GREENFIELD — As a 12-year-old kid, Alex Payne and his friends thought his dad was a nag for frequently encouraging them to one day own their own businesses.
Just a few years later, however, Payne is doing just that. The 2012 Mt. Vernon High School graduate now leads the Greenfield division for Student Painters, a Midwestern company that recruits ambitious college students to lead their peers in painting houses and business buildings over summer break.
His dad couldn’t be prouder.
“Even when he and his brother were kids, we always encouraged them to fend for themselves. If they wanted something nice, they had to go work and buy it themselves,” recalls his dad, Scott Payne, an independent vacuum distributor.
Alex printed out his first business cards when he was in the fifth or sixth grade, when he and his best friend started going door to door seeking jobs cutting grass and shoveling snow. For years, he sold newspapers at Indianapolis Colts games and at events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to raise money for his AAU travel basketball team.
Today, at age 20, he’s leading two four-man crews as they paint their way through the greater Greenfield area.
“The biggest rewards is looking at before-and-after photos of work we’ve done, being able to say, ‘Hey, I did that,’” said Payne, who is studying public financial management and entrepreneurship at Indiana University in Bloomington.
He first heard of Student Painters through a mass email to students, and he attended the open call for leaders in January. He attended a two-day training session and started laying the groundwork for his new business in February.
Payne is spending his summer drumming up business and has racked up $33,000 of his $75,000 sales goal so far.
“Alex is a very self-motivated individual, so he’s doing very well,” said Mike Roberts, vice president of Young Entrepreneurs Across America, the parent company of Student Painters.
“He’s doing sales, marketing, production, financial analysis, hiring and firing employees, filing payroll – everything you would be doing if you were running any other business. What it takes to be successful is a positive attitude and work ethic, and Alex definitely has both of those.”
Running his own company seems to come naturally to Payne, whose dad encouraged him to read business-savvy books like “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” and “Who Moved My Cheese?” as a kid.
The unorthodox method seems to have worked. Payne credits his dad and mom, Phyllis, a child-care provider, for his strong work ethic.
“When my dad would preach to me and my friends the power of owning your own business while we were in middle school and high school, we felt like he was nagging us about it. But ironically, now all of us want to do exactly that,” said Payne, a lifelong Greenfield resident.
He even has an idea for a future business venture that he’s working on with friends back at IU but doesn’t feel at liberty to share that vision publicly just yet. For now, he’s gaining real-world experience running his painting crews, which includes younger brother Andrew Payne, who just graduated from high school.
With such a young workforce, one of Alex’s challenges is convincing potential clients to trust in a crew made up of mostly college students.
“People are a little skeptical because we’re college students, but I tell them they can feel good about hiring capable, book-smart young people who are raising college tuition,” he said.
While he might not always work as a house painter, no matter what type of business Payne finds himself leading in the future, he knows the life lessons his parents taught him will come in handy.
His dad is thankful the lessons sunk in.
“I always told him as a young businessman, if you’ve got integrity and you’re honest and truthful, then people will come back and be loyal to you,” said Scott Payne. “It’s great to see Alex putting that into practice.”