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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Why is the Top of Jim Coghlin's Head Shiny? Because He's a Bright Guy

by Shel Horowitz

To not only let a 112-year-old family business prosper, but to increase sales volume by 20 times, you must be doing something right.

Jim Coghlin has grown the Worcester-based Coghlin Companies from $3 million to $60 million in his 30 years with the firm.

Coghlin stressed the importance of mentoring: not only from family executives, but also from an outside board and groups like the Young Presidents Association that let newer managers "Bare your soul in confidential high-level discussions."

Now, with two of his own children in executive positions within the firm, Coghlin sees more of his role as mentoring them.

Some of the lessons he tries to pass on:

  • Divide your days into focus days-8 of 10 working hours dedicated to a task-buffer days for catching up on administrative tasks, and free days-mini vacations just before a focus day.
  • Pursue three 90-day goals at a time.
  • Concentrate on high-payoff activities to achieve those goals. For instance, when setting priorities for customer contact, go after the one that will result in the largest check.
  • Spend as much time as possible in the field (Coghlin doesn't have an office, only a meeting room).
  • "Delegate everything except what is your genius"-the part of your work that contains your passion, and that others can't do as well.
  • Build key relationships. If there's conflict, ask the other person, "'What has to have happened in three years to make this relationship successful?' If they don't answer, they don't trust you. If they do answer, you know exactly what has to happen."
  • Finally, keep your commitments-be someone others will trust: be on time, do what you say you'll do, finish the tasks, and say please and thank you.

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