GVSU Hosts Event Seeks To Aid Businesses

May 18, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Teamwork, one of Rick Snyder’s 10 attributes of a successful entrepreneur, was clearly demonstrated through the sponsorship of the first Celebrating Entrepreneurship in West Michigan event.

Grand Valley State University teamed up with the Grand Angels and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business to bring about the session earlier this month. Keynote speakers were Ravi Mohan of Shasta Ventures, and Rick Snyder, founder and CEO of Avalon Investments and Ardesta Ventures. Snyder is also a former chairman and CEO of Gateway Computers Co.

The event focused on various entrepreneurial topics and offered information from the viewpoints of entrepreneurs, professors and capital investors.

Mike Jandernoa, general partner of Bridge Street Capital Fund, delivered opening remarks and mentioned key areas where capital investors can look to improve. He said that capital investors ought to pick up the pace when coming to a decision on an investment, and also should give improved feedback to entrepreneurs.

Snyder took the stage next, briefly touching on the entrepreneurial shape of Michigan. He listed four attributes he believes are vital in creating an entrepreneurial community: technology, capital, infrastructure and people. However, Snyder said, he noticed that a fifth attribute was missing when he returned to Michigan to give a previous speech.

“The fifth element I didn’t have until I came back and saw how screwed up we were in our culture,” he said. “We have too much of a culture of commitment, complacency, entitlement, and again this problem of us kind of giving each other too much crap.

“I think we need more people with big mouths like me to get up and tell people that that’s our problem. Let’s stop talking about it and go fix it. We have some great leadership; we have Mike (Jandernoa), people from Grand Valley and the other institutions. We just need to start breaking these barriers down and saying we’re fed up and we’re not going to let the political leadership stop us.”

Snyder believes businesses should take a strong lead in confronting these issues. He then listed 10 attributes of a good entrepreneur, including risk management and developing good communication skills.

“Too often people talk at one another,” said Snyder. “Work on your listening skills. People will ask me about that every so often: talking versus listening. I tell them my simple premise is I’ve never learned anything while I’m talking. You only learn when you’re listening and really listening … and the real key to success is learning how to talk with one another.”

He believes it is important to have a “Plan B” when dealing with risk.

“Living life by Plan A only is way too stressful,” said Snyder, who in his Gateway days would often throw people out of his office if they didn’t have a “Plan B” in place. “If you have a Plan B, I can tell you that Plan A, the quality of your life — everything else — will work much better.”

An “admitted devout nerd” who earned three degrees from the University of Michigan by the age of 23, Snyder is a big advocate of goal-setting and long-term planning. At about age 17, Snyder put together a plan laying out what he would need to do to achieve his academic goals. At around 19 or 20, he mapped out a 60-year plan for his professional life. To meet his goals, Snyder admitted he had to make sacrifices and had to consider what he described as the “opportunity cost” of starting a business.

“You really need to think about what the opportunity cost of going into this is. What else are you going to sacrifice and what else are you going to give up — and be thoughtful about that, because you will make a sacrifice.

“When I was young, I sacrificed a good chunk of my personal life. I was crazy; I was a workaholic for the first eight to 10 years of my career, and you pay a price for that. You should think about what’s the opportunity cost of what I’m doing and is it worth it, and make that evaluation.”

Snyder also stressed the importance of enjoying work.

“You should be doing this because it’s fun,” he said. “You’ve got to enjoy it. This is a huge chunk of your life. Now, when I say enjoy it or have fun, it doesn’t mean you’re going out and having laughs or giggles ever hour or so. But you really appreciate it when you see the good stuff that’s going on.”

He mentioned the importance of creating a balance between personal life and work.

“You should have a balance in your life. I’ve had quite a few years where I didn’t have balance in my life. I was a workaholic. Having balance will actually make you better at work. Today, I put my family first, and having that balance of family and work is a great thing.”

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