Entrepreneurship – Career Path Choice or Destiny

Oct 1, 2019

I believe that all people have inherent strengths & abilities that can be developed to achieve professional success and personal fulfillment.  Achievement of potential is not a given, but requires education, mentorship, professional support, ability, risk acceptance, and hard work.  As the President & CEO of the oldest business brokerage firm in the Pacific Northwest, IBA, I have heard 100’s of stories from successful entrepreneurs about their road to achieving the American dream of business ownership and financial prosperity.  Many of the stories start with early indications of a desire for economic & personal independence with lawn mowing businesses, jobs in the hospitality industry, and execution of home based business ideas.  Frequently entrepreneurs come from families with a heritage of business ownership.

The following are a few stories of people who were destined to be entrepreneurs that have crossed my path.  I believe they are excellent examples of the limitless ladder of opportunity that exists in America for people that pursue entrepreneurship as a career path.

Bryan Levy

Bryan Levy, the founder of Eastside AV (https://eastsideav.com/), was already thinking about being an entrepreneur and creating business plans before he could drive.  A natural problem solver and relationship builder with a legendary work ethic and recognition that quality & customer service are the foundation of any successful business model, Bryan started Eastside AV on a limited budget out of his garage.  Introduced to Bryan by his parents, Gary & Renee (Successful entrepreneurs themselves who bought & sold companies through IBA), in 2004 when he first went into business, I was impressed by the dynamic young man and hired him to upgrade the audio-visual components in our home, part out of need and part out of desire to support a young entrepreneur. Over the next 15 years, Bryan developed a personal relationship with my wife & I, where he became a friend and trusted advisor related to everything AV.  This was a common business practice by Bryan and the foundation of his success in building Eastside AV into one of the premier service providers for home theater and audio in the Seattle metropolitan area.  He epitomized the business truism that “People do business with people they like and trust.”  Eastside AV’s customers generally do not seek multiple quotes, but order products and services with confidence they are in the “best” of hands and advocate for family & friends to use the company to insure satisfaction.  Achievement of this “cult” status in the business community is rare and deserves recognition.  Eastside AV is a business model done right. Unfortunately, Bryan’s bright star burned out in late September when he passed away prematurely. He will be missed, but for all who knew him he will serve as a symbol of how to execute a customer centric business plan and consistently increase market share organically based on quality & superior customer service.

Roger Thompson

Winston Churchill famously said, “Continuous efforts – not strength or intelligence is the key to unlocking our potential.”  Roger Thompson, retired owner of G&S Heating, Cooling, & Electric (https://www.gsheating.com/) eagerly entered the HVAC industry as a young man interested in mastering a trade and gaining his financial independence.  Talented & hard working, he rapidly progressed in the trade soon realizing that to maximize his potential he needed to move from being an employee to a seat at the ownership table. In 1985, he obtained an ownership share in the company and through providing a daily example of superior work ethic, business acumen, and the mentorship, development, and hiring of a market leading staff in terms of knowledge, experience, skill, and customer service took a small residential heating & cooling company to a market leading position in terms of size (Approximately 50 employees & 30+ Service Trucks), customer satisfaction (435 Reviews on Google with a compositive rating of 4.8), and gross revenue in Snohomish County.  Roger, a self-deprecating individual, rarely “blows his own horn” related to his ability as an entrepreneur, however he does not discount his work ethic.  Like Winston Churchill, he acknowledges that effort is a prime ingredient to success. Roger Thompson recently reaped the benefits of his “life work” when IBA facilitated the sale of his company in a competitive “bidding war” environment.  It was wonderful to see effort rewarded with professional achievement, personal fulfillment, and financial dividends that will allow Roger to spend the next chapter of his life pursuing trout in the rivers of Washington.

Mohamed Lahlou

1976 Olympic Gold Medalist, Leon Spinks, defeated Muhammed Ali in 1978 in only his 8th professional fight to win the undisputed heavyweight championship in one of the greatest upsets in boxing history famously saying, “Opportunity knocks only once.  You never know if you will get another opportunity.”  Business opportunities for entrepreneurs exist in specific places, times, and industries in history. One former IBA client, Mohamed Lahlou, a French trained, African born electrical engineer who relocated to Seattle identified when individuals and businesses were migrating in mass from desktop to laptop computers earlier this century that there was a need for a service provider to complete component level repairs to laptops to fix cracked screens, malfunctioning keyboards, or failing speakers.  One business store front quickly expanded to four locations.  Retail customers expanded to an online marketplace where people shipped computers to the company, Laptopfix.com, for repairs.  Business activity was robust.  Year over year growth for the company strong.  However, Mohamed, like many entrepreneurs, was unsettled.  He loved business creation.   He did not love business management.  He liked working with a small group of employees collaboratively seeking to reach new thresholds of achievement.  He did not like fleshing out human resource and back office accounting systems. Identifying that he controlled his entrepreneurial destiny and that new opportunities existed in the technology space, Mohamed took his chips off the table and sold the company in a transaction facilitated by IBA to an individual with a C Suite skill set appropriate to lead the company into the future, a case example of someone correctly identifying that a company is a business asset that could be sold and converted into cash to facilitate creation of company 2.0.

Tom Neilson & Bill Ahlgrim

A famous illusion exists that depending on your perception of the image, a young or old woman can be viewed (http://www.optical-illusionist.com/illusions/young-lady-or-old-woman-illusion).  Entrepreneurship offers a similar ability to look at a situation and come away with different assessments of opportunity. One of my favorite stories of creating opportunity where others did not see it is the story of Tom Neilson & Bill Ahlgrim.   Tom & Bill were entrepreneurs with a construction background who entered the glazier niche.  They looked at the niche and recognized over fifty years ago that significant competition existed related to the fabrication and installation of windows.  The two brothers did not want to compete in a commodity marketplace where price had a significant impact on purchase decisions.  Thinking out of the box, they identified that an opportunity existed with limited competition for the fabrication & installation of horizontal commercial glass (e.g., overhead canopies & skylights).  Evergreen House ( http://evergreenhouse.com/) pursued the opportunity rapidly becoming the “go to” specialty contractor in the niche.  Today the company’s work can be found around the Pacific Northwest when you look up from the skylights at Bellevue Square to the overhead canopy at the Washington State Convention Center and the University of Washington Law School to the Whatcom County Art Museum. Many other glazier companies have come & gone during the lifespan of Evergreen House in a race to the bottom competing on price.  Tom & Bill’s company, possessing unique knowledge, experience, and skill, has thrived.  The company was transitioned by IBA into the capable management hands of John Alexander, a successful entrepreneur who has bought multiple companies from IBA, to facilitate Tom & Bill’s retirement.

Entrepreneurship opportunities exist in industries and locations throughout the Pacific Northwest.  Business ownership is a career path choice for many with a spectrum of entrance points.  If you are a business owner with a story similar to Bryan, Roger, Mohamed, Tom, or Bill who would like to sell your company, IBA would welcome the opportunity to hear your story and provide an overview of our client services.  All information shared with IBA will be held in strict confidence.  100% of IBA’s fees are paid on performance upon completion of a business sale.   If you have entrepreneurship in your blood, I encourage you to make the effort necessary to be successful and execute on your vision.

IBA, the Pacific Northwest’s premier business brokerage firm since 1975, is available as an information resource to the media, business brokerage, mergers & acquisitions, and real estate communities on subjects relevant to the purchase & sale of privately held companies and family owned businesses.  IBA is recognized as one of the best business brokerage firms in the nation based on its long track record of successfully negotiating “win-win” business sale transactions in environments of full disclosure employing “best practices”.