The Hardest Thing for an Entrepreneur to Learn

Tanger Factory Outlet Center’s fourth employee, Steven Tanger now heads up a $3 billion market cap REIT. Here, he reflects on the differences between the start-up and the multibillion-dollar success story..

Mar 5, 2014 at 9:00AM

Steven Tanger joined Tanger Factory Outlet Centers (NYSE:SKT), founded by his father in 1981, as the company's fourth employee. The company had grown to 13 outlet centers by 1992, and the following year became the first outlet center developer to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange as a publicly traded REIT, under ticker symbol SKT. Tanger has been president and CEO since 2009, and the company's portfolio, growing steadily, now includes more than 40 outlet centers across the U.S. and in Canada.

Tanger has watched his father's company grow from a tiny start-up to a multibillion-dollar success story. In this video segment he recalls what it was like to have a hand in every aspect of the company, and what it's like now to delegate responsibility for so much of it.

Learn from the best
Warren Buffett has made billions through his investing and he wants you to be able to invest like him. Through the years, Buffett has offered up investing tips to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. Now you can tap into the best of Warren Buffett's wisdom in a new special report from The Motley Fool. Click here now for a free copy of this invaluable report.

Tom Gardner: Out of curiosity, what is your area of greatest enjoyment in all of this? For example, are you involved in the design? Are you reviewing the design? Or are you more interested in the location choices and the financial profile of the overall business? I'm sure you're excited and enthusiastic about every area, but do you have a particular area, right now in the work that you're doing, that you find most interesting?

Steve Tanger: Tom, I joined the company as the fourth employee. It was my father and I, and a secretary, and a bookkeeper so, out of necessity, each of us did everything. We did the marketing, we did the leasing, we did the land development, we did the finance, the operations... so I'm trained in all aspects of it, as most entrepreneurs are when they start a small business. You have to get your hands dirty, and you love what you do. And I still love what I do.

It took us from 1981 to 1990 to hire our 10th employee, so we grew the business slowly, very conservatively financed. Today, we have about 150 employees in our office in North Carolina, and probably a total of 500, if you include all the Tanger people on site in our 43 shopping centers.

But I oversee the very talented people that we've hired. My mantra is "Hire very smart, very talented people, and get out of their way and let them do their job." I'm not...

Gardner: Mr. Micromanager.

Tanger: No. I think the hardest thing for an entrepreneur to learn is to give up control. Because entrepreneurs are used to hands-on, micromanaging everything, and thinking -- and sometimes rightfully so, and sometimes not -- they can do everything better than everybody else.

But we've hired extremely talented people. We have a robust succession planning program, starting with myself. We review it twice a year. Every employee is put into a nine-box grid, and we track them, we educate, we self-promote.

It's important, I think, for the shareholders to know that no one person is bigger than the enterprise. Our enterprise value now, including debt, is probably $4.7-$4.8 billion -- and that's starting from a dream, with nothing.

We want to be sure that our stakeholders, who have shown confidence in our management team by investing with us, and making us stewards of their hard-earned money, we want to be sure that the enterprise survives.

I'm asked from time to time, what happens if I get hit by a bus? My answer is, "Well, I no longer cross the street!" But if something were to happen to me, the company would survive and prosper.

Tom Gardner has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.


Compare Brokers