Enjoy learning from others and realize that you cannot have all of the right answers!
Ronnie Fowlkes is an former member of the U.S Marine Corps and the St. Louis SWAT team. For over two decades, Fowlkes has actively taken part in the development and the delivery of top quality gear for security departments. Fowlkes also worked as a Military Products Sales & Business Development Manager for IWT Group way back before joining FirstSpear group.
Serving in the Position of Manager of Business Development within Eagle Industries Fowlkes joined FirstSpear as the Director of Business Development. Fowlkes is responsible for coordinating with professional users from other departments especially Law Enforcement and Military communities and is expected to demonstrate his operational and business development experience to enhance the marketing of innovative designs created by First Spears Product Development Group.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
First Spear was already around before I joined them, but my interests and passions led me to them. I developed an interest in the military from a very early age when I knew that the one thing in life I wanted to be was a Marine. I continually submitted applications to the Marine Corps from the age of ten on and was always disappointed when they sent back letters saying I needed to wait till I was older before I could serve.
I finally joined the Corps, two weeks after graduating high school at the age of 17 and it was a decision I never regretted. The one thing I continually saw throughout my time at the Corps and later when I joined the Police force was the equipment from FirstSpear.
It was extremely well designed and held together really well. In fact, we like to tell the world that “we are the Gucci or Ferrari of the tactical world. Everything is made in America with American fabrics throughout,” and it holds a lifetime guarantee.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Every day, I have to balance personal activities and office jobs. Before I go to work, I see my three kids off to school, and then it’s straight into work. My day is not your typical 9-5 as we have a lot of international contracts (35% of our business is with NATO) so I’m on calls quite early.
On my way to the office, I have my first caffeinated beverage. For me it’s a Mountain Dew – in the Corps, I was quickly turned off coffee as you had to consume dry Folgers crystals along with a swig of water … finding an alternative was necessary and I’ve been hooked since.
At the office, I start my day by responding to different emails and phone messages. I also have a regular touch point with my team where I get a pulse on open issues and activities. I look into any large orders in the production pipeline to ensure that we’re on track.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I believe in teamwork, and I feel that is what strongly influences the success of my ideas. In the company, our Business Development guys work closely with the DOD and local State and Law enforcement to determine requirements. Ideas come from the field and the end users based on relationships already established.
Based on these requirements, we build an RFI, and our internal R&D team works on meeting those goals. If you think of a target we get it into the 8 or 9 ring most of the time and then work with the user to get it right into the bullseye.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
In our industry, there are lots of copycats around, and we’ve found that the only way to protect a product is to patent it. We’re pleased with how we’ve driven the industry into laser cutting and new tube technology. We’ve found that this removed and lightened the load by about 40%!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I like to write everything down. I use a small booklet or some flash cards. I’m a creature of habit as the Marine Corps taught me to use a journal book and I’ve just transferred that here.
Taking records and making lists allows me to keep track of what I have achieved so far and those that I haven’t archived. Anything uncompleted gets transferred to the top of the list for the next day!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Life is too short for regrets. Continue to live life to the fullest. Learn from your mistakes.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I’m considered to be a teddy bear by people that know me. But it does depend on how long we’ve known each other as I don’t come across that way on the first impression.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Surrounding yourself with good people is important. Learn how to delegate and manage as you cannot do it all yourself. Enjoy learning from others and realize that you cannot have all of the right answers!
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Focus on your customers. They are what drives our growth, and we always believe in going the extra mile to serve them. The “golden rule” is very important to my team and me.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I have encountered a lot of challenges throughout my life and along my career path. I’ve learned from those mistakes though and focused on being honest with the people around me.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Recently I bought an iPhone Mophie case, and I really cannot live without it! It’s been a lifesaver on more than one occasion, and I can’t recommend it enough.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’m not much of a reader, but the one that stuck with me is Marcus Luttrell’s book Lone Survivor. I think people should read it as it gives a good idea of the sacrifices made for the freedoms many of us take for granted.
What is your favorite quote?
I’m a huge fan of General Mattis the Secretary of Defense. He once said: “I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.”
Acting as though failure isn’t an option has served me well as I’m not afraid to push the limits and try new things.
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