Executive Q&A: Stephen Saak, an Oklahoma City entrepreneur, reads the signs
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign: Oklahoma businessman grows retail sign company he started at age 19 with $100.
Stephen Saak once considered selling his successful, 40-year-old retail sign business, S&S Promotions — and credits a business coach for the motivation to keep and grow it.
“I met Phil Engle at a Shorty Small's for lunch, and he asked me if I wanted to fix my company or liquidate it. When I said ‘I don't know,' he just got up and walked out, telling me to call him when I'd made a decision,” Saak said.
Saak opted for a growth plan, and within three years, S&S was lauded as one America's fastest growing urban businesses by New York-based Inc. magazine and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. Since 1994, when annual revenues were about $800,000, sales have shot up six- to sevenfold, Saak said. Sonic Corp. and Macklanburg-Duncan are among the larger organizations served by the sign company, which employs 30.
From his offices at 1717 S Pennsylvania — in a 50,000-square-foot building he totally refurbished five years ago — Saak, 58, recently sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about his personal and professional life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Can you tell us about your roots?
A: I like to joke that I'm the son of mother Mary and Father Saak. My mother's name is Mary (Waxwell), and my dad, the late Bill Saak, after a secular career, became an Episcopal priest. He was a clergyman at St. Paul's Cathedral downtown and the chaplain for the Episcopalian Diocese of Oklahoma. I have two sisters, three and six years older. Our parents divorced when I was 8. But we remained close to both of them. My mother, who ran a car dealership with my stepfather, instilled in me a sense of discipline. From her, I learned that I deserved everything I earned — and nothing more. My father, who was very affectionate, taught me not to be self-absorbed and that there's nothing more important than relationships. Whether you wreck a car or misprint a job, the relationships with the people involved are what's important.
Q: What were the highlights of your school days?
A: I played the drums in a garage band, Spellbinders, in high school, but mainly I worked. In fifth or sixth grade, I was mowing lawns and contracting others to help me and, during junior high, I'd frequently work until 11 p.m. at El Rancho Sanchez, as a busboy. For me it wasn't so much about the money, but the independence. In high school at U.S. Grant, I took vo-tech courses, where I learned graphic arts. Most of the time, I was doing on-the-job training at The Oklahoma Journal in Midwest City.
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