In the December 2011 issue of Hawaii Business magazine, we asked Bruce Johnson, CEO of Fresh Island Fish Co. and Uncle’s Fish Market and Grill, for advice for business people and up-and-coming entrepreneurs. Here are some outtakes.
On Passion for Work
What drives you is the most important thing, and that’s having the passion. I don’t know how much ethics is really taught, but I think this idea of mentors and having integrity and having that passion is really what is going to help drive you and help you to be successful. There’s a lot of people that will be influenced by money. I think those are the ones that are going to find out in the end that chasing money is not very effective. … As far as my integrity, I started as a fisherman, so I always had to do two or three things. I couldn’t make it just on fishing. I had a young family so I did two or three other things. I would recommended to anybody starting out that you do two or three things until you kind of get something going and you really feel that turning point that you can give it all. If you have to be like I was, I did some carpeting, I had a little sandblast business on the side. Fishing was my passion. Of course, fishing is something I continue to do. I saw at the time that there was a niche for fish and so starting out it was lucrative. It still can be today. … No matter what you do, everything can be a stepping stone, but when you’re really look at, “What is it that I want to do?” and “Where do I want to end up?” I think that’s the part that one has to look at. “Do I love this? Do I really love what I’m doing?” And don’t follow the money. Follow the passion, and the money will follow.
On never giving up
(The fishing industry) is a tough business. It’s like any business. I’m not going to say it’s any tougher than any other business, but it is a business that can change and through the years I’ve seen this industry’s pendulum swing from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market. There’s been so many challenges, obstacles from strikes to high fuel prices to 9/11. When all those different elements come in that are going to be factors on your ability to survive, I think it’s going back to the basics of learning how to dig in and weather the storm. Sometimes you’re not necessarily going forward, you’re just sort of staying in it. I think the best recommendation I can ever give to a young entrepreneur is you have to have a never-give-up attitude. And you will weather the storms. You will think of different ways to reinvent yourself if you have to, whatever industry you’re in.
On working different jobs
I was a carpet layer for various carpet companies. The big boom in Waikiki, I went over there, I made enough money to be able to buy a small boat and went back fishing again. Then I fished long enough to where I realized I had to go back and make some money. So I jumped in and I made a little sand blasting business, sandblasting boats and doing those little wood signs that people hang outside their businesses. Everyday you get up, you gotta figure out, “What am I going to do today to make a living?” When you’re an entrepreneur, sometimes you’re doing several things when you’re starting out. I chose to go that route rather than working for somebody and taking a job, but the whole time I was always thinking about going fishing — like I am at this moment.
On growing a company
Be careful on growth. Always try to be careful to protect the base of your company, how you are actually paying the bills and you keep that one segment safe all the time from too much risk. But growth is also something that I know can be seductive in a lot of ways because you feel so strong and you’re being successful and it’s like, “Why not open another one?” But that also has to be in a checked in, making sure that you don’t go off the edge and overdevelop or over expand and risk the whole farm and the next thing you know you’re in a corner and you can’t make it. But a good entrepreneur can survive and come back from one of those, even if you do lose it all. There’s no such thing as failure, unless you give up.