Entrepreneurial Leaders

Some of the best teachers in any subject are people who have actually “lived” what they are teaching. As someone once said, “experience is the great learner.” We are privileged to have the thoughts and suggestions of a number of entrepreneurs and business leaders who have created successful businesses, often from nothing more than a good idea.

We selected these people based upon the diversity of their businesses and their business success. We thank them for their openness and insight.

Each of these 21 people completed a survey in which they were asked a series of open-ended questions. We have included a selection of their comments and ideas. Some of these responses may help guide you in the development of your new business enterprise.

“What are the greatest skills that an Entrepreneur
needs to have to be successful?”

“Flexibility—because you must be able to respond rapidly to changing priorities. Adaptability—because you wear many different hats, particularly in the early stages of a firm’s development. Humility—because no job can be “too small” to perform and no entrepreneur has the skill set to understand and manage all aspects of the business successfully.” Catherine Massey, LawDocsXpress

“A successful entrepreneur will have many different skills. First, vision is required. There must be a clear understanding of what the business will do and how it will do it. Then a successful entrepreneur must force himself to see things as they are and not as he wants them to be. An honest assessment of things will force the tough decisions or changes that are usually good for the business. Other skills develop the organization, people, and management team to get things accomplished.” Jim McGinty, Digitec Medical

“Persistence…Persistence…Persistence. Never give up.” Neil Wise, Guardian Products

“People skills—having the ability and skills to work with your clients and your employees.” Angela Cain, Nouveauté

“The ability to overcome adversity—along with imagination, humility, and a good sense of humor.” Tim Fulton, Vistage

“An ability to properly assess risk and an understanding of what the market need is, not just a desire to sell something of interest to you. An appreciation for the financials is also important, even if it is a struggle to acquire that appreciation.” Allan Adams, SBDC

“Persistence, honesty, and a sense of urgency. Must be willing to work long, unrewarded hours and know as much about your business as possible.” Mike Jones, H&H Insurance Services

“Ability to be a hustler – that is, work hard and be focused on doing business and making money, not just thinking about it; do whatever is needed to make it work; be aware of what is going on in the marketplace so one can be opportunistic in ways to make money, and avoid having markets disappear in this rapidly changing world.” Mary Lane Scherer, Metro Solutions

“Humility…Integrity…Desire to serve…Desire to build something.” Kris Nordholz, FullMedia

“Marketing and financial savvy with a keen eye on profits vs. sales. Good entrepreneurs have a vision of where they want to go. They have a tendency to think big vs. just starting a business to have a job.” Darrel Hulsey, University of Georgia SBDC

Why did you start your business?

“A key factor was the desire to eliminate the imposed boundaries and constraints that accompany working in a corporate environment. With my own business the sky’s the limit and I don’t have to seek approval to pursue new opportunities.” Andy Kitti, Aspen Digital Solutions

“I needed a job.” Neil Wise, Guardian Products

“I love serving people, love the freedom to do it in a way that the customer sees, and I wanted to keep our family together.” Vic Pemberton, Pepi Food Services

“To make money and to be my own boss…to help other people achieve…and to be able to make a difference in the world.” Lisa McDonald, MDSI, Inc.

“I like to have my own responsibility and being able to have the flexibility to work any 80 hours of the week that I want to work.” Angela Cain, Nouveauté

What is the major difference between a corporate executive and a successful entrepreneur?

“The mindset of each is different. I think an entrepreneur is more comfortable with risk and a corporate executive is often happier operating within a relatively “sluggish” corporate environment. An entrepreneur will experience higher highs and deeper lows and is often forced to do more with less. The skill set required of the two is vastly different and I have found it unusual to find an individual with both. But I believe the skill sets are complementary and a successful entrepreneur will, at some point, call on the skills of a corporate executive to help develop the structure necessary to support a growing business.” Jim McGinty, Digitec Medical

“Simply wanting to do things correctly, rather than the appearance of doing something important. Making the right decision, rather than politically talking about it.” Paul Miller, Multicell Packaging

“The degree of risk they can take and the related reward they can realize. Entrepreneurs have far greater ability to produce “game changing” results because they do not face the same operational constraints as those in corporations. They also may suffer far greater consequences (financial or other) as a result of their actions.” Catherine Massey, LawDocsXpress

“An entrepreneur is about getting things done. A corporate executive is about having meetings.” Angela Cain, Nourveauté

“Speed of action…speed to market…speed to change…speed to adapt…speed to develop.” Vic Pemberton, Pepi Food Services

“A good corporate executive needs to be strong at their main skill set…a strong team player. A successful entrepreneur needs to possess complete business skills. Maybe not be the best at everything but be competent at all phases of business…they must understand accounting and finance…they must understand engineering and product development. But most of all they need to be able to convince the business community that their product or service is a “must buy” for that potential client or customer.” Tom O’Connor, Bambeck & O’Connor

“A corporate executive succeeds by being “Teflon.” No problem can ever be traced to them but they take credit for all successes. Most corporate executives won’t empty the trash or do manual labor. An entrepreneur will wash your car and house for you if that is what it takes to succeed.” Dale Jakupca, Architectural Floor Solutions

“Entrepreneur will take responsibility for all of the results…Corporate people will only take that responsibility for their job descriptions.” Mike Jones, H&H Insurance Services

“Drive, Determination and Risk Taking. Corporate executives seem to concentrate on management functions and entrepreneurs focus on creativity and risk taking … and managing that risk taking.” Darrel Hulsey, University of Georgia SBDC

Why do you think the majority of small businesses fail?

“Their pricing model is too low and they don’t cover their costs or their pricing model is too high and they are not competitive on the street. The marketing efforts do not produce enough leads. Their sales process does not convince enough people to buy. As the business grows and changes, they fail to revise their pricing model.” Tony Bass, Super Lawn Trucks

“Lack of belief in yourself; going beyond your abilities; failure to abide by good business practices; and lack of a good business plan.” Dale Jakupca, Architectural Floor Solutions

“Ill-conceived business plan and lack of key business skills by the founder.” Peter Bourke, The Complex Sales

“The typical entrepreneur knows their product or service, but may not have all the skills necessary to deal with the array of issues involved in running a business. Failure to properly plan for growth and change may cause these shortcomings in skills to become seeds for destruction. For example, if you love selling, but don’t pay attention to or understand cash flow you may “grow your business to death.” Allan Adams, SBDC/UGA

“A lack of planning…Under-capitalization…Failure to delegate. According to the “E-Myth” by Michael Gerber, most businesses fail because they are started by people who are just technicians vs. true entrepreneurs or business managers.” Tim Fulton, Vistage

“Most business owners fail to build their business like they would build any income producing asset. Setting up procedures, reporting structures, and accountability for results is a great start. If the business falls apart when you take a day off, you have an unhealthy kind of job security. You certainly don’t have an asset that will generate income while you are on the beach, and it won’t be worth anything to an outside buyer. If you build a business that others will want to buy, you have a greater chance of success.” Bernie Meineke, SBDC/GSU

“Most people are good at one aspect of the business—normally the technical side. But they fail to see the big picture or hire people to balance out the company. Therefore, the company often cannot sustain itself.” Vic Pemberton, Pepi Food Services

“They underestimate what it takes to be successful…and they get bogged down with the ‘trivial many’ vs. the ‘significant few’.” Lisa McDonald, MDSI, Inc.

Do you think that entrepreneurship has a good future?

“I believe that entrepreneurship is growing in the U.S. This country was founded by hardworking, self-employed people. Our agriculture based economy was sustained for nearly 200 years by the self-employed farmers. In 1900, 38% of our population worked on the family farm. Today less than 2% of our population feeds our entire country and much of the world! Today, only 11% of our population owns a business. That means 89% do not own a business! There is substantial room for growth. I am bullish on entrepreneurship in America!” Tony Bass, Super Lawn Trucks

“More and more people will become contract workers for both large and small companies. These companies will have more flexibility and will not have to pay benefits.” Neil Wise, Guardian Products

“Entrepreneurship is the future. Many people are starting to realize that the job security of the future will be in the ability to find or create your own opportunities. Today, many companies don’t hire employees, they hire temporary staff with specific skills needed at that moment in time. A clear trend we are seeing with our clients is the rise of businesses that provide outsourced services to do the work of the people who have been laid off.” Bernie Meineke, SBDC/GSU

“It’s the future of America. The country can’t survive without it.” Jonathan Braden, RLSS, Inc.

“The future of entrepreneurship is excellent. Technology is providing the entrepreneur more tools and prospective customers than ever before. As markets adopt new technology, opportunities will appear in new areas. Entrepreneurs will also find opportunities in segments of markets left behind by technology and abandoned by other companies.” Jim McGinty, Digitec Medical

“Due to the uncertainty of corporate employment, it will be attractive to many – especially ones who don’t fit the image of corporations (white, 30 to 40-something males who talk a lot, make decisions, act but don’t think much–except about themselves). Will be good for minorities, for women and for older people who are discarded because they don’t have potential anymore–just experience!” Mary Lane Scherer, Metro Solutions

“Very bright future. So much of success today is about velocity…speed. Small businesses tend to be able to move faster than larger businesses. However, access to capital is going to be a very large issue.” Tim Fulton, Vistage

“With the government in transition it is tough to say. Socialism may take away the opportunity to succeed.” Paul Miller, Multicell Packaging

“In the future, I expect more people will go the entrepreneurial route – either starting a business outright or buying into a franchise. In the first model, we’ll see more pools of like-talented people selling their services to companies – some of which may be former employers. Companies will prefer to buy fractional units of the highly specialized talent they need rather than keep those people on staff. In addition to outright start-ups, I expect executives who have lost their positions in large corporations to jump on the franchise bandwagon. Franchises, which require about half of the effort of a start-up, are perfect for executives who know how to implement a prescribed game plan.” Mary Rodriguez, Hilrod Group

“Excellent future…the tougher times become, the more successful true entrepreneurs will become.” Mike Jones, H&H Insurance Services

“Alive and well as long as the country does not slip into a true socialist society.” Dale Jakupca, Architectural Floor Solutions

“For many in our society owning their own business will offer them the best chance to control their economic destiny. Entrepreneurship will continue to offer opportunities for people to pursue their own desires and create products and services to meet unique needs.” Allan Adams, SBDC

“Excellent future but challenging. When 70% of all current jobs and 80% of all newly created jobs are from small business we clearly are the engine that is driving the economy. Because of rapidly changing technology the marketplace will reward those businesses which are nimble enough to respond to market demands, find creative solutions to problems, employ best practices and effectively use resources (capital, physical and human). And that is what entrepreneurship is all about.” Catherine Massey, LawDocsXpress

“Obviously, the Internet and social media can be some of the fuel to keep the entrepreneurship engine moving forward.” Peter Bourke, The Complex Sale

What advice would you give to a new business owner?

“Be committed to working hard, have your customers’ best interest at stake, and run a great business. The money of success will follow later.” Paul Miller, Multicell Packaging

“Practice continuous learning and surround yourself with people smarter than you. Take risks…seek opportunities and overcome any failures. Don’t forget to have a life outside of your business.” Tim Fulton, Vistage

“Don’t try to go it alone. Develop a support team – banker, CPA, attorney, consultant, other business owners. Get advice and perspective from others that have experience and have an interest in your success.” Allan Adams, SBDC

“First, be sure you can make money. You aren’t free labor – there is a lost opportunity cost. Secondly, there are only so many hours in the day. Your business will eat up a good deal of them. To succeed, you’ll need to “steal” time from family, leisure pursuits, etc. Be sure you understand the real price you are paying for this opportunity. When I was starting my first business, my dog thought he lived at the kennel.” Mary Rodriguez, The Hilrod Group

“Acknowledge your limitations and surround yourself with people of opposite strengths. Seek advice from many sources and don’t be afraid to admit you need help.” Catherine Massey, LawDocsXpress

“To be a successful entrepreneur, you must be passionate and tenacious, almost fanatical about doing what’s best for your company. But this passion can be your undoing. It can put blinders on you, and there are landmines everywhere. You have to balance your passion and almost unrealistic optimism with the stark reality that you can very easily fail. If you are willing to look for the landmines, you have a chance to avoid them.” Bernie Meineke, SBDC/GSU

“Plan, Plan, Plan. Make sure you have adequate capital and trust your gut.”” Jonathan Braden, RLLS Inc.

“Love what you do…be the best at what you do…and have a system that defines success.” Vic Pemberton, Pepi Food Services

“Focus on the important. Do not overestimate sales and underestimate expenses. Really control expenses.” Lisa McDonald, MDSI Inc.

“Keep looking for ways to serve people (put others first) and give people more than they pay for. Focus on building an organization and not just doing work…and just keep going.” Kris Nordholz, FullMedia

“Plan out the development of your business. Research your competitors and try to identify weaknesses where you can sell value. Develop projected results and benchmarks that are measurable, so when you begin operations you can evaluate your performance more quickly and make adjustments if needed.” Tom O’Connor, Bambeck & O’Connor

“A successful entrepreneur will stay positive. It is too easy to allow people and events to zap your energy and confidence. When I started, some of my peers ridiculed my plans; they discouraged me from trying. They did not want me to succeed because when I did, they would somehow see themselves as not succeeding. When I learned to associate myself with successful people I was inspired and challenged. Stay positive–without energy and confidence, you will not succeed.” Jim McGinty, Digitec Medical

“Think big, and work with persistence. Attract like-minded people to your business because you cannot be everywhere at all times.” Mike Jones, H&H Insurance Services

“Think of your career like this — if you enjoy what you do well enough to go to work every day without getting a paycheck, you will never regret being an entrepreneur. The further you can see into the future, the more likely you will get where you are going. Put your goals in writing and share your plans with those in your organization. And finally, do not hesitate to hire consultants or advisors who have demonstrated a track record of success within your industry. Seek advice from people ten to twenty years your senior and you will always improve your chances for success.” Tony Bass, Super Lawn Trucks

“Follow your passions…and do what you enjoy doing.” Andy Kitti, Aspen Digital Solutions