From oilfield trucking, to financial services, to mini-storage, and now construction and small business ownership, Kenneth Neatherlin ’86 has earned diverse business know-how.
His best advice? It all comes down to this: Figure out what your talent is. Then, play to your strengths.
“The smartest thing you can go do,” Kenneth Neatherlin ’86 told Mays students, “is work for a big company and let them pay to train you.” (view more photos)
Neatherlin came to A&M without a clear understanding of what his talents or strengths were. “Basically, I came to A&M wanting to be a vet and took my first biology class and thought, “Something is wrong here,'” he says. After that semester, Neatherlin entered an oil field trucking business in partnership with his brother, and, as he puts it, they, “had a good ride.” After three years in the business, he had figured out what his interests and talents were, and returned to A&M to pursue them.
Neatherlin focused his greatest efforts on his strengths. “I was excellent in finance and accounting, but I was horrendous in English and science…My attitude was that I would do my best, but hopefully one day I would be able to hire someone to do that for me.” The strategy proved successful.
After graduation, he took a job at Merrill Lynch.
The job at Merrill Lynch was a strategic move. “The smartest thing you can go do is work for a big company and let them pay to train you,” he advised. He used the company as a learning laboratory.
An itch for entrepreneurship and interest in building structures motivated Neatherlin to spend some of his time at Merrill studying a customer whose financial and business strategies he thought might be useful to him personally. He learned all he could from the client, while devising a business plan of his own.
Neatherlin eventually left Merrill Lynch, and went on to several entrepreneurial experiments and successes. Through the duration, he has stuck to the same basic strategy: know your strengths, admit your weaknesses, and hire others who can fill in those weaknesses.
Neatherlin’s current venture, Ground Force Building Systems, is a success in large part because he has built a team that utilizes everyone’s strengths. From computer geniuses with few people skills, to grab-the-bull-by-the-horns bankers, to his calm, even-tempered partner, Jim Jackson, Neatherlin knows what components make the gears turn.
Jackson’s thoughtful personality nicely complements Neatherlin’s self description as the risk-taker — “the guy who will jump off a bridge without really thinking about it.”
The duo have formulated and financed an innovative and patent-protected product: buildings “that combine the advantages of modular and site-built construction without any of the disadvantages.” Moveable/permanent buildings might seem contradictory, but Neatherlin himself says that he has a passion for tasks that seem unfeasible.
With his zeal for risk-taking and business development, supported by a strategically selected team, Neatherlin is building more than homes and office spaceâ€”he’s building a highly successful company.