One of the surest ways to maximize business value is to create a self-managing company. While this may seem easier said than done, it is nonetheless possible. Guest, Ken Arlen, is the person who has the experience to show you the ropes and got your back covered. Ken is the founder of Arlen Music Productions—a world-class entertainment self-managing company. With his proven experience on the field, Ken shares with you how you can create a self-managing business of your own—from having a great strategy to hiring great people who can do the work. There is an evolution that entrepreneurs have to go through. Having a self-managed company is the rainbow waiting at the end. Enjoy the rewards and benefits of managing your business. Allow Ken to share his journey and insights on starting down the path in this episode.

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Creating A Self-Managing Company And Maximizing Business Value With Ken Arlen

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you probably know me and our guests talk about how to maximize the value of a business. One of the surest ways to maximize value is to create a self-managing company. In fact, this is one of the reasons we are launching a new business, K2 Advisers, to help owners understand the value of a self-managed business. Creating a self-managing business takes time, a great strategy and a willingness to hire great people and trust them to do the work. With no plans to retire or step aside, Ken Arlen, the Founder of Arlen Music, has created such a company and is now enjoying all the benefits that go with a self-managing company.

Ken has built a world-class entertainment business that has performed for the likes of US presidents, dignitaries, and celebrities. His company specializes in providing live customized music for events around the country. Ken started as a saxophone soloist, an orchestra leader, but realized he could build his business into something with more structure. It wasn’t reliant on him and his unique musical talents. Fast forward, Ken has a business that is rewarding and works for him. What a great way to manage your business and I’m excited for Ken to share his journey and his insights into how to build a self-managing business.

Ken, welcome to the show. 

Thanks. It’s great to be here.

Ken, if you could start by giving the M&A Unplugged Community a quick background here on yourself and how you got into this business. We’ll peel back the onion and talk about how you build such a magnificent business.

I’ve always been a musician. I graduated from college and I went right into the music. I’ve never had what most people would call a real job and it’s always been my passion. I felt confident that I could follow my passion and build it into a career. I started out as a woodwind player. My background was classical clarinet and then I switched over to jazz saxophone. I studied with a famous teacher named Joe Daley who taught David Sanborn, Mike Brecker, a lot of great players. I evolved into making a living, performing and using my musical talent playing for other bands. What’s unique about the Chicago marketplace is that we have a great special event industry here. If you live in LA or New York, the music industry there has a lot more offerings. New York has all the Broadway shows, they have on the national tours being booked but here in Chicago, we’ve had two major aspects of the music industry. We’ve had the recording side, soundtracks for jingles and that type of thing, and the special event industry.

The commercial business and making soundtracks and jingles have dried up quite a bit, which leaves special events. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry and I love it, it’s something I’ve always been passionate about. I evolved into that by playing in other bands and then starting my band. One of my first jobs in the 1980s was music director for Star Line Corporation, which had a series of cruise boats at the Navy Pier. We also had one in Milwaukee and in Louisville, all throughout the country and they asked me to be their music director and put together music programs. I’ve always loved the diversity as I’ve always loved the architecture of building on the business side and also balancing that out with the artistry of being a performer. Over the years, I’ve been working at it and built the business into what it is now.

I admittedly I don’t know a ton of musicians but a few and most musicians that I’ve come in contact with carve out a nice living for themselves. They live a certain lifestyle. You’ve built a real business with a substance that doesn’t rely on you. When did you first realize that you didn’t have to be a musician, you didn’t have to play gigs, you could build a real business and build a potentially self-managing business?

It started out organically grassroots. I would be performing with other bands and I’d always be thinking of how I would do things differently. I started experimenting with leadership and in leading my own ensembles. There’s an interesting book, I don’t know if you’ve read it by Benjamin Hardy called Willpower Doesn’t Work. The whole premise of the book is it’s not about willpower, it’s about putting yourself in an environment where you either survive or you fail. I’ve always been willing to take on those responsibilities. I thrust myself into the leadership role and built it from there. A lot of people tell me it’s unique to be able to balance the artistic side and the business side. I’ve always enjoyed both of those. I don’t feel like I have to compromise on the art side, but I’ve always had a passion for the architecture of building a business and that put me on this path. Once you get on this path, there’s an evolution that you’re going to go through as an entrepreneur. The self-managed company is the rainbow at the end of that evolution.

Ken, did you have a model in your industry or even in another industry that you looked at and said, “That looks cool, I’d love to have a business like that?” Or did you come to it yourself?

There wasn’t a model. Most of my predecessors were society band leaders in Chicago who maybe started a second-time ensemble or had a small office to facilitate bookings at a hotel but hadn’t built it out as a business model. I feel that in some sense been an industry transformer in that regard because the things that we’ve been able to accomplish weren’t done, at least in the Chicago market before I did them.

You blazed the trail. 

A little bit.

Let’s start with people who are not completely familiar with the term, although it’s self-evident. Let’s describe for people what a self-managing business looks like. Let’s go back to your journey, how you evolved over time and what you had to go through to get to where you are now?

There is a journey and it’s a trajectory that all entrepreneurs go through. I have to acknowledge the help I have gotten from being involved in Dan Sullivan’s strategic coach program because a lot of the things I can tell you to answer that question, Dan laid out for people that were participating. Dan talks about entrepreneurs starting out as a rugged individualist and everyone starts at, where you have a vision, you have a passion. For me, it was music and I did everything. I remember being the guy that booked the job, wrote the contract, loaded the equipment into the back of a van, set it up. I did everything myself.

Success is not about willpower; it's about putting yourself in an environment where you either survive or you fail. Share on X

This is like most entrepreneurs. Most people who start a business or even some that even buy a smaller business wind up doing exactly what you’re describing.

I don’t know anyone who didn’t start that way. You start with a vision and a passion and out of necessity, you do everything yourself. The next evolution is you learn to delegate. I didn’t start out as a great delegator, but I have evolved into one. It’s essential in this process. When you delegate, you start building a team and you have to make good choices about the positions that you fill. Once you have your team in place or as you’re developing your team, it’s important that you allow people to work within their area of uniqueness. Dan talks about the unique ability a lot. What unique ability is that special juice that you have that sends chills up and down to your spine, something that you feel that you were born to do? You have to be able to separate it from areas of mere competence, certainly incompetence, but even excellence. When you hire people, you have to be able to position them to take on tasks that will compliment your weaknesses and the areas that you want to delegate. If you can do that, and it’s essential in the growth of any business, then you will start transforming your industry by developing innovative products and innovative processes that distinguish yourself in the marketplace.

I’d like to start if you could describe for people what a self-managed company looks like for you? How do you operate your business now that makes it self-managing? 

You have to have great people in place. I’ve learned from a lot of people that are wiser than myself. There’s a great book that Gino Wickman wrote called Entrepreneurial Operating System and he wrote a book with Mark Winters called Rocket Fuel. The premise of that book is that most teams need two key people. You need a visionary and you need an integrator. The entrepreneur and, in this case, it’s true for me is the visionary. You come up with creative ideas, but most visionaries are not the best people for either integrating or managing their process. For me, it was finding that key person. I’m fortunate that I did. Tim Clark has been with me for fifteen years and he fills that role of an integrator. There are other positions that you have to fill, but you need a key person. It’s interesting because I had the opportunity to participate in Peter Diamandis’ Abundance 360.

MAU 34 | Self-Managing Company

Self-Managing Company: There’s an evolution that you’re going to go through as an entrepreneur. The self-managed company is the rainbow at the end of that evolution.


He had some people from Google that came to a guy named Jake Knapp that wrote a book called Sprint. It’s how Google teams solve problems and we all know how impactful that company is. Their whole theory is that a team shouldn’t be so large you can’t feed it with one large pizza. Small stealthy teams of 4 or 5 people can accomplish a lot. In my company, that’s about how big we are. We have about four full-time office staff, all of our band leaders add to the list. We have over 75 musicians that are exclusive with the company but the key management team is about four people. You have to be able to create a vision that everybody buys into, layout clear goals, have management and the right people in place to implement it. When you do have the right people in place, it doesn’t require as much oversight and management as you would think because everyone clearly understands what they have to do and they worked towards that goal.

How do you enjoy the benefits of having a self-managed company? The reason I ask this is I talk about self-managing companies a lot with our clients. I tell them that to the extent that they can remove themselves from all of the day-in-day-out decisions they can make, other than the real strategic ones and removing themselves from functional areas that they will create more value for themselves and for their business. What are the benefits that you’ve realized as a result of a self-managed company?

Balance and preservation of energy. I’m functioning in a burnout industry. You could say that about most businesses. When I look at people that are talking about selling their business or retiring, it’s because they become tired, lost their love or enthusiasm for the business. It comes down to managing your time. If you have your health, you have great relationships, you have balance in your life, and you love what you do then why would you ever want to consider retiring or selling your business. Most entrepreneurs don’t do a great job of managing their energy. The benefit of the self-managed company is I can bring balance back into my life. I took 160 free days in 2019.

If you have your health, you have great relationships and balance in life. Share on X

Describe what a free day is.

It’s 24 hours where you’re not working. That means not a text, not an email.

It doesn’t mean you didn’t go into the office. It means you didn’t touch work for 24 hours.

I would say it means you didn’t go into the office because it’s almost impossible to go into the office and not touch work. What’s interesting about it is we’re growing as a company, we’re achieving more, and we’re having bigger sales results and accomplishing more and doing more performances. We’ll do close to 500 events. I’m taking all this free time. When I come back to the office, a lot of times the company says we got more done when you were gone. When you’re the visionary and you’re the idea person, you walk in with a lot of ideas and then your staff has to respond to all of those ideas and figure out how to follow through on them and it becomes a distraction. The biggest benefit for me is taking this free time at a point in my career where my kids are out of college, my wife and I want to enjoy the fruits of many years of hard labor and hard work.

My wife was supportive of me in building this business and involved on the creative level, doing a lot of things for the company. I love my life. It’s a great life. I still do what I love, I love my business but I do it with balance. That requires the self-manage piece. Honestly, Domenic, if I were to call up the office and say I’m taking the rest of the year off, the company would function fine. There would be about 30 clients that I’ve committed to leading their performances that would be disappointed, but we have a co-leader in place that they would be very happy with. Everybody at some level was replaceable but you don’t divorce yourself from the vision and the enthusiasm, but you free yourself up from the day-to-day activities.

I want to go to your journey because I did a calculation here for the M&A Unplugged Community. Ken has about 43% of the year as free days. If you calculate out how many days he’s taken his free days. Can you imagine doing that in your business, 43% of the time, not touching your work in any way, shape, or form? That’s amazing, Ken. Congratulations. That’s outstanding.

It does require you when you are working on it to be super focused and have what Cameron Herold calls Vivid Vision. Cameron wrote a book called Vivid Vision. What he recommends the entrepreneur to do is lock yourself off in a remote cabin somewhere and sit down and think about your business and write out what your vision is. Everything relies on the entrepreneur laying out, what the vision is? Why are we doing this? What are we going to do? What are the goals? Setting clear goals and then you can accomplish them. If you’re an owner of a business, if you’re an entrepreneur, you are in a unique position to put your hands on all the levers and all the dials and build that business to serve your lifestyle. It’s much harder done and easier to say. If you can do it, it’s a great goal to shoot for. In my business, it was a requirement. Most musicians burnout. I saw that all around me.

I’ve been representing clients for a long time now and I see burnout in every industry. Even people who were young, but they’ve been working at their business and in their business for 20 or 25 years. They’re completely burnt out because they didn’t learn how to create a self-managing business and give themselves a bad balance. Even though they’re young, they’re done and you can see it in their faces. Quite frankly, we are bringing them to market and the buyers when once they meet them, look at them and say, “You’re so young. Do you want to sell this? Is there something I’m missing here? Is there something in the business that I’m not aware of what’s in the closet that’s going to come out after you walk away?” The reality is no, they’re burnt out. I was at a conference and the conference leader had done a study of business owners. It was a small study but he found that 75% of business owners were remorseful after selling their business. It was not because of how much they got paid for the business. It was because they didn’t have the next thing to do in their life. That tells you a couple of things. One, they hadn’t created balance while they were running their businesses and they sold it and they had nothing to go do. They had no hobbies and no interest. They were lost. The self-managed business allows you to do that and hold your business.

It’s important to learn how to take some of the equity out of your business throughout the process because a lot of guys build up all their equity inside the business and then they have to sell. In my case, I’m a terrible golfer. I have some hobbies that I enjoy because I’ve had a lot of free time. I know what it’s like to spend a couple of weeks basking in those hobbies. I get restless and I come back to my participation in music. I’ve oftentimes thought if I fully retired, what would I do with my time? The first thing I think of is I play music. I’ve always wanted to write more music and record more. Those are goals in mind for 2020, but sometimes you have to kick yourself in the butt to refine the level of which you’re using your work time.

Ken, I want to get a little bit on the journey. We can keep this at a high level because you don’t create a self-managed business overnight. I’m sure there are lots of peaks and valleys and plateaus that you have to breakthrough. You could talk a little bit about your journey. You talked about how you started and how you first envisioned building a self-managing business and finding the right person. You could talk a little bit about what were the major steps in getting there. What were some of the plateaus you hit that you had a breakthrough to get to where you are now?

Every step of the way as I’ve grown and as my business has grown, you reach a plateau at a certain level. That’s defined by an income level where you can’t take on any more transactions. You can’t do any more work or bring in any more business because you’re maxed out. Dan Sullivan and his program call that the ceiling of complexity. You grow up to a point and then you hit the ceiling. In order to break through that ceiling, it involves more delegation. It involves taking on more staff and letting go of more things. For me, I enjoy the sales process. That was a hard thing to delegate. In the process of growing your business and going on this journey, you have to make some tough delegations. That’s what holds most entrepreneurs back because they feel that no one can do this as well as I can. The truth is at first, no one can. If you give someone the opportunity to learn from their experiences and do the job and grow, they can potentially surpass you. That’s the key ingredient in becoming a good delegator and going on this journey.

How did you get over that hump? How did you let go of sales? How did you find the right person that you could trust?

It came with identifying the need and that resonates with deciding, what the best way for me to spend my time is? I realized that the way I wanted to spend my time was performing, playing music and working with clients and totally on the creative side. There is a lot of creativity to selling but something had to be delegated in order for me to grow and go to the next level. I delegated selling and over time, the sales department is far outproducing what I would be capable of doing. That frees me up to work on growing the business and traveling, meeting with people, opening up new opportunities, opening up new markets. As I think back, the initial question was about the journey, to get towards a self-managed company. You grow, you hit a plateau, and you peel something off to free yourself up to think bigger. You grow, you hit another plateau, you peel something else off so you can think bigger. You grow and if you look at the chart, it’s aligned growing up plateaus, goes up, plateaus. That’s a trajectory. That’s been true in my business.

MAU 34 | Self-Managing Company

Self-Managing Company: When you hire people, you have to be able to position them to take on tasks that will compliment your own weaknesses.


It’s learning to let go of pieces that aren’t your unique ability and delegating those to the right people and then trusting that you’ve got the right people to do that. 

When you get to the most refined level of this moving towards the self-managed company, you’re going to delegate things that you are unique at. That is difficult for most entrepreneurs to do. You have to recognize that it’s an essential part of the growth curve. It does work. The interesting thing is that the more control I relinquish, the more I feel empowered to be in control. The journey has been all about this trajectory. We have a great team in place and we can accomplish whatever we put our mind to, but there’s always that next position that you can fill. There definitely for our company is a position that will fill in the next year. When we do fill that position, there’s going to be more growth as a result of it.

Do you see another plateau coming somewhere down the road? Do you think you now have this business at a point where it truly is self-managing for the long run based on your goals and your vision?

You can’t get complacent. That’s a danger. I may not need to grow the business for my own satisfaction but I want to grow the business for the happiness and future fulfillment of all my employees. The reality is every business is going to make some transition over time. I’m not going to be doing this when I’m 90 years old. It’s great. Your K2 Advisers Program that you’re putting forward is going to be of incredible value because even if someone like me comes in and says, “I have no intention of transitioning. I have no intention of selling. I love what I do. I have a self-managed company and I have a balance.” The reality is that life events can happen. Something can happen with your health or your sense of wellbeing 5 to 10 years down the road. You have to always be perpetually prepared for that.

When you love what you do, the you would never want to consider retiring or selling your business. Share on X

There’s a date on the calendar for everybody. It’s either a date of your choosing or not of your choosing. People will exit their business. The question is, are they going to exit it on their terms and getting maximum value? If you run a self-managed business, most likely you’re ready at any moment for that exit. Running my M&A practice on acquisitions for as long as I have, I’ve met with thousands and thousands of business owners. Most are not ready to sell, but I’d also tell you most also are not operating their businesses at maximum value which is the reason why we’re starting K2 Advisers, help those owners who want to maximize their value, do that, run a self-managed business and so they’re ready whenever they decide they’re ready.

I would venture to say that the best way to test your company and the culture within your company, to find out if it holds water is to take a month off and leave. When you come back, you’re going to know who can step up, what the company is able to accomplish while you’re gone, what holes need to be filled, where the break in the dam is and it’s a scary proposition.

I would think your comment there would scare most business owners that I come across. The thought of taking a month away from the business without being involved in the business at all would be scary for most people. Why do you think owners can’t let go of their pieces of the business to create a self-managing company? This is self-evident to most people. Many people have a hard time letting go.

It goes back to the beginning of the entrepreneurial process. When you start out as rugged individualists, you had this vision, you were a solo practitioner, you did everything and it develops a mindset. Even though it’s been over 30 years since I was that guy or about 30 years, I can still remember it like it was yesterday. It still programs a lot of my subconscious thinking. I talked to someone that was considering a strategic coach program and she has a highly successful special event industry and does some very high-level work.

MAU 34 | Self-Managing Company

Self-Managing Company: If you’re an entrepreneur, you are in a unique position to put your hands on all the levers and all the dials and build that business to serve your lifestyle.


I started to talk about balance and free time and she goes, “Don’t try that one on me. It’s not going to work because my kids are growing up and honestly, I love my business and all I want to do is work in my business.” I said, “What do you think does need improvement or work?” She said, “I haven’t figured out how to multiply my business, where the multiplier is.” I said, “You’re basically in the time and effort world which means you only get compensated if you personally are putting in the time.” She said, “Yes,” I said, “There you go. That’s the next step for you because that comes along with all of this.”

My company does close to 500 events this 2020 and we did 2019. I personally performed at 35 of those. That means the rest of them, I wasn’t involved. I didn’t sell it, I didn’t get in my car and drive to the venue and perform. I don’t know too much about what happened but it was my vision, my process, and my reputation that was leveraged to get the client. I’ve certainly trained and worked closely with all of the band leaders and people that represent our company. We own all of our own products. We’re not a booking agency. We create these products and then we own and manage them in the marketplace. That’s the multiplier.

That sums it up right there. That’s amazing. Number one, the number of events that you’re doing a year and then how few you’re involved in any way, shape, or form. 

People will come up to me and they’ll say, “You guys were incredible. You played in my daughter’s wedding, you did this incredible fundraiser and you were fantastic.” They’re talking to me as if I was personally there. Half the time I have no idea. I’ll go back to my office and go, “What did we do on February 14th?” They’ll go, “That was Boys Hope, Girls Hope fundraiser, whatever.” I smile and say thank you very much. My name is on the company and it’s my reputation. This happens over time. It doesn’t happen overnight but you build a brand. Someone told me something wise once, a lot of people think they need to go out and define a brand and build a brand but you don’t get to say what your brand is. The market says it for you. Would you agree with that?

I agree. They react to the product that you put out there. If you put out a good quality product, the market’s going to define it. 

It’s what people say about you and what your reputation is in the marketplace. It defines your brand. My dad was successful in business and he taught me early on, I remember him saying this to me like it was yesterday and I was probably in school. He said, “The best investment you can make is the investment that you make in yourself.” At the time when I was building my business and we were talking about the journey and the trajectory, one thing I glossed over is, for the first 10 to 15 years, there were people working for me that were making more money than I was making. I was always willing to invest back in the business to have people to help me realize a future vision.

You had some important concept, Ken. You had to give up some of your income, your distributions, in order to get here. In doing that, you’ve leapfrogged all those other people who are making more money earlier in your career by 10, 20, 50-fold.

It’s true. My dad also taught me you can build a business and if you need to retire, you can retire off of five good years and it can be a 30-year business. It takes a certain kind of person to be an entrepreneur. I don’t know what the percentages are. Dom, maybe you’ve studied this but the percentages of people that go into a business that are entrepreneurs that are willing to take on all the risk, take on all the responsibility, it’s a special kind of person. You have to be wired in a special way. The problem is that you need to understand this journey and you need to understand what the payback can be in order to have the confidence to reinvest and grow continually. For me, it might have been ignorance because I was so blindly passionate about music that I never considered any other business path or any other option. It was like, “I better make it in business because I have nothing else to fall back on.”

You were passionate about it. I do talk to people who say to me, “I don’t know that I can build a self-managed business. What I do is special. My ability to sell to my clients is special. I don’t know that I can hire the right people to do it.” What I say to people, in that case, is everybody can do it. You have to want to. Your business is such a great example of that. Your business is a hard business. There are lots of competition but you build something unique in a sea of performers. There are lots of options out there but your business is unique compared to all of those other options. A lot of people looking at your business would think, “I don’t know how you build a self-managing business in that industry and here you are and you did it.”

I still have people that come up to me all the time and when I tell them what I do, they go, “What do you do to make a living?” I get that all the time. I am passionate about mentoring young artists that want to have careers, not music but any of the arts because I’ve had a good sense of what the mindsets that you have to have in order to be successful. The first mindset is you have to accept that you are an entrepreneur. If you want to succeed in the arts, you’re an entrepreneur and your product is your talent that you’re bringing out in the marketplace and all the Laws of Commerce apply to you. Being in a strategic coach program and sitting next to successful entrepreneurs and hundreds of different industries, what I’ve discovered is the incredible similarities. People think I’m incredibly unique because I’m in music but I’m dealing with all the same issues, all the same problems, the same trajectory of evolution, the same plateaus, the same need to delegate, the same issues that all other businesses work with.

If you give someone the opportunity to learn from their experiences and do the job and grow, they can potentially surpass you. Share on X

These issues transcend industries. Every business has the same issues. It’s a matter of whether or not you’re willing to do what it takes to create a self-managing business and some people might not want to. They might want to be the person that is involved in all the functions to have to understand that the risk of burnout is high and the value of your business is going to be lower because it creates more risk for somebody else to come in and take over. Ken, I do have one big question that I want to ask you that a lot of people might be thinking about. You mentioned 160 days of free time, you’re not in those days, you’re not touching your business in any way, shape or form. That might scare a lot of people. How did you deal with the free day at first? If you had gone from doing everything and then slowly starting to delegate, I’m sure free days must’ve scared you. How did you figure out how to fill up that time and be comfortable not touching the business?

At first, it was looking at my days in and the coaching program, they have a time system where you divide your time into focus days, free days, and buffer days. Focus days are where you make your money. It’s performing, it’s meeting with clients. Buffer days are when you do the stuff of life filling out of farms, balancing your checkbook or whatever stuff you have to do to prepare for the focus days. It was rearranging my way I thought time and most people go into work every day and they may not feel like going into work. They decide, “I’m going to go to work, I’ll work for a couple of hours, I’ll take a long lunch, I’ll go back in and work another hour and then leave early and go to a Bulls game.” In their mind, they put in three hours of work but it was a workday, they went into work.

When you take the free day, it puts extra pressure on the focus in the buffer days. The first thing I started doing is saying, “I’m going to cram a week’s worth of work into three days.” It’s not hard to do. Once you develop that mindset. It’s a little disconcerting. It takes a little work to get there but the reward is fantastic because everybody wants their free time. In my case, it was essential because I knew I was in a burnout industry. There was a point, 10 to 15 years ago, where I was getting burnt out. I was performing over 100 events a year, I was making a lot of the sales, and I was juggling a lot of the balls for the company. I knew that I couldn’t continue on that trajectory.

Self-Managing Company: If you want to succeed in the arts, you have to accept that you’re an entrepreneur and your product is your talent that you’re bringing out in the marketplace.


Free time brings rejuvenation. With rejuvenation brings better vision and better strategic thinking. It all comes down to using your time more efficiently. I came back from being gone for two weeks in a row and we had a big New Year’s Eve performance at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. My family went to Mexico for a week and then I came back and did one job and then left again for Scottsdale because I’m into cars and they have the big car week in Scottsdale. I was virtually gone for two weeks. When I came back, my office presented me with a report. The report was everything that got accomplished over those two weeks while I was gone. We had the most successful January in terms of sales, almost doubling our average January sales in history.

I knew that they were very busy, but there were a lot of other things that got done. A lot of those things were goals that I had indicated to the company when we sit down and talk about what our goals are for the next 90 days. It’s an incredible feeling of satisfaction to come back and say, “All this got accomplished when I was gone.” You’re ready to jump back in and pick up where you left off and it doesn’t always work. All this relies on having people that can step up and carry responsibility. In any organization, there can be a lot of downs in that arena. I’m not trying to sugarcoat this and make it sound like it’s all Cinderella story. The reality is this has been my lifestyle for the last few years.

Ken, I appreciate you carving out some time to talk to me and share this information with the M&A Unplugged Community. It’s important for me to have people like you on the show to demonstrate that achieving a self-managing company is possible. It takes time, effort and the willingness to let go and find the right people but it’s possible. The potential to have a balanced and rewarding lifestyle like you’ve carved out for yourself is there, while you have a business edge growing and creating opportunities for your people. It’s outstanding. Congratulations to you. 

Thank you, Dom. I appreciate it. It’s great to share it with you.

Let me recap a few things that Ken touches on that if you’re interested in building a self-managing company matter. First is you have to get crystal clear on your vision and your goals for the company. What is it that you envision? How do you want the business to operate? You have to be clear about what your unique abilities are. Unique ability is a term that is coined by Dan Sullivan. Unique ability is not the things that you’re good at, it’s the things that you’re good at and the things that you love to do because there are lots of things that we’re good at that potentially drain us of our energy. We need to learn to let go of those things as business owners but focus on the things that we’re good at and we’re passionate about we love to do it. When you find that, stick to those things and delegate everything else. The delegation may take some time and it may be a lot of starts and stops.

Eventually, you’ll figure it out if this is your goal to build a self-managing company, then in building that right team and developing them and trusting them to do the right things. If you can create that, you’re going to carve out a nice business for yourself with a lot of balance. We are forming a new company called K2 Advisers, which will hopefully be launched in February 2020. This is one of the things that we’re going to work with owners on is how to create a self-managing company and how to create more value in your company. If you’re looking to acquire a business and want to start out on this path from day one, we’ll work with you as well to figure out what’s the right path for you to create a business that has a maximum value. If you would like to learn more about the process of acquiring, scaling, or selling a business, please visit our website at or feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]. I look forward to seeing you again on the next episode of the show. Until then, please remember that scaling, acquiring, or selling a business takes time, preparation and the proper knowledge.

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About Ken Arlen

Ken is the founder of Arlen Music Productions, a Chicago-based entertainment company that specializes in providing live customized music for the national special events industry.

The Ken Arlen Evolution Orchestra has been acknowledged by Chicago, Biz Bash and Better Magazines as the “best entertainment” for a world class special event.

Arlen Music Production supports numerous charitable causes and donates music to many of the top fundraisers in North America.

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