Greg Muzzillo founded Proforma in 1978 as an industry distributor. Within five years, he grew the company to several million dollars in sales, and by the mid-1980s, Proforma had been recognized as one of Inc. Magazine’s “Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America,” three years in a row.
In the late 1980s, Proforma introduced its membership program to enable distributors to retain their business ownership and independence. This allowed owners to share in sales and marketing resources, purchasing power with industry suppliers, back office support including all billing, accounting, vendor payments, cash flow, computer systems, and more.
Today, Proforma has more than 750 members with more than $500 million in sales. Proforma has more than 100 members of its Million Dollar Club and more than 40 members of its Multi-Million Dollar Club (with sales ranging from $2 million to over $26 million). Eight of Proforma’s members have been included in Inc. Magazine’s “Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America” list in 2015.
1. How do you define success?
Business success is nothing without success in other phases of your life, including your marriage, family, and being a wonderful citizen of this world. Going home at night and having no friends or family because you cheated people is no way to get there.
2. What is the key to success?
Many people have big dreams and lofty goals, but there is one key ingredient for big dreams and lofty goals to become reality: getting started. No one ever accomplished anything without simply getting started. And sometimes the start of some very big things may be very simple. Check out the history of Steve Jobs and the Apple computer: a very simple start to a phenomenal success. There are more examples, including Microsoft, Facebook, and Subway.
3. Did you always know you would be successful?
When I was a 3- or 4-year-old, my mother told me I went door to door trying to sell neighbors empty packets of seeds for the pictures on them. Someone eventually called my mother and told on me, so that was the end of that racket. But what I really learned from that, and jobs like snow shoveling was that I loved being an independent business owner. I can remember when a guy opened the door to pay me, and he had this big wad of cash in his hand. I thought, “Man, I want to be like that guy. I want to have that much cash in my hand.”
In 1978, we started Proforma with only $200. Within a year, we had $250,000 in sales. We put an unbelievable amount of time and energy into building Proforma, but we were determined to be successful. Bringing those first 50 to 60 franchises on board was unbelievably difficult work, and we figured out our business model on the fly. Fortunately, we had great relationships with them, and they believed in us. Now, we have 750 member offices, 60,000 clients, and $500 million in annual sales.
4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The dreams of our family, friends, franchise owners and vendors are what inspire me. Also, knowing that my work and success have a direct impact on other people’s lives.
5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I live by two key lessons I learned over time. The first is that there are only two kinds of activities in business: wealth building activities, and everything else. Figure out what the wealth building activities are, focus on them, and delegate everything else. Secondly, only a few people get wealthy because everyone else gets stuck at comfortable. Most folks get stuck at comfortable because they can. No one is pushing them. They are not pushing themselves. Creating wealth requires a compelling vision to pull us past comfortable and propel us to wealth.
6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Spending time with our ten children and two grandchildren.
7. What makes a great leader?
At Proforma, we believe leadership requires having a flat organization with as few layers as possible between the top leadership and the customer. The natural tendency of many leaders is to build ivory towers and fiefdoms. But ivory towers and fiefdoms create too much separation between the people at “the top” and the people that are “growing and serving customers.” At Proforma, we believe that if we want more and better customers, the key is to value and listen to the people who are growing and serving customers.
8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Preparation and perspiration (hard work) are important, but the one thing that separates those who will go on to do amazingly average things in their lives and those who will be amazingly successful is this: inspiration. You will spend hundreds of hours preparing, studying, working hard to get your degree, and that is very important. But it will only get you so far. To be successful beyond your wildest dreams, you first have to have big, wild dreams. So dream big, make a change, and don’t be afraid to take a risk.
This interview is an excerpt from Never Give Up by Jason Navallo.