America is the world leader by number of entrants, as well as size of entrepreneurial businesses.  What motivated all these people to start their own business?  What were the influences in their life that had an impact?  Where did the drive and work ethic come from to create and build a start-up business?

To address these questions, I asked a few of my small business entrepreneurial friends to join me in sharing their answers and thoughts.

Here are a few of their stories.

Gary Wechter, Summation – IBM reseller of mid-range computers and software developer, 20 employees.

“I think there were two periods in my life that stoked my entrepreneurial drive.  First, was growing up in Bayside, NYC and then later coming to Los Angeles.

“I always liked having my own money.  Around age 12, I was a paper boy and in my mid-teens I was a bowling hustler where I made lots of money when the minimum wage was only $1.15/hour.

“This allowed me to have a lot of independence and more money in my pocket than my neighborhood friends; almost all of whom later went the civil service route, becoming policemen, firemen, postal workers and the like.

“Disillusioned with college, I dropped out after the first year and by accident got a job with National Cash Register Co.  In 1974, after seven years, they relocated me to Los Angeles, where I was fortunate enough to start my career as a computer programmer.

“The move to California forced my wife and me to make new friends, almost all with college degrees and several in their own business.  As I learned more about small businesses from my programming job and these new friends, I came to feel that starting my own business might in fact be a real possibility.

“Around 1977, an opportunity to start a software business presented itself.  I took a deep breath and decided to give up a paycheck after 13 years and go for it.  I never looked back.”

Milt Thaler, City Foods (grocery stores), 250 employees.

“Growing up in L.A., there was always talk about the market my father and uncle ran on North Broadway.  My interests developed into wanting to be a chemist.

“After service in the Navy during World War II, I came home hoping to pursue my goal in chemistry.  The unexpected death of my father created a family dilemma.  To help support my mother, I volunteered to assume my father’s partnership in the market.

“My uncle wasn’t too happy about having a new 20-something as a partner, but that’s how my career in the grocery market began.  It was a somewhat uncomfortable start at being a reluctant entrepreneur, giving up my desire to be a chemist, and with a partner who wasn’t overjoyed having a new, young associate.

“Over the years, we built and operated six grocery stores around L.A. catering to the Latino community.

“It was a good life and a rewarding career for me and my two sons.  Obligation and opportunity launched my life work and it became a challenging and fulfilling journey.”

Clifton Chang, Altair Investments – industrial real estate, manufacturing co-investor, and angel investor in tech start-ups, 10 employees.

“I think the entrepreneurial drive was set by the time I was nine and encouraged by a family culture of entrepreneurship.  It’s a combination of DNA, environment and encouragement from early small successes.

“At age nine, mom got me to sell Reader’s Digests door-to-door in our Houston neighborhood.  That taught me that hard work and persistence counts and that “no” is just a step on the path to “yes.”

“A year later, a high school senior gave me two boxes of comic books.  I set up shop in the neighborhood selling comic books at one-half of the new issue price or trading one comic book for two returned from a customer.

“My family culture was imbued with entrepreneurship.  My mother was an entrepreneur, securing the Fidelity Funds Franchise for Asia in 1960 and launched her own mutual fund.  From ages five to 25, I would talk to my Uncle John, an entrepreneur in Asia, who would have two or three ventures at any time.  I would hear about my maternal grandfather’s successful business launches.

“In college at MIT, entrepreneurial juices reasserted.  Had a side business for three years running speed reading courses at several Boston college campuses.  The culture of MIT was to encourage experimentation, independent thought and take risks.  The speed reading courses helped pay for college expenses.  Social outings were financed by organizing parties and outings and my fee was a free spot.

“By the time I applied to MBA programs right after college, my goal was to be a serial technology entrepreneur.

“A chance phone call to Trammel Crow landed me a job in Dallas with the Crow organization.  One of the country’s leading industrial real estate firms.  They nurtured me and then sent me to Orange County as a partner to start a new division.  After a few years, I felt ready to go off on my own, and ended up being a real estate entrepreneur and investing in other technology entrepreneurs.

“The marketplace can be a far tougher taskmaster than any boss.  As an entrepreneur, however, the personal freedom to make decisions, and mistakes, as well as the opportunity to make a difference, for better or worse, is unequaled.”

Next month we’ll hear from three more entrepreneurs.


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