Entrepreneurial stories offer important lessons

Entrepreneurship Day at Colorado Mesa University affords a remarkable opportunity for a business journal, a kind of one-stop shop for stories about successful entrepreneurs and the advice they offer other business owners and managers. The whole point of entrepreneurial stories with happy endings isn’t so much they make everyone feel good, but they offer important lessons others can learn and in doing so, create some happy endings of their own.

E-Day on the CMU campus in Grand Junction was no different this year in featuring two successful entrepreneurs in Daniel Ritchie and Andy Kelley.
Ritchie has enjoyed a long and varied career as a business executive, university chancellor and philanthropist. Kelley has enjoyed a string of successes as a serial entrepreneur who’s bought or started a total of three ventures in Grand Junction.

If you haven’t already, you can read all about Ritchie and Kelly in this issue of the Business Times. But here’s a synopsis of sorts that’s worth another review.

Ritchie served as executive vice president and chief financial officer of the Music Corporation of America and then chief executive officer of Westinghouse Broadcasting. He subsequently served as chancellor of the University of Denver and chairman and CEO of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. He remains involved in a number of philanthropic organizations.

In his keynote presentation at the E-Day luncheon, Ritchie recounted a number of stories. The morals were the same: the importance of entrepreneurs and their efforts. Like the old advertising pitch for chemicals, Ritchie asserted that without entrepreneurship, life itself would be impossible — at least a modern life complete with planes, trains and automobiles.

Ritchie also stressed the importance of imagination and big ideas — along with hard work and plenty of it. The potential result? Nothing less than changing the world.

Kelley, president of Terra Surface Logging Systems, delivered an entertaining and informative speech of his own at the E-Day luncheon in accepting the Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award. He recounted his first job out of college and how we went on to buy and sell the company that gave it to him. He built his own business from scratch, then sold that operation, too. After failing at retirement, he went back to business in launching Terra SLS.

Kelley attributes his success to a number of factors: the work ethic he developed on his family ranch near Collbran, providing products and services that meet the needs of his customers and working with good mentors and business partners.

It’s also important, though, for entrepreneurs to lead by example and promote teamwork in the workplace, Kelley says. Building good teams is sometimes a matter of matching in employees skills and duties. He cited himself as an example. While he was hired for his training in electronics, Kelley says he was better suited to sales and management.

Ritchie and Kelley both mentioned still another key characteristic of successful entrepreneurs — trustworthiness. Ritchie said an agreement completed with a handshake should be more binding than a contract. Kelley put it this way: “Do what you tell people you’re going to do. Period.”

Of course, stories about successful entrepreneurs aren’t limited to those associated with E-Day. And that begs the question: What’s your story?