Rick Moersch is the owner of Moersch Hospitality Group, whose brand names include Tabor Hill, Round Barn and Free Run. Located in and near the village of Baroda in southwest Michigan, Rick’s enterprises are great destinations. Just 90 minutes from downtown Chicago, the wine trail covers many wineries, breweries and several restaurants for you to spend a day, a weekend or longer.
Steve: Tell me how you came to start your business?
Rick: I was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. I came to this area to teach school. I taught school for seven years in Berrien Springs. Most of my students lived on farms. I thought I would love being able to make my living on the land. I was struck by the area, mostly agricultural, with tons of potential. I thought, gosh, if we don’t do something to bring notoriety, we’ll just become a bedroom community for Chicago and other nearby cities.
Steve: What was the transformation you led?
Rick: My work has been all about converting an agricultural, blue collar community into a destination for America. Those students, they could play sports, work on the family farm and their future was to work in a local small manufacturing firm. I wanted to provide more than this. The combination of great potential with a great work force seemed unbeatable.
Steve: How did you clarify the purpose of your transformation?
Rick: Invariably as an entrepreneur, I’m in sales. I’m selling an idea or a dream. I remember once early on I was standing in front of that old, rusty barn, with an old tractor sitting in the background. I was convincing a banker that he ought to lend me money to pursue my dream. He asked, “What else do you have besides old equipment and over-inflated land values?” It was tough. I had a dream. A vision. A purpose. Over time I found lenders who would help, but it took a great deal of time and sweat equity.
Steve: How did you enroll others in the transformation?
Rick: In the early years, I created alliances with Tabor Hill, Fenn Valley and international organizations. We started out by grafting and selling grape vines. In those first few years we sold over a million vines. We did this to fund our ongoing vineyard development. I worked 14-20 hours a day for 20 years.
Now we are up to 230 employees. Excitement rubs off. When employees see you working hard, they dive in. I work to balance empathy with high expectations. It’s a challenge. It’s hard work, low pay and few benefits, but employees receive one heck of an education.
Steve: Please comment on organizational challenges you faced.
Rick: First, I found that I needed to surround myself with people I can trust. We worked together realizing that we had to think ahead, take risk, and not penalize each other for making mistakes. You must be a team player, especially as the leader. Growing this business from one employee to 230 requires a great deal of self-reflection. After a while, you lose the ability to control everything directly. You need to be comfortable with this.
Steve: How did you become more of a coach?
Rick: It all started back when I was teaching. I was also a football and tennis coach. You have ideas on how people ought to perform, and you help people learn from experience and achieve success. Experience comes when things don’t go your way. Plus, you must keep reading, talking, asking questions and learning. For example, look at Europe and what’s happening there – we learned how to leverage best practices.
Steve: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?
Rick: I live by this Buddhist quote: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
You must keep a beginner’s mind.