Cynthia E. Griffin- | 1/16/2008, 5 p.m.
In economic terms, the best way to describe an $80 million return on an investment of less than $1,000 is: Good business.
Looking at his life, it is easy to see that "good business" is a mantle Alabama-born Comer Cottrell can wear quite comfortably. It is also an integral part of the way he built his company, Pro-Line, into one of the largest ethnic hair care products firms in the world.
Cottrell, who started his business in Los Angeles with partner Huggy Henderson with nothing more than a business idea, has just released a book, Comer Cottrell, published by Brown, detailing how he built a global company around a simple niche market need.
"Too many black businesses I had as competitors and also those here in Dallas just weren't operating for success. They were operating more interested in getting in that first buck, and thought they had succeeded. (They were) interested in investments, but investments don't mean success. It just means more debt," said Cottrell about why he interrupted his retirement to spend a year writing the 258-page book.
His goal is to help other businesses, particularly African-American firms attain success, and one of the first bits of wisdom the great-grandson of slaves imparts is the definition of success.
"Money simply does not equal success to me," writes Cottrell in the book. "I'll take it a step further. Don't worry about money. If you keep worrying about money, it will destroy you. You'll make mistakes too easily."
Cottrell went on to describe profitability as the benchmark for success in business. "Money is just the measurement of your success."
Far more important to Cottrell in the measurement of success is what you have contributed to others.
"It was very important to us to have good employees and to compensate them well; treat them with respect," said the Pro-Line co-founder. "I think that's one thing a lot of people don't do is give their employees a lot of the respect they deserve. I never did this by myself. It was just my philosophy that led to the success."
In addition to talking about his views on success, and charting the path that took him from selling rabbits at age 10 to founding and owning a company that was eventually sold for $80 million, Cottrell lays out nine entrepreneurial "must-haves." These range from the desire to be the boss at number one, to having a trusted attorney, in the number nine position.
Among the other topics the 76-year-old life-long entrepreneur talks about in his book is access and opportunity, letting your dreams drive your entrepreneurial venture, watching the market, and then repositioning the business to stay on top of the trends.