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Stories From the Book: Lesson #1: Loyalty

Thanks to Professor Verinder Syal, I was recently guest lecturer for a portion of the Principles of Entrepreneurship class at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Sophomore Lisa Guo emailed afterwards to ask which interview from the book impacted me most.

I had to  think about it, because I learned something with each interview. But thinking more about her question, the first person who came to mind was Raj Soin. Raj was CEO and founder of MTC in Ohio, a consulting company that he and his wife took from a startup with $1700 in funding, to an eventual sale to BAE for $425 million. The money is not what was most impressive.  I asked Raj if he had ever faced a crisis, and he chuckled and said, yes, of course. One day his wife, who was the company bookkeeper, walked into his office, and it was payday, and she was crying. She told Raj there was not enough money to meet payroll. He tried to wave her off, telling her to just use their credit cards to get cash, to which she cried even harder, telling him there wasn’t any credit left on their cards. His response was to tell her to go home. I didn’t see how that solved the problem, but the interview moved on. A couple minutes later we were talking about loyalty, and Raj said it’s a two way street. He said one day he walked into a manager’s office, and while they were chatting he looked into an open desk drawer, and in the drawer were uncashed paychecks. Raj asked the manager, Mike, why he hadn’t cashed them? Mike said “I saw your wife crying that day. I knew it was payday. And my wife has a job, so I figured the company would make good later.” Mike had not told Raj, and Raj hadn’t known, and Raj had not yet figured out why his previous payroll hadn’t bounced.

That’s a definition of loyalty that hit home.

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Entrepreneurship and the Higgins Boat

The process of identifying and interviewing the founders for How They Did It really got me thinking about all of the contributions, both big and small, made by entrepreneurs. Contributions that have not only advanced science or technology, but have helped to shape the world. A perfect example – Andrew Jackson Higgins. A single individual, credited with winning World War II by General Dwight Eisenhower. Owner of a lumber-importing firm in New Orleans, Higgins’ production of LCVP’s – Higgins boats – allowed for open-beach landings, and were integral to the winning war strategy.

Who are the entrepreneurs that have inspired you? What contributions have they made? Better yet…what contributions are you making right now?

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Roy Halladay on Setting Goals

For a pitcher in the major leagues to throw a no hitter is an amazing accomplishment. That’s what Roy Halladay did on May 29, 2010 against the Florida Marlins. What beats that? Throwing a no hitter in the playoffs. In his playoff debut on October 6, 2010 Roy threw his second no hitter in the Phillies win over the Cincinnati Reds. That’s only the second time a no hitter has ever occurred in post-season play. Just a nice little reminder that we can set more ambitious goals, no matter what yesterday’s success looked like.

You Think You Got Game?

Roy reminds me of another great athlete who plays all out. This past May Chicago Blackhawks’ defenseman Duncan Keith’s sacrifice of 7 teeth in the final game leading to the Stanley Cup finals on May 24. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfJx1L71DUU

Think you play tough in the corporate arena? Keith took a puck to the mouth, shattering 7 teeth. He left the ice, came back a couple minutes later to finish the game and assist in the game-tying goal. It sounds amazing, but when you think about hockey, and you think about what makes a champion, maybe its not so bizarre. It got me thinking what a comparable calamity would be in the corporate world, and how we react to adversity, under pressure, under bright lights, everyone watching. How do you recover from a shattering event?

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Rich Meeusen Helping Solve the World’s Water Supply Shortage

While I was working on How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America, I was asked, why focus on entrepreneurs and why the heartland?

Entrepreneurs are the engine that fuels the world’s progress. Progress does not come from bureaucracy. I wanted to learn from the 45 founders I interviewed and present their advice, insights, and inspiration in their own words, because great ideas and great effort never stop – regardless of economic conditions.

After speaking with the founders, is was clear that some of the most remarkable companies now in existence were launched and grown in the American heartland.

And the need for great entrepreneurs has not diminished. Take the issue of the world’s supply of potable water, for example. Research shows the existing water supply is insufficient to quench the thirst of the current population of the planet. According to The Netherlands’ recent 2030 Project, the world’s supply of potable water is 4.3 trillion cubic meters (TCM), whereas the world’s need at present is 4.5 TCM. Due to this shortage, five million children die every year. By 2030, the world’s need will total 6.9 TCM yet the supply will still be 4.3 TCM. Entrepreneurs, I predict, are going to solve this problem. And there is one location worldwide that has a clear lead, supply of talent, and expertise in water technology. Where is it—Palo Alto? London? Boston? Moscow?

According to Rich Meeusen, chairman and CEO of public company Badger Meter, Inc. (BMI), and co-founder of the Water Council, the answer is Milwaukee. Born from a 100-year history of industry on the Great Lakes, manufacturing in Milwaukee revolved around “wet” industries like tanning and breweries. Of the 11 largest water-related manufacturing companies in the world, five are headquartered or have significant presence in Milwaukee. More than 100 of the leading water technology companies are located in Milwaukee, working on all aspects of quality, desalination, access and use.

The world isn’t making any more water – what we have is what we have. Big issues like these can only be solved through creative new technologies, ideas and processes. Companies being launched and grown right now are our best hope to solve these challenges.

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8 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Business – Don Rainey

Check out the great article from Venture Beat called “8 things I wish I knew before starting a business”.  Don Rainey, general partner at Grotech Ventures says there are many experiences that, though he learned lessons from, he wishes he knew from the get go.

1. Things take longer than you ever imagine –

2. Items that do succeed tend to do so quickly

3. People will let you down

4. Good employees are really hard to find

5. Your bad employees rarely quit –

6. You will be lucky and unlucky –

7. Avoid the myth and misery of sunk cost –

8. Fill the pipe, always fill the pipe –

4 and 5 remind me of Howard Tullman talking about hiring. He had lots of pithy insights – here’s one that will be featured in How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America (now available for pre-order on Amazon).

“I used to fall in love with everyone I interviewed and I’d say, ‘We can make anybody successful’ or ‘We can find a job for any talented person.’ And that’s just completely wrong and a really bad idea.”


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