Tom Mills – CEO, HS Brands International

Tommy joined Howard Services in 1993, became a partner in 2000, and sole owner in 2006 of what is now HS Brands International. In 1999, Tommy was a founding member of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association and was inducted into the MSPA Hall of Fame in 2005. He served as president in 2007. In 2000, Tommy created the mystery shopping industries’ first web-based software platform, SASSIE. Since 2008, Tommy’s mission has been global expansion, and has added to the Boston and Las Vegas offices with Buenos Aires, Milan, London, Beirut, Bangalore, Sidney, Bangkok, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Tommy is a member of the Entrepreneurs Organization, an avid golfer and billiards player, has visited 40+ countries, and is a music and movies fanatic. He and his wife, Jill, have twin teenage daughters: Summer and Riley.

Tell me about your early career.
I dropped out of college as a junior to move to LA to become an actor. I never really made it, and fell in love with Las Vegas along the way. It basically turned into a six month vacation. When I came back, I bounced around between jobs at Staples, Papa Gino’s and a shoe store chain. I got started when I got a phone call from an ex-boss who I had stayed friends with, and who asked “Hey, I know a guy who needs someone young like you to watch some bartenders, to make sure they aren’t stealing. He’ll pay you a few bucks and cover your tab.” I thought he was joking.

How did the concept for HS Brands come about?
My original partner, Howard, is a security consultant. He gets hired to consult on how to best secure your facility, mostly using security cameras. He was asked to do this for a local bar/restaurant chain, who then asked him to come back and eat dinner, have some drinks, and report on the service, food, integrity, etc. of the staff. When he needed someone younger to help him out, he was introduced to me through a mutual friend.

How was the first year in business?
The first year with me was pretty lean. Actually, the first five to six years were. Howard got his business from the Yellow Pages, and when I came, the cold calling and mailing began. I sat on a couch in his basement making calls as he sat at a small computer desk doing his work. In the first five years, I made about $80,000 total. Fortunately, I had a wife and parents who were there to support me through these tough times to keep me going.

What was your marketing strategy?
Picking up the phone. We ran ads in the Yellow Pages, but it wasn’t until ten years later when we actually began marketing.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Extremely slow. From 1994 to 1999, we barely existed. It was in 1999 when I had an idea to create a software that would pull all of the mystery shopping functions into one place. My intention was to solve my own problems. Little did I know that I was creating the world’s first web-based mystery shopping platform, SASSIE. Not only did SASSIE kick us into high gear, but after I made a licensing deal, it would and still is the most widely-used software in the world for mystery shopping.

How do you define success?
Being happy with what you do, every day.

What is the key to success?
Build great relationships. When we struggled to execute, or before we became innovative, or when we didn’t have the lowest prices, the thing that consistently kept us moving forward and keeping customers around for long periods of time was the quality of the relationships. We have had customers for 20+ years.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Hire great people and spend what’s necessary. The more cost conscious on people I have been, the slower I have grown.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.” – Groucho Marx

“I intend to live forever, or die trying.” – Groucho Marx

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” – Ronald Reagan

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

What are some of your favorite books?
The Godfather11/22/63I’m with the Bandand A Brief History of Time.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
In the 90’s, my wife asked me a few times to quit and get a real job. There were many days I thought she might be right. In 2003, the market had a correction and we lost 35% of our business in 30 days. I never really thought that was possible. It taught me a lot about resilience.

There was also one day when I was in the process of buying out my first partner where I thought he might fire me. We could have ended up in court or just lost the company over the battle. Fortunately, it didn’t happen, but we came very close. Also, in 1997, we got our first great account, but they left us in 2015….I hated to see them go.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Patience. I don’t get panicked and I don’t get too excited or overpositive. There are too many ups and downs to let them affect me.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
1) Don’t get married and have kids too young. You need that time to work your ass off to get your business going. There is nothing worse than not spending time with your family in your 40’s when your kids are growing up.
2) Hire the best people you can to do absolutely everything that someone can do better than you. If that includes running the company, then do it.
3) Never measure your success on how many people you employ. Employ the best people, not the most.
4) Make working fun for you. If it’s not fun for you, then it won’t be fun for your employees, and no one likes a job that isn’t fun. They will just work there for the paycheck.

Evan Dash – Founder & CEO, StoreBound

During a successful career in department store and big-box retailing, Evan Dash gained experience in almost all aspects of the business from planning and finance to merchandising and eCommerce. Dash was most recently senior vice president/general merchandise manager for the Home business at Macy’s, where he was the youngest member of the Executive Committee to lead the consolidation of seven operating divisions into one centralized buying team, followed by the acquisition and integration of all divisions of The May Department Stores Company into Macy’s. In 2010, Dash founded StoreBound, leveraging a unique approach to innovation, sales, content marketing, and the consumer experience. Headquartered in New York City, the team of retail industry executives and fresh creative talent outperforms slow-moving heritage brands and connects with the consumer through the industry’s largest social media following.

Dash served two terms on the board of directors of the International
Housewares Association. He has two teenage sons and lives in New
York City with his wife, Rachel.

Tell me about your early career.
I started my career in the Executive Training Program at Lord & Taylor. When I started my career, there were over 100 department store companies in America. Over the next two decades, I switched companies multiple times and gained experience in almost every product category offered in a department store. I spent most of my retail career at Macy’s, beginning when they had 70 stores and eventually leaving as the senior vice president for their Home division, where I ran a $2 billion business across almost 800 stores.

How did the concept for StoreBound come about?
There were two key moments. First, while I worked for Macy’s, I met a mother and daughter at a trade show where they were exhibiting a new invention. I spent some time speaking to them and realized how little most people know about retail, and without the understanding, how much risk they can unknowingly expose themselves. The second moment was what inspired me to start StoreBound. I was at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan watching my kids experience decades of great American inventions. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to take my expertise in product development and retail to help ordinary inventors, designers, and creatives bring their own ideas to market.

How was the first year in business?
The first year in business was the most challenging. I quickly got an education on how to operate a small business. In my corporate life, I never had to consider resources or financing. I bought billions of dollars of merchandise without any concern for how to get it to 800 locations on time. For the first year at StoreBound, we built our infrastructure, brainstormed products, and hemorrhaged money, but we had a lot of fun!

What was your marketing strategy?
Our initial marketing strategy was to leverage our retail relationships to pair the right products with the right retail outlets and to rely on their marketing. It was incredibly gratifying to see our first products on the Home Shopping Network and in Macy’s catalogs. Eventually, we launched a social media campaign which quickly took on a life of its own, yielding us over 1,000,000 followers.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We’ve been doubling in size almost every year in business so far. This year, we made the Inc. list America’s fastest-growing private companies.

How do you define success?
Obviously, sales growth and running a financially-healthy business are important, but our success is defined by winning hearts – the hearts of our employees, our customers, and the consumer. The more we win hearts, the easier growth and profitability will come.

What is the key to success?
People are the key to our success. We have built an enthusiastic team of individuals who care about the team and our results. We are constantly striving to inspire the consumer and improve our results.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
David vs. Goliath is real. The little guy can beat the giant.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“If nothing good can come of it, don’t do it.” – My father

What are some of your favorite books?
I love audio books on business trends and innovation. I spend a lot of time in the car and this helps me to productively pass the time.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
My toughest day as an entrepreneur doesn’t compare to bad days in the corporate world. At the end of the day, we are in control of our own destiny, which always creates a feeling of optimism, even on the most difficult days.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The responsibility that I feel to my team and my family is the greatest motivator when we meet adversity. When meeting adversity, in some cases, I shield my team from it to keep them positive and forward-looking, and in other cases, I use it as a way to rally the troops together to overcome a challenge and celebrate the win. Finding the right balance here is something that I always wrestle with.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Take “expert” advice with a grain of salt. Be honest with yourself, always. Ensure that what you are building is what the customer really wants and not just what you are enamored with. Once you are sure, trust your convictions and outperform everyone else!

Bradford H. Dockser – Co-Founder & CEO, Green Generation Solutions

Bradford H. Dockser is the co-founder and CEO of Green Generation Solutions, LLC, which engineers and implements comprehensive integrated energy efficiency solutions that lower operating costs while improving sustainability on behalf of a diverse set of clients worldwide. GreenGen helps its clients use energy as a driver of value across all asset types in the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

During his more than two decades of real estate investing, Brad was a principal with national real estate investment firm, MacFarlane Partners, overseeing activities of their mid-Atlantic business; partner and chief operating officer for Western Development Corporation, a leading retail and mixed-use property development firm in the DC area; and managing director for Starwood Capital Group’s international operations, overseeing direct investments, operating joint ventures, and financing activities in France, Germany, and other European nations. Earlier, he was responsible for the firm’s Asian operations, which included making property investments in Japan and Hong Kong, as well as leading the recapitalization of Sansiri Property Corporation, a publicly-listed property company in Thailand, for which he also served on both the executive committee and board of directors.

Brad began his real estate career with JMB Realty, then the largest real estate firm in the United States, and later with CRI, Inc., which was the nation’s largest owner of multifamily residential properties at the time. While at CRI, he oversaw the creation and financing of Capital Apartment Properties REIT (CAPREIT), a privately-held real estate investment trust based in Washington, DC, that focused on market-rate apartments in the eastern U.S.

Brad received an A.B. cum laude in economics, as well as a Master of Business Administration, both from Harvard University. He serves as the co-chair of the Urban Land Institute Washington Sustainability Initiative and vice chair of the ULI Redevelopment and Reuse Product Council. He is also a member of the US Green Building Council, the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), and the Asia Green Building Council Steering Committee. Brad is a mentor for the Cleantech Open, the world’s largest clean-tech accelerator. He is a former director of the Harvard Club of DC and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington and a past member of the Harvard University Asia Center Advisory Committee. He was also founding director of the Greater Washington Exploratory Committee, DC’s bid committee for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Tell me about your early career.
I spent the first 25 years of my life in real estate private equity. I came out of college and started at a firm called JMB Realty in Chicago, which was the largest real estate firm in the United States at the time. My focus, and what I loved, having grown up in real estate, was the transactional nature of it – identifying investment opportunities, seeing where value is created, and then having the opportunity to acquire property. My earlier career, where I spent pretty much a decade, was deploying capital and creating value.

How did the concept for Green Generation Solutions come about?
The real estate and private equity businesses were historically very simple. They were finance-driven, revenue-driven, and most of the focus was on growing rents, driving occupancy, and growing the top-line. There was very little focus on operations or asset management. In 2008, as the recession took hold, all of a sudden, people’s top-lines collapsed, and bottom lines deteriorated. It turned out that there were some expenses that we were really good at lowering – insurance, real estate taxes, contracts. Yet, the energy line, which was historically one of the largest expense lines we had, was something that we didn’t really touch or think about. For two reasons, 1) we were led to believe that it was non-controllable. In that regard, we didn’t really think that there was much we could do to impact it; and 2) in order to really think about it correctly, you need to have a little bit of an engineering background or technical background. Most real estate people and private equity people didn’t really have an engineering background. So, we set out to see how we could really impact the energy line, because technology had become much more powerful from an ROI perspective, and we could impact our bottom line.

Our goal at the time was very simple: simply to hire someone who could help us with technology. We found hundreds of people to talk to that were touching us in different ways, but they were either consultants who wanted to get paid to tell us what they saw, but not actually implement or execute. Or they were trying to sell us a product – buy my window, buy my motor, buy my thing and you’ll save money. And our conclusion was, what real estate and private equity really needed and wanted, was something that you didn’t see in the market. There were two aspects to this. The first is that they wanted more of a solutions-based approach rather than a product-driven approach. One that was ROI-driven and technology-focused on building envelope, mechanical systems design. But then also things like sequence of operations and policies and procedures. The second aspect is that they wanted that solutions-based approach to integrate implementation with execution. You had to link the two.

The most fascinating thing is that, at the end of this process, as I was talking to my friends at different real estate shops and private equity firms, and I asked them, “Who’s your incumbent energy solutions provider?” Every single one of them looked at me and said, “What are you talking about?” There was nobody focused on helping these firms with energy in this manner…really helping to think about energy as a financial transaction. So, we saw this big gap in the market, and we started the firm in May 2011.

How was the first year in business?
The first year in business was interesting. We had to do a lot of work to not only train the people in what we were doing but also what the opportunity was. Many of them were already tainted by an initial push to already be more sustainable, but without a return driven or ROI-focus on what sustainability would actually be doing. They were leery of spending more money to be sustainable without any ROI proposition. The beginning was really helping people to understand the business case. We focused less on the fact that this was really good for the environment, but instead that this would be something that would drive their cash flow and asset value.

What was your marketing strategy?
The marketing strategy was actually quite simple and remains the primary one today. We have no marketing or business development people. It’s simply myself and my wife, who I met at JMB Realty out of college. She went to Michigan and I went to Harvard College and then Harvard Business School. We mostly focus, given our background, on real estate, finance, private equity funds, and REITS. As a managing director, combined with my decade at Starwood Capital, has actually given us tremendous reach to every major private equity firm, real estate investment fund, and REIT. So, we don’t have a marketing strategy in a traditional sense, and we don’t advertise. We don’t do cold calls, and we don’t do shows. We just work with the people we know, and help them understand that there’s a category of spending that they haven’t focused on. We talk to them about when they buy a building or company, and ask how much time they focus on market share, business plan, revenues, etc. 80-90% focus on the revenue, and very little time is spent on the expense side. Despite the fact that, with some companies we work with, their energy spend exceeds $50 million a year. So, just a 10% decrease is $5 million in EBITDA, and now you’re talking about putting a multiple of that. We like to talk about $50 or $60 million more in equity that’s being created. So, it’s a very personal approach where we really just speak with people who we know, and we know really well.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
During the first five years, we saw top-line revenue growth that exceeded 170% per annum. So, the growth was really substantial. We had no doubt that would not be a sustainable growth rate, but we remain focused on profitability and triple-digit revenue growth.

How do you define success?
What we love about our business is that we have a double bottom line where we are helping the environment and our clients. We’re helping people drive the value of their businesses, so they get a financial and economic value return. By reducing consumption of their energy, we’re also giving them an improvement in sustainability metrics, which is good for the community, the region, and society. We love this double bottom line kind of approach. I think success for us, first and foremost, is how do we help companies use financial metrics to do things that drive really important societal environmental outcomes. We loved that we changed the conversation from being more sustainable to how we can drive the value of our business to where we should be doing anyway and give you sustainability at no additional cost. If we don’t link sustainability to financial outcome, it won’t happen. So, it’s getting firms that are very financially-oriented to think about what we’re doing and getting them to recognize that there’s a whole lot of return for it.

What is the key to achieving that success?
I think the key for us is that we help people understand that this is about driving a financial return. It’s not about planting trees, or taking cars off the road. It’s really about doing something that while it’s good for society, it’s also good for them. We’re lowering their operating costs, and we’re increasing their valuation. One of the premises we had in the beginning was that sustainability didn’t have great momentum because the cost wasn’t linked to ROI. We simply changed the conversation in that regard. We understand energy very well, and we understand real estate and capital markets – cap tables, balance sheets – this energy conversation, and we understand the capital markets piece to that. It turns into a financial discussion, instead of a sustainability conversation, which made it really easy for them to understand. We use their vocabulary – EBITDA, cash flow, enterprise value, promote – to incentivize them to make a decision that’s in their own interests and also the interests of a broader community.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
To understand other people’s perspectives. To understand the different stakeholders and their viewpoints. Our success has greatly been because we have experience in the shoes of our clients. We are by no means the first energy firm to come about. We often run into people who don’t mean to be rude but say, “How are you different from all the people that have been calling me about this? I got calls from somebody who does what you do every single day”, or “We already work with someone.” It has been client-centric and solutions-centric, rather than product-centric. It’s about creating products around the people you work with, and how do we put ourselves in their shoes to do things that are important to them.

What are some quotes that you live by?
What I tell everybody in our team, and everybody that we work for, is that, “It’s direction first. Velocity second.” We’re not in a rush. We start by figuring out what they want and find a way to implement just one project. The first one always takes time for people to understand what we’re doing, and get comfortable with it. It’s critical that we get the compass in the right direction, because if we go rushing in the wrong direction, then we’re just going to end up in the wrong place quicker. So, it’s this concept of spending a lot of time figuring out what we want to get to, and then slowly building velocity towards it.

What are some of your favorite books?
I read a lot. For the next four years, I’m trying to read, in sequential order, presidential biographies, obviously starting with [George] Washington. I’m actually just finished John Meachum’s biography of Thomas Jefferson, and I think it’s really important to understand different types, models, and visions of leadership. Every president was a leader in some form, but even people who are perceived as bad, somehow set the foundation for the next president to be successful. I’m very intrigued by this executive leadership, presidential idea of leadership. Otherwise, I read a lot of contemporary literature. Karen Russell has written some interesting books. Gary Shteyngart, Carl Hiassen, and a whole bunch of non-U.S. writers as well.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
As an entrepreneur, I take everything personally. When you hear the word “no,” you take it personally, especially if it’s from someone you know. It’s hard to understand, but it’s a business decision. Nobody is saying they don’t like you, but it’s really about the business opportunity. The biggest frustration that we’ve had, and it’s recurring, is that in any given day, whatever we do is important, but it’s never the single most important thing for our clients. I would say that every day, there’s a decision that we want to make that somebody else defers, or something comes up, and that’s really frustrating. That’s really difficult to not take personally and to keep the direction.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
It’s very simple: I believe in what we’re doing. I believe in our ability to drive the value of businesses and assets, and I believe that we’re also doing something that’s vital to our communities, our country, and our world. If we don’t do these things, in tandem, we’re not going to get the level of buy-in and action that we need.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Don’t do it. I think the biggest challenge entrepreneurs face is that we’re always thinking about what’s going to happen, and I think ultimately what we’re all frustrated is that we don’t fully anticipate that everything will take longer than it is supposed to, and you’ve really got to believe in what you’re doing. You’ve got to have the balance sheet to carry it forward, because everything will take longer than expected. If you look at a thousand business plans, you won’t find a single business plan that’s achieved goals as projected, or even faster. Everything takes longer, and you have to be prepared to be in it for the long haul.

Jeff Burgess – Co-Founder & President, BCDVideo

Jeff Burgess’ career has spanned over 38 years in various segments of the computer industry. He founded Burgess Computer Decisions, Inc., (BCD) in 1999, as an IT reseller, building HP servers for Fortune 500 companies. In early 2008, a chance meeting sparked Burgess to begin transitioning the company to the video surveillance storage market as BCDVideo.

Now the industry leader in purpose-build video surveillance recording systems, BCDVideo has over 50,000 systems recording video surveillance in 52 countries, either as their own branded products or privately-labeled for some of the biggest names in the security industry. BCDVideo’s recording devices have been installed worldwide by the industry’s largest security integrators at airports, multi-government embassies, correctional facilities, universities, hospitals, casinos, stadiums, cruise lines, and retail chains. Many of the world’s most recognizable brands rely on BCDVideo recording devices to protect their environment.

BCDVideo was on the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing companies in both 2013 and 2017. Additionally, in 2017, Inc. Magazine also named them among the country’s best workplaces, and The Channel Company’s CRN Magazine tabbed them on their Solution Provider 500 list. Burgess is also a member of Hewlett Packard Enterprise’ OEM Customer Advisory Board.

The company is forecasting $60 million in 2017 revenues, which represents twenty-five percent annual growth for the past three consecutive years. Burgess has been married for 32 years to Joanne, who he also met on a “chance meeting.” They have three children, two of whom work at the company.

Tell me about your early career.
Way back in 1979, after bombing out of college a few years prior, then blowing through job after job over the next few, I landed as a shipper at a fairly fledgling computer company. By the third day, I felt this sense of destiny come over me, and I committed myself to learning the business and the industry, all by one packing list at a time. Within the first three years, I was moved into inside sales, promoted to manage inside sales, and shortly thereafter transferred to open an Austin, Texas facility just as IBM was inventing the PC. Within seven years from my hire date as shipper, I was vice president of sales.

From there, I was recruited by a few other large resellers as their account manager targeting Fortune 500 companies, and overall was fairly successful.

How did the concept for BCDVideo come about?
BCDVideo was actually an offshoot of the company I opened in 1999, Burgess Computer Decisions (BCD). The company was set up as a server builder for Fortune 500 companies. One of those companies was General Electric, then the #2 company in the world. They had many subsidiaries, including GE Security, for which we were building servers since 2002. As they were a GE Capital business entity, I frankly assumed the “security” in their name was financial; I sure never considered it was for surveillance.

Thanks to a customer-caused system issue, and our white glove service resolution, I was introduced to this market properly by a camera and video software manufacturer’s representative looking for a system builder. We met the next morning for breakfast and literally morphed the company from building IT servers to video surveillance servers. We now have over 50,000 systems recording video surveillance and controlling access in 52 countries worldwide.

How was the first year in business?
For BCDVideo, considering it was 2008, rather challenging. Within two months of this initial company metamorphosis, the housing market crashed, taking with it the economy and the IT market. Therefore, all of the recurring IT revenue we counted on to fund us during this initiative was gone. So, our first years we fiscally difficult, but we never lost the faith or the vision we shared.

What was your marketing strategy?
The video surveillance storage market, as it was at that time, was basically no-name white box servers, with little emphasis on technology. Our top priority was the ability to build our solution on an HP platform; granted it would be custom-engineered for video usage, but it would be a “technology solution,” rather than just a “box.” I had been selling HP and Compaq servers since 1985, and my first eight years of BCD was supplying high-availability HP servers to those Fortune 500 companies. So, HP was always in my bloodline. BCDVideo is considered among the pioneers in bringing an IT infrastructure and Fortune 500 customer service mentality to the video surveillance storage marketplace.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Not quite as fast as we had hoped. We knew we wanted to have a channel to sell through and never sell to the end customer directly. We thought security distribution would be the fastest avenue, as they were selling the cameras and video software that would accompany it. After a few years of plodding along that distribution path, we decided we needed to work directly with the security integrators in order for them to understand our product offerings as they were so radically different than historical systems. That’s when everything really connected. I would call the first three years of working through distribution a learning curve. We were able to refine our product, learn from our mistakes, and use it to our advantage.

How do you define success?
I define success by paying it forward. I believe you do that by offering opportunities and giving people the stage to create the life they choose, and being there as a mentor and cheerleader along their path, and hope they do the same. When I see that come together, I know I have given back. That’s success.

What is the key to success?
Involve others. A year or so ago, we had a film crew do a shoot at our company interviewing employees about our culture. When they were done and packing the equipment up, the producer came to see me to thank me for opening up the company for their access. She had never seen a company where the employees felt so significant to the business outcome, regardless of their position. I have never felt more successful in my life.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
“First get the deal, then worry about it.” Learned it from my mentor within months of that first job in the computer industry. Don’t waste time planning for a deal you may never get. Once you get the deal, everything will fall into place, especially the vendors beating a path to your door. In 38 years, it has never, ever failed me.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Everything happens for a reason”, which is basically, “For every action, there is a reaction.” I think when you do something, anything can happen. Some of my biggest deals came about because I did something totally unrelated or even unknowingly that there was a deal to be had. I was just open enough to both see and seize the opportunity before me when it was there.

What are some of your favorite books?
Not much of a book reader. Does reading 200 emails a day count? Of the few I have read, I did devour The HP Way by David Packard. Granted, I have an HP bias, but the story of how Bill and David built that company was fascinating. Considering it all started in 1939 when Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz adds to the amazement. The company was founded only because Walt Disney wanted state-of-the-art sound for Fantasia in eight select movie theaters. They were not only pioneers in technology, but in how to treat employees.

Another is Building a Magnetic Culture by Kevin Sheridan. Talks of the importance of engaged employees, and creating a high-performance workforce. As I read it, it was obvious he was talking about my team. I was pretty jacked up by it.

Most recently was Becoming the Best by Harry M Kraemer. It speaks of values-based leadership, being the best in all departments within your company, and building a company around those values.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
How about a year? 2008 was rough. I guess it was lucky we had a two-month head start before the housing crash and the IT world crapped out. It has still yet to fully recover. In the two years it took to truly transform us over to video storage, we lost over $500,000. Yet, this never effected our credit with the vendors as I was committed to continue to pay bills whatever the circumstances. We were able to maintain our good credit which we worked hard to create with our strong payment history over the first nine years. As this was happening, my wife and I had just purchased a dream property and had started to build a dream house, so I was double-dealing with it at work and at home. Stressful times, to be sure.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Self-belief that you are doing the right thing. Stay the course, stay on plan. I have been fortunate in many ways in life. The experience of having to deal with adversity has actually made me stronger and trust my gut even more. Doesn’t mean I didn’t have doubts along the way, but I had faith in my ability to survive it and was too stubborn to give up.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Of your brain, your heart, or your gut, always go with your gut. Your brain can cause you to overthink the opportunity, and your heart can always get broken. Your gut represents your instincts. Trust it. No one knows more about you or your capabilities than you. And most important of all, your company’s core values positively have to mimic your own. Otherwise, you are just faking it to your customer and lying to yourself.

Bill Scanlon – Founder & President, Strategic Solution Partners

Bill Scanlon is president of Strategic Solution Partners, a consulting group he founded in 2007. A results-driven sales and marketing leader with over 25 years of experience generating organizational transformation and achieving measurable results with global hospitality brands, he now shares his expertise with private clients.

He began his career in the hospitality industry at Marriott, where for 20 years he progressively moved up the corporate ladder to his pinnacle role in the company as vice president of Caribbean, Central and South Americas. He left Marriott to become the senior vice president of sales and marketing at HEI Hotels & Resorts. Following his experience at HEI, Bill founded his own consulting firm, Strategic Solutions Partners, where he helps clients transform their businesses and drive revenue growth. Upon completing a consulting consignment for his client, Wyndham Worldwide, he was asked to join the Hotel Group as their senior vice president of sales & marketing. After two and a half years growing revenue for their $1.5 billion portfolio of companies, he returned again as president of Strategic Solutions Partners with renewed dedication and zest.

He is also an associate member of the G7 Hospitality Group and an affiliate partner of Cayuga Hospitality Partners.

How did the concept for Strategic Solution Partners come about?
I had originally set up SSP as a consultancy. The very first inquiry I received was regarding a business development project for a hotel and the second was for an interim director of sales and marketing for a Caribbean hotel. Being the salesperson that I am, while this was not in my portfolio of services, I said “Yes, we do” and made it happen.

How was the first year in business?
Very slow. Like most senior executives who find themselves prematurely out of work, you tend to leverage your network. Once that is exhausted, however, you have to find new clients. Fortunately, I was a successful salesperson early on so I shifted  gears and hit the phones. It is difficult to revert and not get any call backs, overcome the normal lack of interest if there is not an immediate need, and the time limitations that our clients have, but if you persevere through the sales cycle, things start to happen.

What was your marketing strategy?
There is no replacing relationships and quality product. It is also about networking and re-establishing contacts that you have made over your career while also creating new ones. Word of mouth is your best marketing tool and that recognition is built upon your integrity and the quality of your product and service.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Initially, not quickly at all. I was doing a project for Wyndham in the Caribbean and they made me an offer that I could not refuse. I worked there from 2009 to 2011, returning to the business in late 2011. So, I consider 2012 my first real full year back. Since then, we have grown in the high double digits annually.

How do you define success?
Success is positively contributing to your clients, your partners, and your associates’ short- and long-term success on both personal and professional levels, if you can. Contributing to their success gives me a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment whether it impacts the top or bottom lines, or not.

What is the key to success?
Ethics and values. Regardless of technology, it comes down to the product you delver, the trust you build, and the ethics you operate under.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Stay positive. If you persevere, it will come. If you’re determined, you will succeed. If you believe, it will happen.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“No is just yes waiting to happen” and “Plan the work and work the plan.”

What are some of your favorite books?
The Count of Monte Cristo, Trinity, and Quietus.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
They all are challenging one way or another. I cannot isolate one over the other as they are equally as challenging and equally as rewarding. I think the hardest thing is bringing your “A” game every day. At some point, you transition from doing to being and being that leader/example is key to creating your culture and defining your expectations for your team members.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My commitment to my family, my team, and my clients.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Be flexible. Talk to everyone you can. Be a sponge. Keep your ideas for future use. Today, they may not be right, but tomorrow they may be. Take the time to proactively think through who your target customer is, what they want/need, who your competitors are for that customer, and what makes you different.