Posted by: Bill von Achen | May 6, 2011

Lessons in Entrepreneurship from Glen and Ira

My first exposure to real entrepreneurs was in the late 1980s, when I met Ira Barry and Glen Dash, at the electronics testing laboratory, Dash, Straus and Goodhue (DS&G). I worked for Glen and Ira for five years and, although I didn’t know it at the time, my experience at their three-time INC. 500 company laid the groundwork for my life-long fascination with entrepreneurs.

Thanks to Glen and Ira, I also learned several lessons about why some entrepreneurs are more successful than others, lessons that have been consistently reaffirmed throughout my consulting career. Here are those lessons in brief:

A vision of the future: Ira and Glen weren’t interested in running another “me-too” testing laboratory. Their view of the business was always focused on what they could do to quickly scale their company, and gain competitive advantage and market share. In an industry that was then mostly comprised of local, independent players, they envisioned building DS&G into a network of testing laboratories across the country. That vision ultimately resulted in the successful (and highly profitable!) sale of the company to a larger testing firm, one that was positioned to fully achieve that vision.

A passion for what you do: When you strip away all of the technology and electronics gear, the business of compliance testing is pretty dull stuff. But not at DS&G. Glen (the company’s chief engineer) continually looked for ways to make the routine exciting by making the testing process as simple and as efficient as possible, and by identifying and developing other testing services to generate even more revenue. When available testing equipment wasn’t sufficient to get the job done, Glen developed new equipment, which was not only used in the company’s testing laboratories, but which he also marketed to companies seeking to conduct their own testing.

A relentless pursuit of business: Every day without fail, Ira (who was the company’s president and its principal salesperson) made forty to fifty phone calls to engineering managers across the country to identify new products that needed testing and to ensure that our testing facilities were fully booked. Even after the company grew to the point where we had a team of salespeople to make calls, Ira continued his routine, signaling to everyone the importance of bringing in the business.

A willingness to hire really bright people: I worked with some the smartest people I’ve ever met during my tenure at DS&G, and that brilliance was not limited to the company’s founders. From electrical engineers and salespeople all the way down to our receptionists, Glen and Ira hired for smarts first, giving talented people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to full exploit their abilities in pursuit of the company’s goals. As a result, many of the people I worked with at DS&G are now in senior executive positions in other testing firms, or running their own companies.

A capacity to think outside the box: Early on, Glen saw the potential value in launching a print magazine that would indirectly promote the company’s technical knowledge and expertise by showcasing technical articles from the DS&G staff. From that small idea sprang Compliance Engineering Magazine, which became the leading publication on worldwide regulatory compliance for the electronics industry, and helped catapult the company into the national spotlight.

A constant eye on the financials: Ira was the first entrepreneur I met who understood the importance of the bottom line, and the value of cash in the bank. He never spent money that he didn’t have, and allocated a portion of his time nearly every day keeping the company’s receivables in line. But Ira and Glen weren’t cheap when it came to employees (the life-blood of the business), paying above market salaries to attract and keep the best, and rewarding them handsomely when they did an outstanding job.

Glen would be the first to admit that he and Ira were not always the perfect entrepreneurial role-models, and that they made their share of mistakes and poor decisions along the way. Yet, more than 20 years on, my experience at DS&G continues to provide me with important lessons on what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.

What lessons have you learned that have contributed to your success as an entrepreneur? Share your lessons and ideas here. Thanks!

p.s. I left DS&G in the early 1990s, but Glen Dash and I have remained friends ever since!

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