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Success Requires a Team

Success Requires a Team

Thanks to Scott Keffer for sending me coach John Wooden’s book Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success. John Wooden, a paragon of basketball and admired well beyond the sports world, did an outstanding job combining a kid’s book with an instruction set for adults. The book is based on John’s pyramid of success and is a great reminder of an exceptional approach toward life.

One block in his pyramid that I think is often key to a successful entrepreneurial venture is the element of team spirit.  John says “The team comes first… the team’s the star.”

The problem with so many solo professionals is that they think they have to do it alone because no one else would be a fit working with them at their high level or they’re just too busy taking care of clients to figure out how to form a team. But if you take a lesson from champions, team is one of your greatest assets.

Al Berning and Mark Tebbe, two entrepreneurs who shared their stories in my book, How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America know the importance of a team all too well.

Al’s inspiration for his company Pemstar came when his former employer, IBM, decided to move disk drive operations to Asia in a major restructuring. Al was not in the market to go to Asia so he and 6 other senior managers started looking at ways they could keep the team intact and pursue new opportunities.

The team actually mapped out their individual skillsets and concluded that together they could create a new company that focused on outsourced design and manufacturing services. Al’s decision to combine forces ultimately led to landing their former employer IBM as one of the new company’s first three customers.

Al had the vision to see his greatest asset was the brainpower of his team. He recognized that asset and went on to grow Pemstar to an IPO, then later selling the company to Benchmark for $300 million.

Another one of Coach Wooden’s steps came into play here as well — the elements of hard work and preparation. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” Wooden says.  Al and his partners prepared for entrepreneurial success by identifying specific areas where their business could provide a competitive advantage, and sticking to just that.

Mark Tebbe, founder of Lante Corporation and Answers.com also credits his success to having a good team. Seeing promise in microcomputers, Mark quit his first job at Arthur Andersen & Co. to pursue this new territory. He was young, and valued experience, so partnered up with a 38-year-old named Andy Langer. The two created the consulting practice Langer, Tebbe and Associates, which eventually became Lante.

Mark said Andy Langer was the perfect partner for his younger self. He would always consider not just what happened but why it had happened. “Don’t underestimate the value of experience,” Tebbe says.

I realize we’re all savvy and would never consider reading a children’s book to get inspiration. Make an exception for Coach Wooden, and after you finish reading it pass it along to a youngster in your life.

(Hear from Al Berning and Mark Tebbe who are featured speakers at the upcoming New York Entrepreneurial Bash at the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 3. Register at www.entrepbash.com)

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Acting with Integrity

As I interviewed the founders for How They Did It, one of the things that stood out for me about this group of people was that time and time again they chose to do the right thing. There were moments when they could have cut corners, but instead I found examples of acting with integrity. Phil Soran, co-founder of Compellent, talked about recalibrating his earliest investors’ equity interest when it became clear they would not get as good a deal as later investors. Phil didn’t have to give early investors anything else, but he knew it was the right thing to do.

In January, The New York Times ran a story on Major League Baseball pitcher Gil Meche and his recent decision to walk away from millions of dollars.

Meche’s contract with the Kansas City Royals guaranteed him a $12 million salary this year, regardless of whether he played or not. With a shoulder injury derailing his career, Meche made the decision to retire and forgo his entire $12 million pay day. “When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it…I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it.”

In a world where sports figures are grossly overpaid and guaranteed contracts are the norm, Gil’s decision to do the right thing is inspiring, and well, just plain unreasonable. In a way it reminds me of the kind of mindset a successful entrepreneur needs to have to succeed – not in a small way – but to succeed big time.

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Founders Share Advice at Entrepreneur Bash

Seven founders featured in How They Did It gave great advice at the Great Lakes Entrepreneur Bash on November 16th in Chicago. Take a look at these videos from the panel that included:

Bill DeVille, Health Personnel Options, Ohio
Jim Dolan, The Dolan Company, Minnesota
Tim Krauskopf, Spyglass, Illinois
Vince Pettinelli, PeopleServe, Ohio
Chris Moffitt, Rubicon Technology, Illinois
Michael Polsky, SkyGen, Illinois
Mark Tebbe, Lante Corporation, Illinois

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What’s Your Number?

The Great Lakes Entrepreneur Bash on November 16 had a great turnout. Photos of the event are now posted on Facebook and the HTDI website. Feel free to tag yourself and your friends/colleagues.

The panel provided us with great insights — Mark Tebbe, founder/chairman of Answers.com, spoke eloquently, advising everyone to “know your number,” while Jim Dolan, founder/CEO of The Dolan Company, said “I don’t have a number.” Do you have a number? What would be a successful exit for you? Share your thoughts and be a part of the ongoing conversation.

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Liftoff!

Tuesday marked the launch of How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America and the first ever Great Lakes Entrepreneur Bash! The evening was a HUGE success – with almost 350 people joining us in celebration of entrepreneurship and for the panel discussion with seven of the HTDI founders: Bill DeVille, Jim Dolan, Tim Krauskopf, Mark Tebbe, Vince Pettinelli, Chris Moffitt and Michael Polsky.

We couldn’t have done this on our own. Kudos to all of our sponsors, presenting organizations and co-hosts for their support and for the amazing job they did helping us spread the word and pack the room.

Special thanks to our sponsors: IBM, Grant Thornton and SurePayroll. In particular, Dave Carlquist, Anthony Dudek, Michael Emerick, Kathy Watts, Mary Lyons, Laura Mumper, Jim Huisel and Ronnie Todd at IBM; Anthony Bonaguro, Steve Siemborksi, Mike Schamberger, Kristin Ehrhardt and David Heinke at Grant Thornton; and Michael Alter, Francesca Zelasko, Tracy Toth and Scott Brandt at SurePayroll.

To our presenters – TechAmerica, Illinois Technology Association and MIT Enterprise Forum – thank you for organizing the event and spreading the word! We surpassed our goal and you made that happen.  Many thanks to Fred Hoch and Sarah Habansky at ITA; Terry Flannagan, Nancy Munro and Ted Wallhaus at MIT Enterprise Forum; and Ed Longanecker at TechAmerica.

Thanks to our co-hosts:   Craig Miller at ACG; Dana Damyen at Chicago Booth Business Book Roundtable; John Roberson and Caity Moran at the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center; Raman Chadha and Stephanie Furlan at DePaul University’s Coleman Entrepreneurship Center; Kelly Cutler at Entrepreneurs’ Organization; Kapil Chadhary at I2A; Maura O’Hara at the Illinios Venture Capital Association; Anne Gilberg at Global Entrepreneurship Week; Mary Paskell at Kellogg Alumni Club of Chicago; Brad Lehrman at MOJO Minnesota; Linda Darragh and Tracey Keller at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship; John Hanak at Purdue Technology Centers; Jim Jay at TechPoint; Maria Katris at TiE Midwest; Spencer Stern and David Guttman at Wharton Club of Chicago; and Gaye van den Hombergh at Winning Workplaces.

We got great video last night and will be sharing that with you soon – so stay tuned!

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Congratulations to Capella, InnerWorkings, Allscripts, & Morningstar for Making Forbes’ list of America’s 100 Best Small Companies

Forbes’ just released its list of America’s 100 Best Small Companies. Four companies stemming from founders interviewed in How They Did It made the list. The criteria for candidates include being publicly traded for at least a year, have between $5 million and $1 billion of annual revenue, and have a stock price of no lower than $5 a share. The rankings are based on sales growth, return on equity, and earnings growth in the past 12 months and over 5 years. See how the How They Did It portfolio companies measured up:

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TechExpo on October 6

The second annual Chicago TechExpo is coming up this Wednesday, October 6 at UIC Forum. The Chicago TechExpo was created in Chicago with the sole purpose of introducing and connecting small business owners to technology solutions to help grow their business. This is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to meet one-on-one with experts from leading technology companies and attend workshops that will help them leverage digital opportunities to operate smarter businesses.

Howard Tullman, President and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Academy, and one of the 45 featured founders in How They Did It will be presenting a workshop on the importance of building social networks.

This is a great event for entrepreneurs that I highly recommend checking out if you’re in the Chicago area. Reserve your spot today.

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Michael Polsky Scores Big

Congratulations to Michael Polsky, founder of Invenergy Wind and featured company champion in How They Did It.

The news just came out: Detroit Energy, the utility subsidiary of DTE Energy Company (DTE) got regulatory approval for a 20-year renewable energy purchase contract. The Michigan Public Service Commission (“MPSC”) gave approval for the company to purchase 200 megawatts (MW) of wind energy from Invenergy Wind.

The project plans to use 125 wind turbines, installed across 30,000 acres, generating enough power to supply nearly 54,000 homes with renewable electricity. Using 1.6MW turbines supplied by GE, the facility is expected to begin operations in late 2011.

When we interviewed Michael for the book, he told me that “if you want to grow, you always stay ahead of your means.” With his level of drive, I surmise that this news is both a conclusion from a big bet and a new chapter for the company. He’s a rare individual in a utility-oriented industry who still owns most of the company and can finance and land a $1.1 billion deal.

Well done Michael.

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Phil Soran and Compellent in the News

Its not surprising, given all of the media attention in the bidding war between HP and Dell over 3Par, that interest would heat up in Compellent. Phil Soran is a two-time home run hitter, starting with Xiotech, which he and his partners Larry Aszmann and John Guider grew and eventually sold to Seagate.  Not many entrepreneurs can duplicate phenomenal results. After a $425 million exit to Seagate, Phil and company launch Compellent and took it public at just the right time on the NYSE.

I hope he has the chance to keep growing Compellent – while entrepreneurs always and usually seek great exits, Phil and team are more like watching Steve Jobs, and nobody wants to see Steve Jobs turn in the keys and go home. We want to keep on being dazzled.

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Glen Tullman on CNBC

Congrats to Glen Tullman and team from Allscripts. They rang the opening bell at the Nasdaq a couple days ago. The event marked the completion of Allscripts merger with Eclipsys. Following the opening Bell, Glen was interviewed on CNBC’s Squawk Box. If we didn’t have a HTDI Portfolio tracking public companies mentioned in How They Did It, well, I would still buy MDRX.

Glen is simply a superb CEO and he represents a perfect matching of skills and competence to the company and job at hand at Allscripts (MDRX). I was sold after interviewing Glen.

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