It's an odd thing, it was just the other day while listening to NPR that it struck me: after three plus decades of industry experience—working directly for or around several fascinating entrepreneurs—I could now convey the observations and experiences to others. Given that I came from a family of entrepreneurs, who never worked a day in their lives for an employer—this entrepreneur thing has been in my blood since childhood. I’m not writing about myself, though; this is about four entrepreneurs met along the way. Each made their mark and made a difference. Each has a different story and set of accomplishments; however, it is interesting to see the common thread.
Entrepreneur one was a brilliant and gifted engineer, technologist and visionary. He was an insightful and powerful individual who built the second largest computer maker on the planet (at the time): Ken Olsen of Digital Equipment Corporation. This impressive individual practiced what he preached. His creed was to put trust and confidence in people, and he proclaimed that in the final analysis, they would do the right thing! Mr. Olsen created a company that was unquestionably a technology innovator, leader and industry phenom, which at its height was a $13-billion entity. The company was acquired by Hewlett Packard, primarily for its service capabilities and breadth of a worldwide customer base. Mr. Olsen stepped-down from DEC prior to the acquisition and relinquished the reins to a financial executive.
Entrepreneur two was a literal genius and one that mastered the application of technology to identify and classify life-threatening, arrhythmias (abnormal heart conditions). A natural leader, he was a mentor and coach who put people in a special category and demonstrated his passion for the business by saying, "What drives me is that we are saving lives and changing the quality of medicine." Dr. Charles Feldman not only created and built CardioData, a leading supplier of medical diagnostic systems for the cardiology market, he also made numerous industry contributions in the educational and medical fields. A driven, relentless and tireless leader, Dr. Feldman, or Charlie, as he preferred, always allowed his people to innovate freely, with no penalty, no matter what the outcome was. CardioData was acquired by a firm that is now a Division of GE Medical.
Entrepreneur three was one of the most ambitious and compelling individuals I ever met. This infectious leader had the magic touch to draw and enroll others into his vision. His original dream was to be the "Captain of the Ship" and build a technology-based firm from inception to over 100 million dollars in revenues. After decades of brilliant moves, he fulfilled the vision, which translated into an undisputed, leading technology firm that topped the $360-million mark. This individual had a unique formula for stimulating commitment from the team and uncharacteristically believed in "sharing the wealth" with those that made it happen. Jay Bertelli, CEO and Founder of Mercury Computer Systems embodies all the qualities that one expects to read about in a Harvard Business Review. Mr. Bertelli recently retired from Mercury and passed the baton to a new CEO to drive the company to the next growth phase. In the interim, given Jay's appetite, he continues to advise small- to medium- sized technology companies on the challenges of “making the ride to ultimate success.”
Entrepreneur four is, without a doubt, one of the most enterprising individuals that I ever worked with. He was a self-made entrepreneur that spawned and managed roughly six companies concurrently that are all leaders in their field. In addition, he still had time to make key contributions to industry groups and associations, publish breakthrough books, privately consult to some of the largest retailers and teach merchandising at the Harvard Business School. In spite of industry sentiment (at the time), he bucked standards by introducing the Open-to-Sell concept to the retail industry, which turned merchandising principles on its head. Sidney Stoegel, CEO and serial founder, put his final thumbprint on Merchandata, which became a valued strategic partner and advisor to major retail firms who relied upon his brilliance, ingenuity and broad experience to pave the way. To spend 30 minutes with Sidney talking business was worth more than attending a year's worth of seminars by the popular speakers on the circuit. Sidney was a giver who comfortably and willingly provided others the benefit of his years of hard-earned experience.
Without restating the obvious, it is clear that these entrepreneurs are remarkable individuals. Each has a different story, which is a function of each one’s unique background, history, family influence, experiences, psyche and other factors. But if I had to pick out a common factor among them, one recurring theme is their emphasis on the “people quotient” and appetite to give willingly.