MindSpring founder Charles Brewer delivers 2023 Vance Lecture on Business Ethics
MindSpring founder Charles Brewer discussed the essential role core values played in his company’s success during his lecture Thursday at Presbyterian College.
Brewer, who formed the Atlanta, Ga.-based internet service provider in 1994, spoke at PC’s Vance Lecture Series on Business Ethics about the highs and lows of his work experiences and the importance of establishing values that drive business decisions.
Brewer said he discovered while working for other employers that the people around him perform at their best when treated with respect.
“I noticed that it really seemed that most people, nearly everyone, really wanted to do a great job,” he said. “They wanted to accomplish something meaningful and important with their work. That’s normal. It’s not just some exception.”
Dishonesty in the workplace, on the other hand, is the bane of productive, meaningful work, especially when the company is dishonest with customers, Brewer said. Tired of working for someone else in a toxic environment, he quit and was free to do something else. Something better.
“It was the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” Brewer said. “Quitting is underrated. You’ve probably hear that winners never quit and quitters never win. Well, that’s bad advice. Because sometimes, it’s exactly what you should do. I mean, I could have stayed there, pounding my head against the wall for God knows how long. Instead, I left, and it turned out right for the next thing to come along.”
Brewer said his next move was to start his own company, and even though he did not know what kind of company it would be, he knew he wanted it to be better than any company he had ever worked for. So, before he chose what type of work he wanted, he wrote down his new company’s core values and beliefs that would drive every business decision.
Alone in his apartment, Brewer developed the values that guided the founding of MindSpring Enterprises and every other business venture he engaged in after he sold the award-winning company and founded Green Street Properties and, later, Las Catalinas Holding Co. in Costa Rica.
Those values are:
- We respect the individual and believe that individuals who are treated with respect and given responsibility respond by giving their best.
- We require complete honesty and integrity in everything we do.
- We make commitments with care and then live up to them. In all things, we do what we say we are going to do.
- Work is an important part of life and should be fun. Being a good business person does not mean being stuffy and boring.
- We are frugal. We guard and conserve the company’s resources with at least the same vigilance we would use to guard and conserve our own personal resources.
- Clarity in understanding our mission, our goals, and what we expect from each other is critical to our success.
- We feel a sense of urgency on any matters related to our customers. We own problems, and we are always responsive. We are customer driven.
- We insist on giving our best effort in everything we undertake. Furthermore, we see a huge difference between “good mistakes” and “bad mistakes.”
Brewer emphasized that core values and beliefs should constantly be authentic, displayed, and reiterated.
In due time, with initial investment help from PC alumni Cam Lanier ’72 and Bill Scott ’69, Brewer built an internet service provider from his apartment into one of the country’s largest ISPs. As MindSpring grew, Brewer noted, the company’s core values and beliefs shined. Honesty and keeping promises made for happy customers, while respect for employees working in a fun environment attracted talent and loyalty.
Brewer encouraged future entrepreneurs to develop their own companies’ values and ensure they are the pre-eminent part of each company’s culture.
“If you want to lead with values, and I hope that I made you think that that might be worth doing, you have to do three things,” he said. “You have to articulate the values, you have to write them, speak them, even sing about them. And you have to do way more than seems reasonable. Because if you want the values to be so top of mind that they are really doing the managing for them, which they can do, but only if they’re really, really prominent in people’s eyes.”
Brewer said working with people who share those values and beliefs is essential. If they do, he said, the company will always be what it says it is.
Lastly, and most difficult, is measuring success through the values – measuring quality instead of quantity.
“Producing some product that people want to buy isn’t enough,” Brewer said. “You know that there’s some magic, something that that needs to be there to make it all worthwhile. If you’re producing something that people want, and you’re doing it in an honorable way, and treating the people around you, in a way consistent with your values, you’re doing something great.”