Advice from Distinguished Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs on Stage
Karl Jeffs

Eleven members of Babson’s storied Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs® returned to campus as part of the College’s Centennial Celebration. In candid interviews in front of an international audience of students and alumni, the entrepreneurs offered behind-the-scenes stories about how they built their companies.

In their own words, here are their insights on how to build a business, management lessons, and advice for budding entrepreneurs.

What have you learned from the highs and lows of your entrepreneurial journey?

“Introducing systems in our business gave us full visibility into every decision we made. You can’t run a business by the seat of your pants, it has to be based on a view of the facts that guides your decision. Even in large corporations, decisions aren’t always made on wonderfully clear facts. As for wrong turns, I’ve learned that when something isn’t clear, don’t get involved. You struggle for too long and as an entrepreneur, you don’t have the time.” – C. Dean Metropoulos ’67, MBA’68 (ADE 2017), Chairman and CEO of Metropoulos & Co

Is there a secret sauce to entrepreneurship?

“The secret is that you have more responsibility than just running a business: it’s social responsibility and taking care of your employees, too. The smallest link in your chain is the one you must look out for.” – John C. Merritt ’61 (ADE 1992), Owner and President of Dockside Marine Supply, Former Chairman and CEO of Van Kampen Merritt Holding Corp.

As a mentor, what do you tell young entrepreneurs?

“If you’re a tech junkie, you fall in love with the tech and sometimes you forget that it’s all about the customer. What problem is the customer trying to solve? So much of the risk of falling in love with your tech is forgetting the ‘so what?’ You have to remember why it’s important to your customers.” – Diane Hessan (ADE 2014), Founder and Chairman of C Space

How do you build a business?

“When you’re running a company, your managers are your most critical people. There’s a saying better thee than me, meaning I either have to take care of the problems in the organization or I become one. It is important to understand that we are there to move things forward in a deliberate and calculated way. There’s no exception to this if we are going to build a business.” – Eric Johnson ’72, P’08 (ADE 2019), President and CEO of Baldwin Richardson Foods

How will entrepreneurship change in the future?

“Nothing will change at all. It’s still who are you selling to, who will buy it, and how can you put the competition on the defensive. Nothing has changed.” – John J. Cullinane (ADE 1984), President of The Cullinane Group Inc.; Former Chairman and CEO, Cullinet Software Inc.

Any management advice?

“I spent my life not being a good manager; I had no general management rules. I either start it, invent it, or it’s bankrupt … the advantage being you can’t make it much worse! I don’t know how things work out if I don’t do them, so get curious and get people around you who share that same enthusiasm, and then get out of the way.” – Peter J. Sprague H’88 (ADE 1985), Chairman and Founder of Satellite Displays; Former Chairman of National Semiconductor Corporation

Thoughts on the purpose of business

“It is so critical to understand that business at heart is about creating value, not extracting it. Find something where you have a purpose greater than making a 10x or 20x return. Happiness is something that ensues when you pursue something meaningful.” – Doug Rauch (ADE 2015), Founder and President of Daily table, Former CEO of Conscious Capitalism, Past President of Trader Joe’s

Why not?

“I love problems. The greatest joy is saying, ‘I don’t know why it can’t be done’ and trying it.” – John Hatsopoulos for the late George N. Hatsopoulos G’20 (ADE 2000), Co-founder of Thermo Electron Corporation, Lead Director, Tecogen

Why is it important to innovate?

“The best I was in business was when my back was against the wall and we were forced to bet it all and innovate. Every time, it made us sharper and better. When we got safe, it created opportunities for other people.” – The Honorable Craig R. Benson ’77, H’03, Trustee, (ADE 1995), CEO of Soft Draw Investments; former Chairman and CEO at Cabletron Systems Inc.; and former Governor of the State of New Hampshire

What advice do you give entrepreneurs?

“Create magical moments. Every one of us has opportunities all throughout our day to create moments of interaction that are special. The way they treated me as a customer, employer, and friend. They listened, paid attention, made me feel special. I give this advice to my kids, my friends, and my entrepreneurs.” – Robert J. Davis MBA’85 (ADE 2001), General Partner of Highland Capital Partners, Founder, Former President and CEO of Lycos Inc.

How do you create a culture of entrepreneurship?

“The way I see it, some people see a problem and complain, and others see a problem and get excited about it. They’re entrepreneurs. You have to slowly start injecting a culture that converts problem complainers to problem solvers.” – Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande (ADE 2012), President and Chairman of Sparta Group LLC

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