Visionaries Podcast

Make Your Business More Profitable with a Proactive Approach with Walter Hill Jr

Walter Hill Jr.

In this episode, we’ll explore:

  • The importance of having a successful career but also a successful lifestyle.
  • How to identify the problem first in order to develop a process and be able to repeat that process over nad over again.
  • A red flag strategy that enables entrepreneurs everywhere to turn their businesses into top competitors and thrive in the business world today. 

Notes from this episode:

  • [5:28] Messages that people can pull from the book Think Red Flags: A Proactive and Profitable Approach for Your Small Business
  • [13:31] Steps in a process of having a successful business and how important is the way of thinking
  • [19:42] Example of a red flag
  • [26:50] Directions and advice for small business owners

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Today's Guest

Walter Hill Jr.

Walter Hill Jr. is a second-generation entrepreneur from Petersburg, Virginia, where his father owned three small businesses: an auto body shop, an ESSO service station, and a fuel oil delivery service.

After working with his father and attending the University of Maryland, Walter moved to Los Angeles, where he became a notable leader in the brand-marketing industry. 

The companies he led were recognized by both customers and the industry for exemplary service, ethics, and value to customers.

Walter founded Icon Blue in 1998, and within its first few years of operation, the

company earned the Macy’s Star Supplier Award and American Honda Motor’s Tier One Supplier Award. His business achievements have been noted by The Wall Street Journal, Advertising Age, Counselor, Advantages and other magazines. He is the recipient of Counselor’s Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award and the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award.

Walter has served on the boards of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce, The Mattel Children’s Hospital Board at UCLA, and The Eras Center, a school for children with learning disabilities.

He is an avid runner and enjoys golf with his wife, Bonnie. They have three daughters and twelve grandchildren.

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Welcome tovisionaries where we explore stories, strategies and insights from the world'smost inspiring entrepreneurs, brands and creators. Were on a mission to helpvisionaries like you stand out and monetize their knowledge, influence andmessage online. Explore your topics like business, marketing, creativity, andpersonal development. Let's build your vision for a happier more meaningfullife, business and community together. Walter Hill Jr joins us on visionariestoday, where we talk about his entrepreneurial journey from young startupfounder to longtime business leader, mentor, author, and so much more.

In fact,Walter shares his unique red flag framework and how you can use it inside ofyour own business and life. When it comes to owning a business. Your stomachand your mind is often filled with either lots of excitement or just bottomlessfear. What if I make the wrong decisions? What if my business completely fallsapart? Well, what if you had a tested and proven strategy to help navigate theuncertainties of running a business? What if you could have the tools to ensureyour business's financial success? Well, we explore some of these ideas andmore inside of this interview with Walter today, and he shares more about hisbook and the red flag strategy that enables entrepreneurs everywhere to turntheir businesses into top competitors and thrive in the business world today.

So let'sjump into our interview with Walter Hill Jr. Welcome back to visionaries. Todaywe have on Walter Hill Walters, thanks so much for being on the show today.You're welcome. Yeah, to be here. Of course, of course. Well, you know, forthose who are learning about you for the first time, I give us a niceintroduction to who you are and what you're up to. Well, I'm a second generationentrepreneur. And I am trying to give a, a kind of a brief answer to thisquestion. The idea of a couple hours, yeah, I've had a few years. So there's alot, there's a lot that I could say about that. I was a second generationentrepreneur, my father had was a small business owner. And I stopped workingwith him at the age of 10, where I got my first introduction to what it waslike to provide service and be compensated for it.

And theimportance of good service, so that you have an opportunity to have developedrepeat customers that that is something that resonated with me very early. Andafter I after leaving the University of Maryland after that, I went to move toCalifornia, and worked my way out for about three months and started toestablish myself in Los Angeles. And I had had been here ever since I startedmy first business at 2424 years old. And I'm quite aways from that right now.So that's is that's a long time ago. But I still have very vivid clear memoriesof what it was like it was a lot of fun. For some reason, there were people atthe time that gave a lot of trust to a 24 year old. And I had two floors ofoffices on Wilshire Boulevard, which was considered a very prestige area. Ididn't know that at the time, because I was from Virginia, I had no idea whereI was. So these very kind, landlords actually rented me the space and I was inbusiness.

And thatwas that was kind of my first experience with the importance of balance becauseI was I was married at the time and it was my first experience with making alot of money. And it was so exciting that I would just work all day and anddidn't pay very much attention to family. And you know the end of that story asa result of that by 25 years old. I was divorced. And that was a great lesson aboutthe importance of life balance of directing your energies to be successful, butat the same time, not neglecting other things that are important, veryimportant in life. Because I think to have to have a successful career, itneeds to be successful overall successful family life successful business life.

And that'swhat leads to a happy end. And that's where I am now. I sold my company aboutthree years ago. And I consider it not retired because I'm still very activeand trying to share as much of what I learned with others. And that's why Iwrote the book, think red flags, a proactive and profitable approach for yoursmall business. Yes, that's it. Thank you so much for walking through this. AndI love getting context of people's backgrounds, in the business, but also into,like, why you were guided to do what you're doing right now. So tell us alittle bit more about this book. And some of the messages that people can pullfrom it and how it can be relevant to them? Well, I thought I hope they will getfrom it is a process that I refer to as red flagging, it's a very common term,red flagging, we learned it from childhood, you walk to a corner, it's a redflag moment, you have to look both ways before you cross the street or there'sdanger. It simply means caution. Beware, be on the lookout for. And so redflags in business will apply in the same way. If there are, as you probablyknow, some 45% of most businesses fail within the first five years. The goodnews is 55% of the business succeed. So I think what most people want to wantto pursue is how can they increase the odds to their favor, so that they canfinish in the 55%? As opposed to the 45%? That didn't make it? And the way youdo that is one of the ways you do it. There is no magic answer.

Because Ithink that the red flagging is a way of thinking, and it can be a tremendousasset to anyone who would develop that skill. And how do you do that, byreading about it, or having a coach that would teach it as I did to all themembers of my team, which is why we had a company that had less than 1% errorrate. And we were in a very volatile business of printing. We printed overseas,we did a lot of importing from from Taiwan and China and India. And thatrequires a tremendous skill for red flagging, projecting ahead in a project andbeing able to see where the areas are that if you don't get those particularpoints, right, you're project will fail. And the same thing applies with acompany.

If you havea business, and the business is based on a product strategy or servicestrategy, if you don't take the time to really validate the product, or theservice, so that you know, the words that are described in your missionstatement is something that you can actually execute and do, then you haveoverlooked your first red flag. And I wrote about that, because in myexperience, over the years, I have seen many, many entrepreneurs startbusinesses with a great idea on paper. And it appeared that it was as simple,you know, a simple thing to execute. And they move all far along with it, spenda lot of money and time on it, and find out that the product doesn't do exactlywhat they described, or the service can't be delivered as they thought theybecause they fail to think through some of the details.

Now. What Idon't encourage is analysis paralysis for business owners, you know, you reallydo have to get in there and and just start punching away and, and and makethings happen. But there are some things that can be catastrophic and smallbusinesses lose millions of dollars every year on predictable errors, thingsthat they didn't have to necessarily problem areas. Mistakes, I'm sorry, thatthey didn't necessarily have to make. So all of that mistakes, erodes yourprofit margin. And as you know, down The name of the game is profit. If youmake enough profit, when you finally get to a point that you make a mistakethat you could not proceed, you usually have enough capital reserve to coverit. But you can't just make mistakes, and then the same mistakes and then thecompete, repeat those mistakes.

So thatwhen something happens, that is really impossible to anticipate, and I can tellyou that something like a pandemic, I don't think I would ever imply thatsomeone was smart enough to predict this pandemic, I've lived 77 years here inthe United States, I've never lived through a pandemic before. So that's afirst. I mean, you know, we've had issues with fluids and things like that, butnothing like this. So to say that you should be able to project the head and,and anticipate that would be an overstatement, I wouldn't make that statement.Because that's just, you know, but what it does is, if you aren't prepared, andyou have been profitable because of your efficiency, then you're going to havea better chance of getting through those times. And that's why I tried to putas many of those thoughts as far as how you develop the red flag thinkingprocess. That's why I wrote about it in the book, to really, hopefully, helpothers with this, use this process as it helped us. Yeah. You know, this soundsso powerful. And to me, relatively speaking, as an entrepreneur myself, yeah.So much what you're saying resonates.

And I know,for those listening or watching will feel the same, because as an entrepreneuror small business owner, all we want to do succeed, right? Because it's ourlivelihood, absolutely. Our team's livelihood. And so to recognize those redflag moments, or those, you know, it's, and I'm sure with that, right, there'sthat iceberg element that there may be something that's on the surface, butmuch more under the surface to dig deeper into. And I imagine your bookexplores how to uncover a lot of these red flags and then fix them. Yes, yeah,we hope to encourage you a way of thinking that you can pass on to your team,as we did, it was common term in our company that one of our administratorsworking on something that's coming from Taiwan, and they didn't, they seesomething in the order, and they say, Oh, that's a red flag. I mean, you know,everyone's at all, that's a red flag. So what they do is you can develops someprocedures and processes, but you first have to identify the problem before youcan have a process to cover it. So they could do that. And then we woulddevelop a process to cover something that would repeat every time in the sameorder type of order. But the way of thinking is important, because you can'tdocument the entire process, you can't document everything you should look outfor.

That's aninstinct, that's an intuition. And it was taught in our company of how toidentify those red flags, so that all of the important steps in a process todeliver an order and also the steps in a process to have a successful business.Because it applies to, you know, the entire company, and a particular projectwithin a company. Because it's a it's a thought process. It's not step 12345.It's how we think we look at it, and it's very common. And most people, oncethey understand it, if the light bulb comes on, they do it naturally. You know,it's not something they have to go back to the manual to check for. They justdo it manually, because they can tell. Let's see, I've had an experience in thepast, with a Japanese with a Chinese supplier, where I understand that theyspeak English, the people we're dealing with, but it's a second language. It'snot first language, it's a second language.

Sosometimes the descriptions that I'm giving him may not resonate. So I better Ibetter check that so that I don't get the $200,000 of the goods coming into theport and get a surprise because it's not what I expected. So I will put someextra caution. It's a flag I caution. And I make sure it's clear. So that theperson that has to prepare this, these goods for us is clear on what they needto do. That is a huge problem. You know, in my industry, so well, not just yourindustry. What is that? like you're talking about was clarity of communication.Yeah, of expectations. Yeah. And I feel like, you know, speaking from personalexperience with, with the many mistakes that any entrepreneur makes along thejourney, a lot of it, I feel like does come down to the clarity ofcommunications not only to your internal team, but to external team, rightcustomers, if you don't communicate a clear message in your marketingmaterials, then people are not going to know what you offer and how you canhelp them, let alone they're not going to go off and buy what you have tooffer. And so what you're saying, of course, completely make sense.

And it isapplicable to many levels of business. I had, I had one owner, dial and I hadone owner that says, you know, a lot of what you're saying is, is veryfundamental. And I responded that you're absolutely right. That is that was theintent. It's not, you know, overly complicated is meant to be basic, simple andfundamental. So that it can be transferred from an owner who grasps the conceptto the staff. Sometimes, there's a system have a six sigma that was developed.And it was, you know, a lot more sophisticated, but it was for a huge, multibillion dollar company. And it was a lot more to it, because they were makingall kinds of airplane parts and things like that it was designed for that. Thisstrategy is designed for small business, someone that doesn't have, you know,all the various administrative levels in the business to implement a program assophisticated as a six sigma. So I mean, it worked.

Well. Imean, it was fantastic. And I think they find that the average owner, smallbusiness owner can grasp this concept of red flag, you read about it, we put severalexamples of things that we did and how it worked, you know, how we deliver600,000 products to a studio here in Los Angeles, and ship to 257 locationstheater locations, in seven days, how do you do that, and not have a mistake?Well, you have to be able to project ahead and see where you have to get whereare the points that we must make sure that is right. So we don't have to repeatit. Repeat one thing, you missed a ship date, you know, those are the kinds ofthings we were able to accomplish.

And moreimportant, then being able to do that is the fact that we didn't have mistakesthat cost us money. So we made less profit. And, you know, we've talked aboutthat profit is the name of this game. That's how we get to live and grow and doother things in our business. And by delivering you get to have a satisfiedcustomer that's willing to do business with you again. So it's, it's eventhough the process is fairly simple, it has a lot of benefit. It is powerful,what it can do. We lost, I can't even remember losing a customer we importedfrom China for 20 years, and didn't lose any money. The only mistakes that weexperienced were actual factory mistakes, like the glue they used wasn't didn'thave the right chemical mix. So the glue didn't keep the things glued orsomething like that, you know, there were mistakes, but they weren't ourmistakes. And it didn't cost us for those mistakes. Other than the fact wedisappointed a customer, we had to correct it.

So we didhave a cost. But things like that balance sometime you can do nothing aboutthat sort of thing you just can't like Yeah, yeah, we weren't gonna ask himthat we weren't gonna ask them to check the glue that they use to put on. Yeah,so that that's beyond our control. But the fact that you know it, that wedidn't suffer the loss, the customer understood because they, they know thatfact, manufacturing can go that way. And we had a chance to repeat it. And theother thing that we did in our red flag process is because those goods weregoods that we were shipping on a monthly basis. We always had a reserve.

That was aflag. What happens if we had an assembly line where product had to arrive forthose automobiles on time, so that in that assembly process, our product wentinside the car. If our product wasn't there, it went all the way up to the CEOWhen when the production line was interrupted, it goes to the CEO of thecompany, guess what happens to the client relationship? When that happens,okay, it's likely you're not going to have that customer anymore. So that isone of those errors that can be catastrophic. That deserves a red flag becauseit meant for us a loss of $2 million a year in revenue.

So thathurts our small business. And so you had to say, Well, how do we prevent thisfrom happening? Well, we have reserved products. So even though the glue wasnot working, we just scrapped that went in production made the change. As amatter of fact, the second thing that we did was we had an alternativemanufacturer, because that manufacturer could not give us a satisfactoryexplanation as to why that happened. So we had someone else already testedwaiting in the wings, and started production with them. And we had enoughinventory to cover the lag and production of the next thing. That's the redflag process. That's what it does, projecting ahead and saying, What if,especially when it's important.

And ifyou're talking about clients that you're trying to get to come back and repeatand do business with you, you want to make sure that that beautiful wellwritten statement that you make in your, your, your your proposal, yourbusiness plan, is that you can actually execute exactly as, as you've promised.Yeah. Couldn't agree more. You know, and one thing that comes to my to, ineverything you're sharing is, obviously, for people to go read your book. Butearly on, you talked about when you first got started, right, and you had thesetwo floors on Wilshire Boulevard, which I know very well, and it's a majorBoulevard going through Los Angeles. Yeah. And to have your business on there.I mean, not only operating expenses from just LA, and cost of like running abusiness, but the fact that you're able to have a life, like a full career witha business established there.

What do youfeel like early on that you decided to do? That made you not part of thecategory of businesses that fail? So that that helped you succeed? What weresome of those initial decisions? Well, I had I had some business failures in myentire my whole career. But I think that one was a lot of prayer, when it'slike a prayer. Yeah. Cuz I had to, I had two children at a very young age, Iwas married when I was still in college. And, and so, you know, thatresponsibility, you know, I grew up in old fashioned Virginia work, you know, aguy has to have integrity, you take care of your kids, you take care of yourfamily. And, and it was a, it was a major deal. You know, it's not somethingthat was taken lightly.

So I was Iwas always pressed to continue to work to pursue new ideas. And I don't know ifif other than just having the desire to want to be my best. Wanting toexperience the joy, you know, I was an athlete in college. And if I can likenit to football, I loved to training for football, and track, and I loved I loveto training. And so I trained hard. And that developed a discipline for me tobe able to play well. So the business experience was pretty much saying, youprepare, you cover some of the details. And then you persevere with everythingyou got. And that kind of life experience was what was my driving force tonever give up. Despite some failures in 19 in Mozilla, when I was about 27years old. My company that I had was dependent on me selling contracts that wewould sell small contracts for $250 financed over like 18 months or something12 months and 18 months, and I sold them to finance companies. Well, we had aneconomy shift And the finance companies weren't buying the contracts anymore.You know, so that caused the closure of that business, I had to transition intosomething else. But I had, fortunately, I have red flagged the possibilitiesthat can happen.

So I hadplenty of capital, to reserve to transition, to take my time to see what Iwould do next. You know, so it's just that a life experience of being preparedfor things that that realistically are beyond your control that can happen,like a financing crunch is beyond my control. Okay, and not JP Morgan. And Ihave no control over that. So when they stopped buying contracts, I wasn't ableto sell the contracts. So I was forced forced to transition there. But, youknow, the transition wasn't that negative, because I had made some preparation.Yeah, yeah. So some key key words I hear here, perseverance, preparation,probably was perspiration. Maybe? Yeah. Yeah. You put it in some of thatinitial hard work, especially if you would leave. So for other small businessowners out there.

What do youfeel like is like looking back, something that you would share as far as adviceor direction and as far as next steps beyond the course, experiencing yourbook, and applying that red flag framework? Well, yeah, what some direction inwords of wisdom he can share? Well, you know, there there are. A lot of thingsI could comment on? That's a very good question. I mean, there's a lot of thingsI could question. I mean, I could comment on, I think that an individual, firstof all, they're pursuing a business opportunity. If there's, if it's acompetitive field, and you'd want to develop a differentiator, something thatyou do, that separates you slightly from the competition. There was a, in thebook I wrote about, I interviewed six different business owners from sixdifferent business categories.

And one ofthem was construction supplies, and he's about a $200 million company, startedit from scratch, and built that company. And one of the things he did withdifferentiator is there were a lot of people in the supply business, but toconstruction business he had experienced in it. And what he learned was thatthe construction industry is laden with late everything, you know, late finishdates, late supplies delivered, you know, nothing is done on time in business.So he had an aha moment. And so he developed before he opened, he developedsome key relationships with suppliers, you know, met with suppliers got reallyclose to his suppliers. This is how I want to do this. And he came into anindustry where he could deliver as promised he would deliver only promised whathe could deliver.

And it madea difference. And he went from a 15 $20 million company, and he's now about a$250 million company. So establishing some kind of a differentiator, I think, Ithink is very, very important. In our business, the way we differentiatedourselves from 2500. Other distributors, I mean, it's, you know, laden withcompetitors, this business of brand marketing is we did not sell clientsproducts. For service, we sold them ideas, ideas that were designed to get aparticular result that they wanted. If you want your customers to be able tocall you at a certain time, and you want to make sure that they have yourinformation. We always presented everything as an idea. Here's a business ideathat will help you achieve the goal, as opposed to here's a product.

And thereare other companies that did that. But the majority that you don't have to bethe only one with the differentiator. You just have to separate yourself fromthe masses. So that is down between you and maybe a few other competitors thatdo what you do. Yeah. So making yourself sound different, be different. Yeah.And getting that attention in the right way. That way. sounds like to me a bigpart of that. comes down to your messaging. Write what you put out there forpeople to understand more about what you do and why. And yeah, I think this hasbeen so impactful. Walter, I thank you for your time. I'm definitely will sharethe details to access to your book and more information about you in thedescription down below. And we look forward to connecting further. So thank youso much, Walter, and we'll talk soon. You're welcome. Have a good day.


Dallin Nead

Dallin believes in putting family and God first.

He's the Chief Vision Officer of Content Supply, Advisor to multiple startups, serial entrepreneur and an award-winning producer.

He helps brands create authentic, results-driven media so they can share their message and vision with the world.

He helps brands clarify, create, and communicate their vision for a happier, more meaningful life, business, and community.

He consults with small and large companies including Princess Cruises, U.S. Marine Corp, Teachable and many others.


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