Five Questions for Steve Guengerich, UT-Dallas Innovation Institute CEO
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have skills and capability-building both on the job and through the programs they have. I started at Accenture and I wouldn’t trade my first three years for anything. It so equipped me to have the fundamental building blocks, how I manage my schedule, interact with people, have a supervisor do a performance review. There’s a lot of [shrinking of] training budgets but still, larger companies do this the best in a way that’s very valuable.
I don’t think [new college graduates] really appreciate big companies. They sometimes feel they are tiny little cogs in this giant machine. They don’t appreciate the power of “convening” that they have, operating under the power of the brand that the organization represents. Even at the lower level, at a big brand company you’ve got tremendous power to convene companies’ or universities’, or organizations’ support to come together and talk about topics that are interesting to you. It’s a lot harder when you’re trying to get a foot in the door as a startup.
X: What’s your biggest failure as an entrepreneur?
S.G.: It’s partly connected to the time that it happened; there’s guilt by association collectively for our type, the startup entrepreneur. We really did such a poor job of going through the dotcom era from around ’98 to late ’01. It was just one giant massive groupthink about how we were the masters of the universe, how nothing we did could go wrong. It was all about getting big, spending money that you would never do in any other situation. We didn’t look at the fundamentals. I was a part of that era and remember thinking like that at the time.
X: Tell me about your early influences.
S.G.: My parents. I grew up in a pretty entrepreneurial household, though I didn’t think of it that way until I got older. My dad, as a lot of people of his generation did, grew up on the farm. Then he went to the big city, where he got involved in a niche piece of the healthcare world, emergency ambulance service. He worked his way up. This was back when ambulance services mostly were privately operated, versus hospital EMS services you know of today. He had the monopoly for emergency ambulance care for the Panhandle of Texas, around Amarillo. He built that up, with no experience and a little bit of college education. Mom was a registered nurse; she was kind of his right hand lieutenant and helped with the operations of the business.
I really do have to call out a colleague of mine, Steve Papermaster, who I’ve known for 30 years. We started at Arthur Anderson within six months of each other 30-plus years ago. He’s been a great running partner over the years for me, to work with, to learn from, to be inspired by. That’s why I stayed affiliated with Powershift Group all these years. He’s approaching 60 and he’s as active as ever. It’s going to sound boring to mention it, but he just works hard.