Prior to starting my own business, I worked in the corporate world for 30 years. I led IBM’s Global Leadership Development – retiring in 2008. Eleven years later, I was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year in the Business and Professional Services category by the American Business Association. How did I go from corporate executive to entrepreneur? Not how you might think. After retiring from IBM, I thought I was retired. Then, I was asked to assist The Conference Board, (TCB) a non-profit business membership and research group organization. I designed an experiential learning journey for corporate members. While my contribution grew to include other responsibilities, that business did not. TCB decided to eliminate the leadership unit to focus on research and membership.
I had seen the challenges that TCB faced trying to make leadership development a profit center. But I also thought that if managed differently, there was an opportunity. With a partner I negotiated the rights to the intellectual assets and formed Experience to Lead LLC. The company consisted of just three people and two laptops. The start-up capital was from my savings.
Our first business plan was titled “Survival.” The plan was to break even in one year. We hired some part-time staff, organized the business into four functions, and focused on forming partnerships with organizations that could give us credibility. Our first targets were NASA, the United States Olympic Committee and Harvard.
While the details of organizing the new enterprise slowed us down the company grew slowly, but steadily.
While the details of organizing the new enterprise slowed us down the company grew slowly, but steadily. Our first company meeting was in a free hotel conference room. The second was at a waterpark. I bought out my partner and shifted the focus to growth with emphasis on marketing and new innovative products.
We weren’t surviving, we were thriving. Revenues took off like a rocket – doubling each year. We actually had to stop selling any more engagements in August of 2019 because we didn’t have the capacity to deliver. Then COVID hit. Business slowed. In May of 2020 I was approached by a venture capitalist to buy the company. They were sharks looking for a wounded fish. That wasn't our situation. 82 percent of our clients rescheduled their engagements rather than cancelling.
We could survive, but only for a while. I’m getting older and have a disabled daughter. My risk tolerance is declining. After talking to a business broker, I realized “we needed a bigger boat.” If the pandemic was long, we needed to sell the company to ensure it survived.
Selling a business in a pandemic isn’t easy. I signed 48 NDAs and spent days on the phone with potential buyers and their representatives.
Eventually I connected with WDHB which stands for Warm Decent Human Beings. The sentiment appealed to me. The CEO and I hit it off. Our products were in adjacent markets. He was strong in Europe while we were stronger in the US. I sold my business in October of 2020. As part of the deal, I still do work for my old company – primarily with clients with whom I have an affiliation, or programs others can’t do.
What can I offer you? I opened our first business account with a ten-dollar bill. That company grew to 10 million dollars. I’ve acquired and been acquired. I’ve had partners and worked alone. My clients have ranged from the local community college to Goldman Sachs and the CEO of eBay.
That brings me to SuccessBreaks. There is a Greek saying that “old men should plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.” I’m that old man. I’m also a father, and my son is partnering with me on this endeavor. This is an opportunity to work with him. He’s a serial entrepreneur and strong where I am weak. He may sit in the shade of the tree we’re planting.
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