vindicated by overwhelming success. "Persistency paid off as problems were resolved and sales continued to grow."


Business Philosophies

In all his business dealings, Mr. Willis is guided by a sense of trust and goodwill towards others. "My philosophy," he explained, "is to trust all people until they give me a specific reason to lose that trust." Mr. Willis once helped a Korean-born janitor and house cleaner buy a beauty academy. "I got to know her through several meetings and looked at the business opportunity. I decided to advance her money for the purchase." The venture proved successful and the lady, Kyung Sheridan, was able to pay off Mr. Willis' loan. The financial reward for Mr. Willis, however, was "only a small part. Helping people, whether friends, business associates, or clients be successful in achieving their goals is the most rewarding part of my life."

Mr. Willis' other guiding principle is a "down-to-earth approach to people." Mr. Willis spent his childhood on the family dairy farm. His background helps him relate to all different types of people, no doubt helping him in his business life. Mr. Willis proves that this personal touch should not be underestimated in the business world. The success of his TrustCare Services, under the umbrella of Willis & Jurasek, is undoubtedly due at least in part to his penchant for helping others. TrustCare, Mr. Willis summarizes, "is a service designed to provide assurance to family members that care goals are achieved for family members no longer able to be totally independent." TrustCare's mission is three pronged: "provide assessment and planning assistance; provide assistance, consultation, advocacy, and educational services for individuals, families, organizations, and businesses; coordinate services and assistance." Attitude, personality, and character matter perhaps more than anything to the success of such a personal service.

The theme of personal service also applies to Mr. Willis marketing techniques. He estimates that referrals generate 75% of his new business. "We focus on about an hour drive, or 150 mile radius for most of our business. Our goal is to provide the best services in this area." Providing good services even to a small base of people, Mr. Willis believes, is more important than massive marketing campaigns. "Too many people in business," he said, "worry about marketing to the world rather than helping their own customers."

Mr. Willis also heavily relies on his family for support. In fact, he credits his wife with much of his success in business. "I work very closely with her. She's doesn't stand behind me in my business life, but beside me," he pointed out. Mr. Willis also has made a commitment that is probably equally pleasing to his wife and family as it is radical to many small business owners: He decided to take a week off every month. "It is extremely important to spend time away from the office," he said. But the reasons, surprisingly, are not simply confined to spending quality time with his family, although that is a major consideration. "Its a good business practice," Mr. Willis explained. It forces your employers to function when you're not there." Indeed, Mr. Willis places great emphasis on the development of his employees. Preferring to manage "more from a distance," he allows his employees freedom and independence to make decisions. "If they can't survive without you, your business will never grow," he said. The time off also allows Mr. Willis to replenish his creative reserves and regain his energy. "It's a hard step for many entrepreneurs to do, but you can't grow without it. In the long run, it creates opportunities."  

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