Monday, March 12, 2012

Howard Tullman's Acceptance Speech at the Chicago Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame

Howard Tullman is a serial entrepreneur in Chicago, and the current Founder and CEO of the highly successful Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy.  Success has followed Howard from one business to the next, which is well detailed on Howard’s biography page.  Howard recently won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chicago Area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, sponsored by the Institute for Entrepreneurship within the College of Business Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

Below is an excerpt from Howard’s acceptance speech, that Howard graciously allowed me to share with all of you.  There are some terrific words of wisdom herein, for all you aspiring entrepreneurs:

“When I was looking back over the last 55 years (since I started my first business), I want to talk about some lessons I’ve painfully learned, and reflections which I hope will be of use and value to you, as you go forward to build and grow your own businesses.
First, you will discover that (except for your grandmother) the people from whom you really learned things of value (good or bad) were not warm and fuzzy folks. They were sharp, hard-edged, driven people with a clear sense of purpose who were always asking more of you. And, the real reason that those times were so instructive was that, in the midst of all of the blood, sweat and tears, and occasional screaming, you never doubted for a moment that they believed in you and that you were up to the task and could do whatever it took to get it done AND that they would be there working and standing right beside you when you did. People today don’t commit to institutions (if they ever really did), they commit to other people. It’s nice to be liked; it’s more important to be respected. Try to be one of those people.
Second, most of the world’s great art, films, games and music – as well as most of the great inventions throughout history – were ultimately the result and expression of a single, uncompromising vision - albeit managed, massaged, and manipulated through a sea of change, confusion and compromise. Consensus is about finding the middle ground and making people feel good about themselves and each other. Teamwork is about getting the help you need to see your vision through to completion. But these tools and approaches will only take you so far. In this life, you’ll each have a chance, a moment, an opportunity to make something special and spectacular and to make a difference – if you have the courage of your convictions, the confidence in your abilities, and if you’re willing to make and stick to the hard choices that will inevitably arise. Don’t miss the train – it won’t wait for you.
Third, get your priorities right from the start. If you want to be an entrepreneur, get to the back of the line. The company (and its investors) comes first. The customers come second. The employees come next. And you come last. Get used to it. In more than 50 years, I’m proud to say that I never once put my personal desires, goals or even my financial interests ahead of those of my partners, investors, customers or employees. If anything, I’ve done just the opposite. I’ve done it all – lent risky money to employees and customers and even other entrepreneurs; co-signed home mortgages; helped with education and medical expenses; and subsidized people’s salaries when the various businesses couldn’t afford to do so. And, I’d do it again in a minute. It just comes with the territory when you believe in what you doing and in the people that you’re doing it with.
Fourth, plan on biting your tongue and eating lots of humble pie. At least it’s not fattening. There are plenty of people who think I’m outspoken, demanding, hard to say “no” to, etc. and they’re not wrong, but they don’t know the half of it. In this life, especially when you make a business of being in the business of using other people’s money (which entrepreneurs almost always eventually do), you learn to hold your tongue and suck it up and to eat LOTS of crow. I love to hear about all these successful guys (as they used to say about my friend Steve Jobs) who don’t suffer fools gladly. That’s all well and good - especially for billionaires at the top of their game – but it’s just a formula for failure for the rest of us. Part of the curse of being an entrepreneur (and one of the best ads I ever wrote for TFA) said: “I’ve spent way too much time explaining my talents to people who have none”. The truth is that’s just another part of the job.
Fifth, nothing is more important than making room for people. All kinds of people – because talent comes in lots of different sizes, shapes and packages. We want the talent, but we aren’t always willing to understand that it’s a package deal. Some work all night; some don’t bathe; some are insufferable and brilliant at the same time. You need to make room for these people and run interference for them if you want to build a great company. Too often, entrepreneurs try to find and hire people that look, act and talk like themselves and this never works beyond the first few employees. You need all kinds of people – even people just looking for a job – not a career and not looking to join your sacred crusade – just as long as they’re willing to do their job and do it as well as they can. And honestly, your employees also don’t have to love each other or go bowling every Thursday night. They just all need to show up and each do their jobs. Everything else is Kumbaya and gravy.
But the best part of having a terrific group of employees is when they leave the nest and go on to do great things themselves. I’ve had thousands of employees over the years and I couldn’t be prouder of how so many of them have turned out and how many are now leading companies all over the city and the country.
Lastly, I love sugar as much as the next guy (probably much more) and I have nothing against cupcake companies per se, but how about if we all hunker down and try to build some real businesses which will matter in the long run and which can help make a concrete difference in people’s lives. Education, energy, and health care – these sectors of the economy will all be disrupted and radically changed in our lifetimes – and these are also the areas that provide the greatest prospects for doing good while you’re doing well. It could just be me, but I’d rather have better batteries and cleaner cars than bacon or more butter in my candy bars.“

Certainly lessons we all can learn from, from a veteran who has been in the trenches.  Thanks, Howard, for sharing your lifelong lessons, and pioneering the way for the rest of us entrepreneurs in Chicago.  Wishing you many more great years to come.

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