Editor's note: We asked noted entrepreneurs to reflect on what they wish they'd known starting out and to put it in a letter to their younger selves. John Hewitt is a veteran of 46 tax seasons and the founder of top tax preparation firms Jackson Hewitt and Liberty Tax Service.

Dear John,

I can't tell you too much about the future; it has something to do with not messing up the space-time continuum. But I can tell you about the biggest lesson I learned in business, or as I call it, my "billion-dollar mistake."

It all started in 1982, when I bought (or will buy, in your case) into a company that would become known as Jackson Hewitt. I did some great things there, along with help from your grandfather, and the company grew extremely fast. But the problem began when I first invested in it with 11 other investors. I bought 20 percent of the company stock and was given 20 percent control of the company. As the majority shareholder, I thought that, if I worked hard and did a good job, I would always keep my job and my controlling interest in the company. But how naive and wrong I was at age 33 (I know that sounds old to you, but it's still very young in the business world).

One constant in business is that there will always be some sort of adversity to deal with. And for Jackson Hewitt, that adversity happened in 1995, when the IRS delayed paying our customers for months, and when it did pay, it sent my company's royalty checks to our customers by mistake. Needless to say, many customers didn't pay us our service fee, and Jackson Hewitt had a tough year.

By this time, a venture capitalist had bought into the company, but he and I had very different goals. He was looking just a few years ahead, while I was more concerned about 10-20 years down the road. And he used our tough year of 1995 as a way to get the board of directors to push me out of my role as CEO. He even tried to take over the company at only $2 a share. Fortunately that didn't happen, because the company sold just two years later for $68 a share ($483 million total). And in 2004, seven years after I left Jackson Hewitt, the company climbed in value to $1 billion.

So my "billion-dollar mistake" was not setting up the company in the beginning in a way that I could control it without interference from VCs or other outside forces. But as I like to say, mistakes are a wise person's education. And I definitely learned from that one.

When I established Liberty Tax Service, I set it up so I choose the majority of the members of the board of directors to prevent anyone from taking over the company. At both Jackson Hewitt and Liberty Tax, I led the growth and expansion of these companies. My ideas and philosophies resulted in their success. Going forward, I want to make sure I'm the one behind the wheel.

So there you have it, young John Hewitt. My billion-dollar lesson is to keep control of your dream and don't let anyone take it away from you. Good luck, and be sure to pay attention in math class.


John Hewitt
Chairman, CEO, and President of Liberty Tax Service