Wise Words

Five Houston entrepreneurs share their thoughts on leadership, reputation, and what keeps them motivated.

Article by Memorial Lifestyle Staff

Photography by Lauren Holub Photography

Originally published in Memorial Lifestyle

Kevin Barnett

Founder/CEO, CoolxDad 

What would you consider your area of expertise, and how will it benefit the Houston community?

I am an expert in people. If I don't have a specific skill or area of knowledge, I know someone who does, and that's part of what makes me successful. 

I started CoolxDad because I saw passion, strength, and potential around me – specifically for men and fathers of color, but I didn't see anyone uplifting this community. CoolxDad brings fathers together for the greater good by involving them in initiatives like the Color Box gift drive, basketball clinics, and our community garden. All of these programs benefit families in Houston. In turn, our fellowship events give dads a safe space to be vulnerable and connect, something that's missing in mostly male spaces. Black and brown men in Houston and the U.S. need a place to remove their armor, and that's what CoolxDad provides. 


What are you passionate about?

If I had to identify what I'm most passionate about, it would be making my family proud. My passion for helping dads become more connected, engaged, and purpose-driven motivates me to create a life-changing experience through CoolxDad that will leave a fulfilling legacy for my children to inherit. coolxdad.com

Mike Gust

Owner, American Wheel & Tire and AWT Golf Carts 

What would you consider your area of expertise, and how will it benefit the Houston community?

My expertise is providing excellent service and prices for tires, custom wheels, and car and truck accessories. Although American Wheel & Tire is a boutique company, we are still equipped to handle large volumes, but we are not a big box store that pushes customers in and out. We want to make sure our customers get exactly what they need.


Why do you think Houston is a great place to start a business? 

Houstonians always support local businesses. Our biggest challenge is finding the right people to join our team, which we constantly work on. Again, finding the right people comes down to relationships and networking through existing employees. I have had the privilege of meeting all kinds of people, and I know for a fact I am successful because of these relationships. Americanwheelandtire.com awtgolfcarts.com

Dustin Harwell

Owner/Broker, Modern Risk Management LLC


What challenges are consistently present in your business, and how do you combat them?

The insurance industry is experiencing unprecedented times where every consumer is encountering skyrocketing insurance costs. Insurance rates are forever changing, which challenges the agency daily to be a watchdog for our client's financial protection. To combat current economic factors, Modern Risk Management continues to shop every policy within a client's portfolio each year to validate whether or not they are receiving the best rate on the market compared to the competition and make recommendations to lower their costs. Doing so stabilizes the trust and dependability among our valued clients.  


What steps have you taken to develop your business's reputation?

Over the years, I have built my agency based on three essential pillars: honesty, efficiency, and education. When clients contact Modern Risk Management, and I ask why they are in the market for insurance, the most general responses are related to one of my pillars. Clients contact my agency for quick, honest, and knowledgeable solutions, all while building personal relationships. This has helped develop Modern Risk Management into the award-winning, five-star-rated agency it is today. Modernriskins.com

Richard Saad

Owner, Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning 

What challenges are consistently present in your business, and how do you combat them?

Most companies across different industries have the same issues – it’s called people. To be able to grow a company, it takes people. Some will be good for the business, and some will not. The longer someone is in business, the easier it is to understand what, how, and why things can go wrong. It all starts with your name and the processes or systems put in place. Start to plug those holes through the processes. Hire well but fire fast.


What makes a successful entrepreneur? Is it a particular personality type?

To be a successful entrepreneur, one must understand that it takes a team to create growth for your business. Successful entrepreneurs should constantly look for new and innovative ideas while understanding what the competition is doing. It is essential to be generating ideas and making them work for your business. At the end of the day, you owe your team a decision that does not put their career in jeopardy. nicksplumbing.com


Thomas Strong

Owner and Chief Creative Officer, Strong Landscaping 

What challenges are consistently present in your business, and how do you combat them?

The biggest challenge for a service company is maintaining consistent quality of service. To combat this challenge, we have employed several strategies. Strong Landscaping provides on-the-job training to ensure employees have the skills and knowledge to perform their job effectively. We also implement quality control to monitor service delivery and identify any issues that must be addressed. We also strive for employee engagement by providing feedback, recognition, and growth opportunities.


What makes a successful entrepreneur? Is it a particular personality type?

There are several characteristics and qualities of a successful entrepreneur. One of the essential qualities is persistence, because successful entrepreneurs can persist in adversity and never give up on their goals. Successful entrepreneurs are passionate about what they do because owning a thriving business requires hard work and dedication. Entrepreneurs must also be creative to develop innovative solutions to problems and differentiate themselves from competitors.  stronglandscaping.com

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