Clearing the path to help others do their jobs
Edwards has quietly been doing what he has always done and what he loves to do. He has been bulldozing. It’s something he thinks any entrepreneur should do and something that defines his outlook on his business success.
“I subscribe to the theory of servant leadership, which is to get to the people who are closest to the action on a day-in and day-out basis and figure out what you can do to help them do their jobs,” he said.
“My role, in a lot of ways, is to be the bulldozer. I ask the people who work with me and for me what their obstacles are, because I’ll roll over those barriers. That’s really what I think an entrepreneur does: He clears the path for the people that he works with and (who) work around him, to help them do their jobs.”
Edwards is the sole proprietor of edventures LLC, which is sort of a holding company for his business interests. He is the editor and publisher of REVUE West Michigan and his newest offering, REVUE Mid-Michigan, both monthly entertainment magazines. In addition to the print versions, each magazine has a Web site and daily online blogs on who and what is playing in the region. Both also have active presences on the usual online social media sites.
“I have two of everything now,” he said. “We launched REVUE Mid-Michigan on Oct. 1, so we’re just in our second month of this.”
REVUE West Michigan has been around in various forms for about 20 years. Doug Fast, a local musician, satirist and cultural observer, started the magazine as Music Review.
“It was a very good magazine, and Doug built it into quite a nice little business, doing some syndication and other things. But then 9/11 hit, and his business model took a turn for the worse,” said Edwards.
“Doug managed to get it back on track about four years ago and sold the magazine to a gentleman named Bruce Law. Bruce also owns Jonny Advertising here in town, and Bruce sold it to our group in April of last year.”
Edwards is also vice president of corporate development for Guidepoint Systems, a high-tech firm that integrates global positioning satellites with advanced wireless technology, the Internet and 24-hour response centers to offer vehicle tracking, recovery of stolen vehicles, and fleet management services. Frost & Sullivan, a global consulting firm, rated Guidepoint as having the top stolen-vehicle tracking system across North America two years ago.
“I knew Rand as a client, and when I left Ginny Seyferth, I went over and worked for Rand at Code Alarm for about a year. They were in a massive restructuring mode. They had lost some patent litigation and it was maybe the greatest year of my career,” said Edwards.
“We went out and raised $30 million in vulture capital, as it’s called. We shut a plant. We sold a division. We took our product lines from about 240 different products down to 24 products. We went from 600 employees to 200 employees. We had patent litigation going on. Every day was a tremendous challenge, and it was a tremendous learning experience for me.”
That was 1998. Edwards said Guidepoint should clear $20 million in sales this year, marking another year of steady growth. “When we started, we were sold exclusively through car dealers. In the past three or four years, we’ve gotten different channels with products that really have kind of further accelerated our growth.”
Edwards is also a partner with his former wife, Shellie, in a banquet and catering business called Above and Beyond. Shellie’s background is in the business and they decided to open Above and Beyond a year after they divorced. Edwards said he doesn’t find it strange to be a business partner with his ex-wife.
“In some ways I think we both would agree that we’re better business partners than we were marriage partners,” he said with a slight smile. He downplayed his role in the business.
“I give some kind of 30,000-foot-view advice on things and help deal with the banks, the lawyers, or the accountants,” he added. “She’s in the soup day-to-day.”
In his career, Edwards said he hasn’t had a single epiphany where a light bulb over his head suddenly came on. Instead, he said his career breaks have come from a series of working relationships with other entrepreneurs, most notably Seyferth, Mueller and Jeff Lambert. It is Mueller who has been his mentor. Edwards called him a “start-up guy,” and he said he thinks there is a bit of “start-up” within him, too.
“I’m much more kind of interested in start-ups or new types of situations. One of the phrases I use all the time is you have to be good at organizing chaos. It’s not just solely in start-ups, but a lot of stuff gets thrown at you every day from different directions in start-ups. You have to make sense of it. You have to organize it. Then you have to figure out which processes need to be put in place,” he said.
“It’s another thing I’ve learned hanging around with Rand and some other entrepreneurs: Business is a lot of experimentation. In a lot of ways, I’m a little like a mad scientist. ‘Let’s try it. Let’s see what happens. Let’s make sure we go back and do the autopsy afterwards to see what worked and didn’t work.’”
It wasn’t a rift that caused Edwards to leave LEA, a public and investors relations firm he and Lambert started in a basement. The “start-up guy” within him was calling, and he decided he wanted to be more of an entrepreneur again. He said the agency work had become a bit of a grind, so he left in 2003 — five years after LEA opened and about six years after he met Lambert at Seyferth & Associates.
“When Jeff started at Seyferth, he came in as an intern. He is so driven and so talented and so competitive. He and I started the firm in his basement. He is a hard charger and we grew pretty quickly. Jeff was really doing a lot of business development, and my role was more the kind of internal organization stuff, as well as client work,” said Edwards, who added that he hasn’t regretted leaving.
“I think it has been a tremendous move — and actually, I think it has been a tremendous move for both of us. I mean, look at the growth they’ve had. There still are a lot of things that Jeff and I created in the first couple of years that they still do over there. Not just business processes, but cultural things, too. Like on your birthday, you bring the treats,” he said with a laugh.
To this day, his name remains on the LEA door as a tribute to what he contributed.
“Brian’s business track record is well documented, but what is less recognized are his feats as a leader. He invests wholeheartedly in making others successful, and I think that’s why people love to work for him and with him,” said Jeff Lambert, president of LEA.
Tara Powers, LEA partner and managing director, had this to say about Edwards: “He has always generously invested his time and energy into teaching young people the ropes and helping them develop their skills. That’s what he did with me, and I’m a much better PR practitioner today because of what I’ve learned from Brian.”
In his spare time, Edwards likes to go out. Even though it’s sort of a requirement for someone who publishes two entertainment guides, he enjoys doing it. He also really likes hockey.
Quinn, his 17-year-old son, is a goalie on the Catholic Central High School team. His interest in Quinn’s progress led him to become an assistant coach on some of his son’s earlier teams, even though he never played the game and admittedly doesn’t skate all that well. Still, he did make an interesting off-ice contribution to the game after realizing that local media coverage of high school hockey was virtually nonexistent. Three years ago, he virtually corrected that situation with thewmhsh.blogspot.com.
“So I started what I call the West Michigan High School Hockey blog. Within a week or so, I started to get some e-mails and then more e-mails, and it’s just kind of grown. It’s a real simple site where we report the scores and we do write-ups and an occasional feature story. It gets about 60,000 hits a month during the season,” he said.
Madison, his 19-year-old daughter, is a sophomore at Western Michigan University studying creative writing. When asked whether she was following in his footsteps, he said, “No, she is doing creative writing. She is actually kind of the music and theater kid. So when she was growing up, we used to do a lot of that stuff.”
Edwards, who was born in New Britain, Conn., and raised in nearby Wallingford, moved a lot as a youngster because his late father, Tom, was an executive who successfully climbed the General Electric and Brunswick corporate ladders. Edwards feels all that moving turned out to be a good thing for him.
“I think it teaches you how to adjust to new situations,” he said. “He taught me a lot when he was around.”
As for the future, Edwards said his plans for next year include expanding REVUE into other areas of the state.
“While some national magazines have closed and newspapers are struggling, niche publications aren’t going away.
“Print is not going away. So we have REVUE West Michigan and we’ve just launched REVUE Mid-Michigan. Our hope is to launch two or three additional publications in 2010.”