You could say Marcus Lemonis, a serial entrepreneur and star of the reality TV series “The Profit,” premiering this evening on CNBC, is a small business savior. In the show, he plays a white knight who rescues small businesses on the verge of collapse, offering much-needed cash infusions and no-BS guidance. Like the tough-talking moguls on "Shark Tank," he’s got skin in the game--to quote the fierce Omarosa, "he isn’t here to make friends." But unlike those moguls, Lemonis seems sincerely invested in getting businesses back on the right track--and he usually does. Lemonis spoke with Inc. about the series and the pleasures of betting big on the little guy.
What compelled you to be on this show?
I've spent my life buying small businesses, and it really made sense to find more deals or teach people how easy or hard it is, in some cases. There are a lot of shows out there, so we wanted to create a different platform for entrepreneurs who are just getting started or small business owners who need a little push.
Did CNBC approach you to do the show, or did you seek them out?
It was a collaboration between Mark Hoffman and myself.
As the guy who oversees the Camping World empire, was there ever any hesitation about being the face of the show?
Yes, and it was a big sacrifice of my personal life and time. I pride myself on being a pretty savvy negotiator and I knew if I was going to do this, it was going to be a bit more raw and realistic. I have 6,000 wonderful employees, and they will laugh when they see this show. They'll feel like they've gotten a break in the past few days. But I also know when I lay my head down at night that I'm stern, and I'm tough, but I'm not aggressive and mean. We aren't throwing pots and pans on this series.
What did you enjoy most about the show?
I had fun with five of six of them. The other one came down to an individual who doesn’t really get it. My take on business is that in this country, it is a privilege to own a business, not a right. When people take on this notion that they're entitled to own their business and treat their employees as such, I don’t want any part of that. But we've all been to some restaurant and seen someone scolded in front of a customer. You think to yourself, "If I was ever the boss, I would never let that happen."
"The Profit" features a lot of family-run businesses. In the first episode, you have to play mediator at a company run by the founder's bickering children. What was that like?
I've bought over a hundred businesses, and early on, I really struggled to get in the middle of that dynamic. You have to teach them that when you walk through the front door, you have to leave your family relationship outside. Under no circumstances, whether it's family or not, is arguing a recipe for business success. It can be very dangerous when you're trying to mediate and teach and mentor. But I feel like we were very successful in that process.
In the show, you're often portrayed as the savior wielding the check. What's in it for you?
In order for people to take you seriously, you have to put money on the table. For the viewer to see you as credible, they have to know you'll stand side-by-side with the same risks of loss as you have risks of upside. I think that resonates with people. Nobody likes consultants to come in and say things off the cuff. What people do like is when someone is willing to stand side-by-side with them.
What happens now that you’re off the air?
Camping World is an ongoing, everyday business. I still have the responsibility of all the other businesses. We’re about to start filming again for Season 2 in October.
What's your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Stay focused, work hard, know your numbers, and be disciplined. If you do those things and take care of your people, the likelihood of being successful is very, very high.