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He likes to call himself a redneck just having fun. But don’t be fooled by that ZZ Top beard, good-old-boy grin and head-to-toe camouflage. Because behind that facade lies an extremely intelligent businessman. Willie Robertson is the CEO of Duck Commander, a company that manufactures top-of-the-line duck calls, and the star of Duck Dynasty, one of America’s most highly rated shows.
Willie spoke with Dave about his family’s multimillion-dollar company, their hit TV show on A&E network, and business in general. It proved to be one of Dave’s most popular interviews on The Dave Ramsey Show.
In the Beginning
The odds that the Robertsons would become super successful seemed slim to none. But the clan from the bayou of West Monroe, LA, had two secret weapons: None of them were afraid of hard work. And giving up? Not in their vocabulary.
Duck Commander was the brainchild of Willie’s father, Phil, who realized he could whittle a better duck call than you could find at any store. Despite dismal sales the first year and barely being able to feed his family, he never once thought of giving up. His kids, including Willie and brothers Alan, Jase and Jep, worked right alongside him.
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“My dad would always say, ‘Boys, we are going to sell a million dollars’ worth of these duck calls one day,’” Willie says. “We really didn’t have any option at the time, so it sounded like a great idea to us. We were the employees and were churning them right out of our two-bedroom house right there on the river.”
Slowly, the business began to prosper. The duck calls led to hunting videos, followed by a show on the Outdoor Channel. “We got a pretty good grassroots following from hunters, duck hunters and waterfowl guys around the country,” Willie says. “We started making T-shirts and hats and kept growing.”
About a decade ago, Willie took over as CEO. It was the perfect choice, says his dad, since Willie was the only one with a business degree and was a natural salesperson too. As a youngster, Willie was pulling down around $300 a week selling candy at school—a profitable business until the principal shut him down.
The Next Generation
Willie is credited with taking the business to the next level. Today, Duck Commander is a multimillion-dollar company with a wide array of products in major retail stores across the country. It remains a family business, with 80% of its team made up of relatives. Duck Dynasty only added to its success.
“Business is booming, so we put in a store. What I didn’t factor in was regular old cats would be buying duck calls too,” Willie say with a laugh. “Boy was I wrong.”
Despite their mega success, Willie says the family continues to stick to their roots and remain humble. Their secret weapon? The kitchen table—the spot where nearly every episode of Duck Dynasty ends with a huge family dinner and a prayer. “Faith, common sense, wisdom and values are all things passed at that table,” Willie says. “It’s a lost art and doesn’t need to be.”
Willie’s wife, Korie, agrees. “I think it’s the most important thing about the show,” she told CBN.com. “Because at the end of the day, it is all about sitting down and thanking God for your blessings, and if we can't do that, then what do we have really?"
This article originally appeared on EntreLeadership.com, your place to learn from America's trusted voices on small business. Get the tools you need to grow yourself, your team and your business at EntreLeadership.com.