Gene Kirk is the owner of Breakaway Cycles in Albany
"On the Job with ..." is a weekly Sunday Inc. series, spotlighting area business owners and executives. Today's interview is with Gene Kirk, owner of Breakaway Cycles.
Q. If you were a young adult fresh out of college, what would you do first in searching for a job?
A. No matter what, I'd look for something that I think I would love to do. I hate to hear about people that just hate their job. If you hate your job and have a dream, you should drop your excuses and go after it. Stop coming up with reasons that you can't and start planning how you can make that dream come true.
Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first paycheck?
A. The first paycheck was spent on a bike. I bought a Schwinn fastback road bike. It was flat black with all black parts. It was, by far, the most expensive bike I owned up to that point.
Q. What's the single most effective technique you found during the past two years for keeping employees motivated?
A. Being a new business right now, I have no employees. I'm a one man Army, but eventually I'll have to have someone working for me so I will try to be fair and make them feel like what they are doing is worthwhile. No one is motivated when they feel like you could not care less or not if they were there.
Q. What was your first job?
A. I was a bike mechanic at Owens Sporting Goods.
Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?
A. Since I was introduced to the world of cycling, I wanted my shop. Starting at a young age it's practically the only job I've ever had. I worked at Owens Sporting Goods all through high school as a bike mechanic. After graduation. I sent job applications to all places I thought would be good places to ride my bike. I sent them to Hawaii, Alaska, Colorado and upstate New York. Several weeks later I got a call from a man named Mike Wampler. He was the owner of Aspen Velo bike shop and he wanted me to move to Aspen and work in his shop. This was a Wednesday and he offered me twice the money I was making in Albany. I told myself that I had to go, but I was terrified to leave. At this point I'd never been out of the state of Georgia so the thought of moving halfway across country was overwhelming. But I made a decision and the following Monday I was off to Aspen. Aspen was my college. I was 100 percent on my own so I had to make it work, I got an education in the mountains on how to network and how important customer service really is to success. I loved the town, the people, and the riding was amazing. After the first year there I was offered a professional contract to race my bike. At this point in time, I was living the dream, living in Aspen and riding my bike as a pro. This rock star lifestyle continued for several years, flying all over country with my bike and some really good friends. Then I got a phone call from Jim Laue at Cycle World bike shop asking if I was interested in coming back to Albany and buying the bike shop when he got ready to retire. I jumped at the chance to own my shop and left Aspen to come home. At this point I was working on 13 years in the bike business. I was ready and could feel that the dream of owning my own shop was going to happen. Sadly, a few years after I came back Jim passed away and I was forced to venture out on my own and that's how Breakaway Cycles was formed.
Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?
A. I pretty much owe everything in my career to one guy, Jim Laue, owner of Cycle World bike shop. He taught me everything there was to know about bikes and life for that matter. When I was 12 years old, he me gave the chance to hangout at the shop and help. I did a lot of odd jobs like taking out the trash and going to get lunch. As the years went on the shop was a second home for me. I was there every day after school and some times when I should have been at school. He taught me about work ethic in the sense that even if something was hard it still had to be done. He was a genius of a businessman and seemed to have an answer for me about anything I could ask. When I moved to Aspen, Jim was one of the few to visit and check in on me to see how I was doing. Jim took me to my first BMX race, my first mountain bike race, my first motorcycle ride, and first road bike ride. Jim was the one that told me to marry the girl who by the time this goes to print will be my wife. (Kirk got married Saturday). He was more than a mentor. He was one of my best friends. Jim died in October. His picture hangs in my shop today and it makes me feel like he's still keeping an eye on me. There have been many times I would love to call him on the phone and ask what should I do or is this the right thing, but hopefully I run my business in a way he would be proud of.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?
A. That you always have to be moving forward. You can never think you can relax. If you are not moving forward, you are old news.
Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology - examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. - what would you most like to see go away?
A. I'd have to say texting! I know it's weird to say, but I have a bad feeling that one day while out riding my bike some 17 year old texting "OMG" will kill me.
Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?
A. My iPhone by far. I can check email, place orders, update the Breakaway Cycles Facebook page from anywhere!
Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?
A. I read "A Dog in a Hat: An American Bike Racer's Story of Mud, Drugs, Blood, Betrayal, and Beauty in Belgium" by Joe Parkin. As far as what I read on a regular basis it's pretty much limited to cycling magazines.
Q. I'm up and going by? And what is your morning routine?
A. Not a morning person. I'm up and going by 9 a.m. I take a shower and head to the shop. I stop by Elements Coffee for a bagel and a Mocha and chill at the shop with some Sports Center until we open.
Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?
A. I still race my bike as much as possible.
Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?
A. I don't think you should take things back because even if it was a mistake you should have learned a lesson. But if I could do one thing differently, I would have opened my own shop along time ago.
Q. Best thing about your job?
A. Self satisfaction. Knowing that at the end of the day, good or bad, I made it happen.
Q. Worst thing about your job?
A. It's a lot of pressure being the only one making the decisions, especially now that I've got a family to think of. If I don't make the best decision everyday, there is a lot riding on that.
Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?
A. DECA. Thanks Mr. Burgess.
Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?
A. A professional motorcycle racer.
Q. What is your favorite tradition?
A. I'm pretty new to the whole setting traditions thing but so far it would be spending Christmas Eve laying low with family and eating some of the best chocolate cake you've ever had in your life.
Q. Finish this thought: "On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself ...
A. Riding a bike in a exotic place.
Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?
A. Pride in whatever you do.
Q. Crystal ball time: What's your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?
A. I don't think it's as bad as the news makes it out to be. People are already out there and spending money and trying to be creative with new things to do in this town. It's up to the businesses to get them in the door.
Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?
A. I like a lot of Hip Hop, instrumental type stuff.
Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?
A. Hopefully we can have some real growth in our downtown area. It's a shame other cities have such a booming downtown business while Albany seems to be coming up short.
Q. What was the best vacation you've ever taken? Why?
A. Las Vegas ... because it's Vegas.
Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?
A. I've seen more people getting into cycling as a form of transportation. The bike has become a more popular mode of transportation as gas prices go up.