From The C Suite to The Cancer Ward. And Back.
Could your business survive in your absence? From the outset, Greg Roper worked to ensure that Integrity Funding, his Sarasota, Florida, specialty finance firm, could. Good thing, too. Because for much of 2012, Roper was out of the office--battling Stage 4 cancer. Entrepreneur Greg Roper told his story to Inc. staff writer Jeremy Quittner.
Back in the 1980s, I was in the military, and I learned about small-unit tactics. The idea is that everyone is important, but nobody is irreplaceable. It's the same for business: If your team can't survive when the king is killed, your business fails.
In 1986, at the age of 51, my father was found to have a brain tumor. His cancer was very serious, and after a few months, he passed away. I left the Army and came home to Charlotte, North Carolina, to help my mother take over his printing business. It was an abject failure and closed the following year. This cemented my philosophy of interchangeability.
In 2012, I was shaving and found a lump in my throat. I had not had a prescription for medication in my adult life, and I have never missed a day's work. I found out I had Stage 4 oropharyngeal cancer. Like my father, I was 51.
I immediately went back to work and called all of my people into our common area. I said, "Anybody who treats me any differently than you did yesterday has to go. We all have jobs to do, and I am just going to be a little less effective at mine over the next few months."
My surgery was in May. In June, I started chemo and radiation. Picture me sitting there in chemo. Everyone else in the ward is covered up in a blanket. I am on my cell phone and laptop. I am doing my best to do whatever my job requires. Focusing on the business was therapy for me, but I don't think I was that effective. The gift of cancer treatment is you have to learn to let go. My management team did the heavy lifting.
Prior to my illness, we were very entrepreneurial, but everybody still kind of looked to me for validation. During my illness, they would bring me only what they had to have my input on. We grew into a more mature group of people.
A good example is our chief financial officer, Tracy Green. She has an amazing background, and anyone who interviews her would hire her. We'd persuaded her to come to Sarasota and work for our tiny company, and one month later the CEO says, "I have cancer." Many people would have bolted. She jumped in--and has done as much to help our company as anyone.
I am not the business--I work for the business. I remind myself and everyone else of this on a regular basis. This company will survive me. Hopefully, it will be viable well into the future.