The Inspirational, Titanic Entrepreneurial Tale of Monmouth’s Own Mary Kellogg-Joslyn


Today’s class blogger is Adewuyi Adeniji. Below, he recounts the largest and riskiest–and arguably most inspirational–entrepreneurial story we have heard yet this semester; that of Titanic Museum co-owner Mary Kellogg-Joslyn  (

Enjoy… and be inspired!

Prof. Gabel


Successful, motivated, ambitious… Those are words that describe our guest in Midwest Entrepreneurs class this past Tuesday.

Mary Kellogg-Joslyn returned to her roots to encourage a group of Monmouth College students to pursue their goals with aggression and passion every day. Born and raised in Monmouth, she became one of the most successful Monmouth residents. After graduating from Monmouth high-school, she attended Columbia College in Chicago. She then took her talents to Los Angeles, where she landed her first job that paid her $100 a week for a department store. Her great work ethic was recognized by CBS employees she interacted with, which led to her being offered a position to work for the firm. She eventually worked at CBS for ten great years where she became the executive director of marketing and programming. Her performance at CBS got her noticed by Disney, where she worked for another 20 years, rising to the rank of Executive Vice President of television. Her husband, John Joslyn, was also a television producer. The two eventually merged their entertainment skills and knowledge to pursue a grand entrepreneurial venture. Today, she and John own the Titanic; specifically the two Titanic Museums (one located in Branson, MO and the other in Pigeon Forge, TN).

Mary began her presentation to the class by informing us of the significance of the Titanic and enormity of the building of the ship, which took three years to build in Ireland. She then told us that “Five days after she (Titanic) was built, she sunk after colliding with an iceberg. It took two hours and forty minutes to sink under the Atlantic Ocean.”

Mary then went into the details of running the two Titanic Museums. She stated that before making the decision to build the first Museum, she told her husband: “You must be the only boss and then everyone under you must answer to me.” She explained that she was more structured than her husband John and that she needed to make sure everything was operating correctly and efficiently. From this previous statement, we can draw the conclusion that Mary was all about doing business the right way because without structure, a business can never be successful.

To continue about Mary and John’s business plan, John was in charge of recovering artifacts from the Titanic ship; a $6 million operation. Today, he and Mary own a lot of Titanic artifacts which they display in their two Museums. Both of these Museums are successful and are visited by millions of people yearly. I highly recommend that you visit one of these Museums, if not both!

Mary’s ultimate goal is to create a personal experience of a lifetime with each visit to the Museum. In order to do this, Mary understands that she has to hire and train employees—“crew members” as she calls them—who can display her vision that she has for the two Museums. Mary and John eventually hired 110 crew members. These crew members act out real Titanic stories each day to create the desired experience. To do so effectively, each person goes through several months of Titanic University training as well as take “1912 Etiquette” lessons, with 192 being the year of the ship’s maiden—and final—voyage. Today, before crew members “go on stage” each day, they see a sign stating: “You are now entering 1912.”

Another valuable lesson learned from Mary is the importance of treating employees right. For example, from the janitor to the manager of a particular department, she feels all crew members are equally important. She understands that her employers are her most important asset. According to Mary: “The biggest asset in our company is our employees.”

There was other vital information that Mary shared with my classmates and I that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

First, she explained that in order to build a good a company there are three traits that it must consist of. She said a good company consists of good leadership, education, and structure.

The second learning experience that Mary shared with us occurred when she explained the two different types of bosses. She stated: “The best boss in the world works through his management. The worse boss in the world wants control.” She further explained that a good boss never hesitates to show his employers he or she can do anything they ask them to do.

Finally, the last learning experience I will share with you from Mary’s discussion is when she explained that we must do everything in life with passion. The more passion and effort you put into yourself or what you love doing, the better results you will witness yourself achieving.

In closing, I was very inspired and motivated by Mary Kellogg-Joslyn. The drive and passion she uses to do business and live her life is not displayed by many in today’s society. She loves what she does and enjoys helping others who want to follow in her footsteps or just want to be successful. She ends every conversation with her employers by saying “I appreciate you.” Is it not obvious that she is special in many ways? I am grateful for the opportunity she shared with my classmates and I.


Adewuyi Adeniji

On Time Quality at a Competitive Price: Michael Vipond ’03 and The Entrepreneurial Success Story of General Grind and Machine

Yesterday’s guest speaker in Midwest Entrepreneurs class both continued and added to our recent emphasis on business-to-business (B2B) heavy industrial firms. As class blogger Ben Schweitzer discusses below, also continued was a focus on quality, customer satisfaction, and the importance of highly satisfied, well-trained employees.

Prof. Gabel


On Thursday, our class had the honor of hearing from Michael Vipond, a 2003 Monmouth College graduate who is presently the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at General Grind and Machine ( The company has grown from a tiny three-person operation in 1976 to its present size of up to 450 employees and nearly $80 million in annual sales (using about 4 million pounds of raw materials every month).

Michael described the company as an American-made “one stop shop” for all its customers’ machining needs. He discussed many factors that set the company apart but they all relate to three main interrelated goals: to strive for product quality delivered on-time and at a competitive price.

The corporation is located in Aledo, Illinois, placing it near its three largest customers; Caterpillar, John Deere and Case New Holland. Being close to three of the biggest agricultural equipment manufacturing companies has allowed the business to thrive as orders continuously come in throughout the day and night. The company is running machines 24 hours hour a day, seven days a week because the size of orders is so large.

General Grind uses an MRP (Material Requirements Planning) based computer application that not only takes orders but automatically figures how much material to buy for upcoming jobs. The company also buys directly from the steel mill in great volume, which allows it both cut its costs and sell to customers at a more competitive price.

To find the right workers to do the growing volume of needed work, General Grind “hires attitude.” What they are looking for in an employee is a good work ethic and the willingness to learn. The company has implemented an on-sight training facility for employees. By hiring the right people that they know will care about their work and training them properly, there is a sense of care that flows from each employee to each customer, resulting in products that satisfy customer requirements and fulfill all promises made. On top of this, Mr. Vipond also told us that deliveries of parts are made by engineers and managers to help grow a personal connection with customers.

Machinery is another big competitive advantage for the business. Having one of only two heat treatment machines in Illinois and four $500,000 Mazak lathes along with offering robotic welding, the company can do everything customers need right in their Aledo-based shop without having to outsource any jobs.

Another factor that that makes General Grind stand out is ISO (International Organization of Standardization) certifications. The ISO certifications show that everything is being run properly and efficiently to ensure that a quality product will be made every time. By having top of the line machinery and certifications, it makes it seem as if there is no better place to go in the world than General Grind and Machine for any and all machining needs.

Something that Michael repeatedly talked about was the people that run the company and how they work together to constantly improve the company in many ways. The owner, Mark Bieri, is always trying to better every aspect of the business for everyone who is involved.

A company that started with 3 employees in 1976 has grown to employ over 400 people, having gone through numerous expansions. This company does everything so well that they have no real competition on this side of the world. General Grind and Machine’s products tend to speak for themselves but the services provided by its employees and the owner have made this business everything that it is today.

Ben Schweitzer

It’s All About the People: Mike Luna’s Entrepreneurial Success Story


As the class learned this past Tuesday–from a practicing McDonald’s franchisee–franchising can represent a special type of entrepreneurial venture. No one knows this better than Mike Luna, who has been with McDonald’s in some capacity almost continuously since 1960. As he told the class, he opened McDonald’s store #154… of the 35,000 the company now has around the world.

Today’s blog entry is written by Midwest Entrepreneurs student Bryce Willett. In it, Bryce captures very well several key points of franchising existing as an entrepreneurial option. Particularly well discussed is the importance of what Harvard scholars James Heskett, Thomas Jones, Gary Loveman, W. Earl Sasser, Jr., and Leonard Schlesinger term “The Service-Profit Chain” (as first articulated in a 1994 Harvard Business Review article). The gist of the “Chain” is that achieving organizational goals of revenue growth and profitability is predicated ultimately on “internal service quality” and employee satisfaction (which leads to employee retention and productivity, which in turn enhances value delivered to customers/clients).

I am very pleased to see Bryce focus on this aspect of Mr. Luna’s entrepreneurial success story as I have always felt that The Service Profit Chain is one of the most practical and important things to know about successfully running any type of business.


“People, it’s all about the people…” Mike Luna, February 17, 2015

Last Tuesday, we were honored to have Mike Luna, a highly successful McDonald’s Franchisee, tell his long-running success story to our class.

Mr. Luna started with McDonald’s in Galesburg, Illinois in 1960 when he was very young. Although he did leave for school, the young Mike Luna would find his way back to McDonalds; this time in a supervisor’s role. After some time supervising, Mr. Luna was offered to buy into the franchise in Kewanee, Illinois.

Mr. Luna told us that his business is like a “three-legged stool.” The first leg being the franchisor (McDonalds), the second being his suppliers, and the third leg being the franchisee (Mr. Luna). Being a franchisee, Mr. Luna has a lot of different expenses that other entrepreneurs might not have. He has to pay a service fee of 4% to McDonalds, as well as a 4% advertising fee to the company. If things do not go right, Mr. Luna informed us that it is the franchisee that is most likely to lose money because McDonalds and the suppliers will always be paid their piece of the pie before he is.

As Mr. Luna was talking, I couldn’t help but admire how high of a pedestal he put people on when talking about his business. He said that every success story he had was from working with good people. He said that his job is to take the people he hires and develop them to reach the peak of their potential. This attitude has propelled his business into something that has driven several of his key competitors—like most recently Hardees—out of Monmouth.

As stated earlier, Mr. Luna puts a lot of weight on the people in the business. He treats them the right way and gives them the right training so that they can reach their top level of performance. This creates an environment that people want to work in and continue working in for years to come. It also creates a place where customers feel welcome; giving him much more business than his local fast-food competitors have.

Mr. Luna has made a name for himself and has become a successful entrepreneur through hard work and determination. He would work the hours needed and whatever job it took in order to put his McDonalds on top in whatever community they were in. But most importantly, Mr. Luna knows the value of people in a business and is willing to do what it takes to keep them happy.

Bryce Willett

Lee Miller: Three-Time Entrepreneur and Serial Challenge Seeker

Yesterday’s Midwest Entrepreneurs class was the second in a row where students got heavily exposed to the heavy industrial, business-to-business (B2B) side of the business world. Although many fail to realize it, the national and global economy is more predicated on businesses selling to other businesses than it is the more glamorous and obvious world of heavily advertised consumer products. There are thousands and thousands of little B2B companies all over this country that virtually no one outside of the communities they are based in has heard of. Yet these companies are important part of the national economy (and a key area for entrepreneurial startups).

With that as our introduction, I turn things over to class member Konor Tempel. 


Yesterday in class we had the honor to learn about the three-part entrepreneurial success story of one of our very own professors here at Monmouth College, Lee Miller. Not only did we hear about his success with starting and selling the businesses, we learned a little bit about him too. We also learned that he loves a challenge and that, for him, running his own business was often more about the challenge than the money.

Lee Miller attended school with the intention of becoming a Mechanical Engineer after school. He got his first job at a company called Eaton, which is a large car parts manufacturing company. While working there he got a bit bored and decided to go back to school and take accounting classes at West Carolina University in order to better himself in his career. He eventually decided to leave the company and open up his first entrepreneurial business at the age of 28.

Prof. Miller knew that he wanted to continue his career in the automotive industry, so he started a company called Manufacturing Solutions. However, in order to get up and running he needed about $150,000 and was a little short on cash. His dad came into the picture and loaned him some money to get the business started. With the opening of this first business he was faced with many challenges, such as the challenge of hiring people, which he admitted to being one of the hardest things for him because he did not communicate all that well with non-engineers. He was the owner of the company for ten years. He built the company from nothing to eventually employ 40 employees and annual sales of almost 3 million dollars.

A fun fact we learned about Prof. Miller is that while he was running this first company he was living out of a RV that was parked next to the business to save him some money because all of his money was being put towards the business and he did not have a salary until the business was open for five years. It seems this business was his life at the time.

After the ten years in business, Miller decided to sell the assets of the company because his dad was retiring and he wanted to give his dad’s investment back to him. Around this time he remembered a man who had contacted him while he was running the first business asking if he could manufacture these tiny pieces of surgical equipment, which Miller first turned down. After the first business he decided he wanted another challenge in his life so he took the money he received from the asset sale of his first company and used it to open another business. During this time he designed a machine that was able to make these small pieces more efficiently then others and he was able to patent it. As this product became more in demand he was then going to be forced to expand his business, which he did not want to do. Since he wanted to stay small he decided it was time to sell this company. He sold his company to another company of a former customer, agreeing to train the new engineers to manufacture the device.

After he sold the business he was confronted by a marketing company that had an idea to create a new car part; an alignment shim rotator. They wanted Prof. Miller to design and manufacture this part for them. So he took the job and was given a small amount of shares in the company and went to work and designing and manufacturing these parts. The company went on to sell this product to General Motors. However, it had been financed by a venture capital company, so the investors were looking for a “home run” (meaning a big return on their investment fast). As iot turned out, while this company was successful with the part designed by Lee Miller, it was not the “home run” the investors had hoped for. This company is still in business today, and Miller still owns some the stock in it.

After he started and left his third successful business he decided to go back to school and become a teacher. While attending school he helped a couple of foreign exchange students from Thailand proofread their doctoral dissertations. Little did he know that this would end up helping him get a job at the University of Bangkok in Thailand teaching English. When asked why he decided to become a teacher he responded: “I just want to help the future generations any way I can.”

One thing that I learned from Prof. Miller was how much he loves a challenge. Out of college he had a job at a company where he could probably make a decent living for life but he decided to accept the challenge himself and open his own business at the young age of 28. He built the company from the bottom up, sold it, and then went on to run two more successful businesses. But he wasn’t done there, he challenged himself again by returning to school and pursuing a Ph.D. and becoming a teacher to help the younger generations.

If you have any intention on starting a business I would strongly suggest you attack it the same way Lee Miller did. He never gave up on his dreams and he faced every challenge head on; he is the ideal image of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.

Thank you again to Mr. Miller for talking to our class and sharing your stories of starting and running three entrepreneurial businesses.

Konor Tempel

Fusion Tech: The One-Stop Metal Design and Processing Shop in “The Middle of Somewhere”

This past Tuesday’s Midwest Entrepreneurs class involved our second field trip of the semester; this one to the very outer limits of tiny Roseville, IL and the sprawling Fusion Tech Integrated compound.

As I wheeled one of the two Monmouth College mini-busses needed for the excursion onto the country road running in front of the firm’s facilities, I told the students: “Here, in the virtual middle of nowhere, you will find a world-class steel processing company.”

I was quickly corrected about my “middle of nowhere” assertion once inside with Fusion Tech General Manager Dan Bentz.

Rather than being in the “middle of nowhere,” Dan told us that he prefers to think of the company as being “in the middle of somewhere.” It was obvious after our tour through the various buildings and exposure to too many in-process innovative projects to count, that it is Fusion Tech’s being on the outer limits of Roseville that has indeed made it “in the middle of somewhere”; somewhere very important when it comes—as stated on the Fusion Tech webpage—to meeting customer needs encompassing “all areas of design, engineering, metal forming, fabrication and testing… we maintain process control from concept to completion.” See more at:

I now turn the blog over to Midwest Entrepreneurs student Roger Stribling for further details of the fascinating Fusion Tech entrepreneurial story and our tour of the firm’s operations.

Prof. Gabel


Tuesday we had the pleasure of not having an incredible speaker in class but going to the entrepreneur’s place of work and seeing firsthand the amazing work of yet another amazing Midwest Entrepreneur. We had the opportunity to visit Fusion Tech Integrated and learn about their business in person.

The company, which is a one-stop source for all metal design and fabrication needs, has grown to be a dominant force in their industry. The professional team is there to provide the services of facility designs, concept layouts, equipment detail design, and fabrication of equipment.

The great family-owned business was started in a two door garage in 1997.  It was started by Dan Bentz’s brother and father as Modern Engineering and Piping in Roseville, IL.  The company was then inherited by his brother, along with 88 acres of land.  It all started when they wanted to start making their own products because the old ones were having defects.  The company kept growing and by around 2001 they were able to put in their first shop.  After about two years they got their first piece of equipment to do their own cutting, and that was also when Dan came in to help with the family business.

In the year 2007 the company introduced the Fusion Tech part of the business.  Fusion Tech was the part that designed the projects, and Modern Engineering and Piping handled the servicing.  Eventually these two companies combined and were known as Fusion Tech.  The company was growing so fast that the local bank they were banking with for 5-6 years had to be left behind.  Now the company banks with Wells Fargo with a 1 million dollar line of credit.  Dan mentioned the credit line was needed because only 20% of the cost was paid at the beginning.  With the cost of the material and labor and other small costs, such as scraping, which was 15-20%, there wasn’t enough money to cover the costs.

In 2013, the firm got a 1.3 million dollar contract with a company they had previously lost due to lack of having a laser jet cutting machine.  The company was able to gain this client back when they got several laser machines.  The lesson learned here was to “never burn bridges” as an entrepreneur.  Dan Bentz could have easily forgotten about the company when Fusion Tech was at first rejected.  However, he did not and the other company eventually grew dissatisfied with the firm chosen over Fusion Tech to do the work.  Dan Bentz and Fusion Tech was there and waiting and got the business back.

Another important issue was that the company attained International Standards Organization (ISO) certification.  This certificate demonstrates that the company is an ethical environment and performs high quality work.  With this certification they are able to get the big food processing companies, which is one of their main focuses.

Today, Fusion Tech’s clients are mainly in the food processing, transportation, renewable fuels, and agriculture industries.  The company from time to time also provide small, highly customized services like making signs, handrails, and counter tops, just to name a few.  Dan mentioned that they really don’t want their company to grow helping new customers, but prefer to sufficiently satisfy current clients and get more and more of their business over time.  So far this strategy has helped with annual earnings because it has jumped a couple of millions of dollars from the previous year.  However, one year Dan stated that they put all of their eggs in one basket and everything went bad.  Other than that understandable mistake the company is now growing and is up to five separate buildings.  With the great employee benefits this is also adding to the success of the growing company.

Thank you Dan Bentz for leading us on a very interesting entrepreneurial journey!

Roger Stribling

A 2-for-1, All-in-the-Family Entrepreneurial Affair

Our guests in Midwest Entrepreneurs class on Tuesday 3 February 2015 were Alicia and Travis Pence. To our very pleasant surprise, we were treated to not one but TWO interesting tales of early-stage entrepreneurship. Alicia, a 2010 graduate of Monmouth College majoring in Psychology, spoke to the class about her experience starting up and running the Family Outreach Community Center in Stronghurst, IL. (see:

Alicia was our first non-profit entrepreneur—and first social entrepreneur—speaking to the class in the over two years I have been teaching it.

Travis joined the all-in-the-family entrepreneurial affair by talking about a company he has recently started up; Lightning Designs. The company custom-produces a variety of signs and banners and car wraps for its clients (see:

It was an inspirational experience to witness these two young entrepreneurs speaking about their passions. For far more details on the experience, I turn things over to today’s class blogger Andrew Shiakallis.

See you next week; no guest speaker this Thursday.


Prof. Gabel


Saving the world in today’s society seems to be a fictional goal. When I was seven, I was told saving the world is a big job and the best place to start is in your own back yard. So when I got home from school, I ran to my back yard looked around and said “yep all saved.” Obviously my six year old self did not understand the concept. Today I grasp the concept a little more. I recycle, volunteer, teach, and overall give back to my community. However, one person did more than anyone in her community. Alicia Pence founded her very own non-profit organization in her backyard.

Mrs. Pence is one of Monmouth College’s very own. Working her way through college with two on campus jobs and one off campus jobs, Mrs. Pence developed a very strong work ethic. Graduating in December of 2010 with a major in psychology, Alicia Pence decided that her community in Henderson County needed assistance. Alicia Pence founded the Family Outreach Community Center (FOCC) in Stronghurst, ILL during her senior year of College in 2010.

However, Alicia Pence did not know how to start a non-profit. Mrs. Pence put her college education to work, researching how to start a non-profit. Mrs. Pence started off on the internet learning the ins and outs of non-profits and the necessary steps to start one. But in order to gain research on starting a non-profit in Henderson County, Mrs. Pence met with other non-profits in her community learning the demographics, the poverty levels, and the troubles the community faced.

Alicia Pence decided to have a non-government funded organization that had a main focus on stopping and preventing poverty in her county. Mrs. Pence wanted a non-government funded organization for two major reasons. One, her organization does not have to deal with nearly as much government “red tape” or extra paperwork. Second, there are little to no limitations on funding for the FOCC. The FOCC receives most of their funding from state grants, local community members, and local churches or businesses.

The FOCC’s mission statement is “The family outreach community center exists to improve the quality of life for residents of Henderson County by providing assistance for low-income families, implementing programs targeted towards strengthening the community, and assisting other existing outreach programs in the county.” The mission statement is general but is specific enough to have a solid goal for its assistance programs. The FOCC also uses the slogan: “Where we feed the hungry and the spirit.” With this slogan and mission statement, the FOCC has assists roughly 80 families per month and serves approximately 10% of Henderson County residents each year.

The FOCC provides three major services to its clients: a nutrition program, a parenting and family assistance program, and an employment and career development program.  Each program follows the FOCC’s mission statement in order to one day push Mrs. Pence out of a job. This is unusual to hear from someone running a business but, in her case, it means that her job is done if she achieves the goals of eliminating poverty in Henderson County and helping her clients get meaningful jobs.

Mrs. Pence took on founding the FOCC very similar to any other entrepreneur. However, Mrs. Pence considers herself to be a social entrepreneur or someone who starts a business not for profit but for solving societal problems. Mrs. Pence still fulfils a business plan and SWOT analysis every year in order to increase and progress her business. Mrs. Pence established a ten person board of directors comprised of amazing people who are from different backgrounds and who have different skills. Mrs. Pence is the only paid employee at FOCC. The rest of the employees are part of the Vista volunteer program. However, Mrs. Pence explains that the satisfaction of the people she helps is more than enough payment.

When Alicia had finished talking to the class about the FOCC, we learned that there are two entrepreneurs in the Pence family.

Mr. Travis Pence has recently started up a for-profit organization called Lighting Designs. The company is a logo and graphic design company also located in Henderson County (Biggsville, IL to be exact). The firms was founded in 2012 and was started in order to increase the lifestyle of the Pence family. The company started off with one small 24 inch printer and performed small jobs for local companies. As the company progressed a new printer was added in 2013 with more capabilities producing more business for Mr. Pence.

Mr. Pence understood early on that in order to stand out in such a large market the company must become highly service-oriented. The company focuses on service to complement the core goods products it produces for clients. The service provided involves installation, constant personal communication, and helpful insight into all projects.  Mr. Pence wants to create a strong brand identity, a consistent brand image, and brand loyalty in order to truly stand out in the company.  Mr. Pence wants to establish a good communication line with his customers. The company is slowly progressing. Mr. Pence declared that the company is a “nights and weekends” company and will be “an overnight success in 15 years.” The company is looking to expand into 3D printing but is trying to establish a strong brand before moving up in the market.

Toward the end of the class, we learned that there may not be as many differences between running a for-profit versus a non-profit entrepreneurial enterprise as one might first think. When asked about this, Mr. and Mrs. Pence said that the main difference between FOCC and Lighting Designs is “the employment factor.” This is due to the fact that Lightning Designs currently has but one employee—Travis—while Alicia must manage the activities of her several volunteers.

In closing, the entrepreneurial Pence family provided the class with three major pieces of advice. The first piece of advice is having a mentor.  A mentor helps whenever needed and keeps the person motivated throughout all endeavors. The second piece of advice is to use social media to advertise and market the company’s brand. Social media is very inexpensive and can produce a huge amount of word or mouth to increase sales. The final word of advice to students is to “get out of the classroom.” The main goal is to establish connections and experience in the work place in order to prosper after graduation.

Andrew Shiakallis

John Twomey: The American Dream

Yesterday, our guest speaker in the Midwest Entrepreneur’s class was local entrepreneur and philanthropist John Twomey. While all our guest speakers could accurately be referred to as “role models,” John Twomey–now 91 years young–stands out as the quintessential example of a positive role model for the students; not only as an entrepreneur but as a passionate, caring, community-minded person living a long and meaningful life.

Today’s blog entry for this very special guest speaker is Midwest Entrepreneurs student Adam Parr.

I sometimes worry that a 20-something year old student may not fully appreciate the entrepreneurial–and life–lessons shared by someone of Mr. Twomey’s generation. That is certainly not the case below; Adam Parr has done an outstanding job of capturing and here communicating the essence of what was shared by John Twomey–and learned–in class yesterday.  Enjoy…

Prof. Gabel


Growing up, we have all heard about the idea of the “American Dream.”  However, very rarely do you find someone who actually has lived out the American Dream.  John Twomey has done it all from serving in World War II, being a star athlete, raising a family, starting an extremely successful business, and everything in between. John Twomey has lived the American Dream.

John Twomey was born 1923. By the age of six he was working on his father’s farm milking the cows with his sister.  Mr. Twomey’s father was an extremely hard worker who dropped out of school to take over the family farm at the age of fifteen after his father had passed away.  Mr. Twomey said that he developed his work ethic from watching his dad at a young age and over time he became a “product of his environment.”  John continued milking the cows until he was in high school where he began a new chapter in his amazing life.

As he told the class yesterday, Mr. Twomey had a strong interest in running track in high school.  However, the coach thought that he was two small and would not let him be a part of the team.  The track team got a new coach during John’s junior year of high school, and the coach let Mr. Twomey onto the team.  He instantly became a key part of the team.

After high school Mr. Twomey went to Western Illinois University where he also ran track for two years.  During this time, the United States was involved in World War II, and “Uncle Sam came calling” for Mr. Twomey.  The next two and half years for Mr. Twomey were spent on a B-24 bomber fighting for his country which was something that he took great pride in doing at the time.  I enjoyed briefly hearing about Mr. Twomey’s experience in the war because it is hard to find living WWII veterans today.  After his time in the war, Mr. Twomey spent the next two years running track at the University of Illinois.

After his college days, Mr. Twomey then spent the next three years running in the Pan American Games and AAU track meets all around the world where he became a champion by beating former collegiate national champions and other world-class athletes.  As a current collegiate track and field athlete, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his track and field stories. I also greatly respected what he achieved in college and on the global circuit because that takes tremendous talent, dedication, and hard work to achieve which are all traits he gained at a young age and used to his advantage to start a successful business.

Once his track career was over, Mr. Twomey went back to his roots and began working on the farm again.  While spending time on the farm, Mr. Twomey discovered a problem with the way that the grain was being stored inside the grain bins and discovered a better way to store the grain.  Because of this, Mr. Twomey entered the grain elevator business and began implementing his ideas into the industry.  Mr. Twomey recognized a need in the industry and that was that the farmers needed a cheaper and more efficient way to store their grain without it getting spoiled like it would in the standard grain bins at that time.  Mr. Twomey addressed these issues and began building warehouses that would spread the grain out evenly from top to bottom without having peaks at the top of the stored grain.  By spreading the grain out evenly in these warehouses, the grain stays fresh and does not spoil like it would in a grain bin.  This innovative new way of storing grain is one of the many things that turned Mr. Twomey into a very successful entrepreneur.

As time went on, Mr. Twomey eventually had the cheapest storage rate for grain in the United States.  Because he had the cheapest storage rates, demand was high for his services.  To keep up with the high demand, the Twomey Company began building more warehouses and expanding to new locations including a location along the Mississippi River which helped the business succeed immensely.  Mr. Twomey’s business was able to expand quickly because of the extremely low costs for building warehouses.  Mr. Twomey did everything that he could to make his business succeed to its fullest potential and that included taking care of his employees. He said that he would always try to be “one of the guys” while working with his employees and usually that meant doing the same work that they were doing during the day.  Mr. Twomey also made sure to take of his employees financially by paying them high wages and giving them pension plans as well.  When Mr. Twomey retired, the company had seven locations.  Before the business was sold, the company had expanded to eight locations.  The Twomey Company was sold in 2011 because the Twomey family could “see the writing on the wall.”  Mr. Twomey said that bigger companies were beginning to surface and it was just a matter of time before the Twomey Company started losing customers.

Looking back, it was clear that Mr. Twomey had a great passion for business and that he understood what he needed to do for the business to succeed.  The Twomey Company expanded rapidly and succeeded thanks to the innovative ideas that Mr. Twomey had and the amount of hard work and dedication that Mr. Twomey put in every day.

As I watched Mr. Twomey’s presentation in class, I was amazed at the amount of energy and excitement that he had when talking about his life.  Mr. Twomey told us that he likes the idea of “the journey” in life and he feels that his life has indeed been a journey.  It was clear to me that Mr. Twomey cherished every moment in his life and I believe it is important for everyone to cherish “the journey” throughout their lives because one day we will all arrive at “the station.”

Adam Parr

Old Fashioned Unorthodox Entrepreneurial Success: The John “Beefy” Houston Story

Today’s student blogger is Kelin Malcolm. Below, he nicely tells the captivating, perhaps surprising entrepreneurial success story of local landscaper John “Beefy” Houston.     Prof. Gabel


John “Beefy” Houston is what some would call an “old fashioned” businessman.  This is due to the fact that he does not own a computer, and does his accounting with ledger books. He is decidedly and purposefully low-tech.

Mr. Houston graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science.  After working on his family farm for a few years, the farm was sold which left John looking for a new job.  He did not want to get stuck at a job he hated and “have a heart-attack at age 40” as he has seen several friends come close to doing over the years.

So… Beefy chose to do what he loved doing, landscaping.

John started the company by himself with 1 truck and 1 trailer; 20 years later he now has 2-3 employees at any given time during the summer, 6 trucks, 5 trailers, as well as a few skid-loaders.  He also owns a building used for storage, and he rents out the space he doesn’t use.

John is an unorthodox businessman in that he does not want to grow his company.  What?? Shouldn’t all businesses want to continually grow?

Not Beefy Houston!… His reasoning:  He is perfectly fine where he is at and any more business would just mean more headaches and, possibly, lower-quality service and customer dissatisfaction. He keeps the level of business where he can personally control the high level of quality he is renowned for in the area.

John is also unorthodox in terms of financing his operations. He has no loans to deal with because he has never been a believer in borrowing money from banks.

Houston is also unorthodox in that he does no advertising, not even decals on his trucks.  He relies a lot on word of mouth advertising but he also is a very active member of the community.  “See and be seen” is a big phrase of John’s, he is always at public events around his community because it generates a substantial amount of business for him.

Ultimately, as he told the class repeatedly, Houston believes what goes around comes around; if you treat others, especially customers, bad then bad things will happen.  It is crucial to always be on time and even a little bit early to meetings and John credits this to earning him a couple customers. He believes that you should speak face to face if at all possible and phone calls need to be answered with phone calls, not text messages.

Bottom line… John’s philosophy of treating customers right and having a great work ethic has given him a good base of customers.  Some may view the way John “Beefy” Houston runs his business as kind of “old fashioned and unorthodox,” but he has been very successful in being an entrepreneur.


Visitation & Entrepreneurial Education at The McGuire and Davies Funeral Home

Today’s blog entry is authored by Midwest Entrepreneurs Student Blake Little

Yesterday in class, we had the honor of visiting, touring, and further learning more about the funeral home industry by field tripping to the McGuire and Davies Funeral Home in Monmouth (see:

Al McGuire, one of the two partners in the business, has been around the funeral business his whole life.  He attended college to receive a secondary education degree and wished to become a high school teacher.  His start in the funerary industry came when he moved into an upstairs apartment in a funeral home to avoid living fees. He also had found himself a place to work.  Little did he know, this field of work would become one of the passions of his life; what he today refers to not as a “job” but rather “his vocation.”

After college, Al went on to work at a funeral home in Chicago for some years. However, Al wanted and needed a lifestyle change for his family, which includes his wife and four children.  Monmouth, or “Mayberry” as he calls it, was just the answer he was looking for.  He moved here in 1991 and started working for a local funeral home. After twenty one years there he and the owner had differences of opinion and the two eventually parted ways. Part of these differing opinions involved Al’s desire to modernize and innovate that the owner was opposed to. This move by his previous employer may have been the worst decision possible; it created an aggressive, eager-to-succeed new competitor.

Al brought his long-time friend Trevor Davies, who also had funeral home experience in the area, aboard his plan.  The two leveraged everything they had such as home mortgages, retirement funds, the cemetery Al owned, and the fear of losing everything in order to fund this future business.   The ground was broke for their nest egg on April 23rd, 2013.  All in all, the two invested approximately 1.2 million dollars to build a funeral home that they consider to be the perfect option for funeral services.  Al McGuire used his resources to find himself an accountant to help manage their finances.  This accountant just so happens to be Trevor’s father.

The first year Al and Trevor owned the business, they received 39 calls.  The second year, 2014, they received 69 calls.  In the year of 2015, they have already received 15 calls related to business.   Here at McGuire and Davies, a unique design is presented in order to accommodate any potential plans that one’s family may have.  Their motto is “It’s not our funeral, it’s yours”.  This unique design gives them the ability to slide down walls to help with multitasking in the building, provide guests with a kitchen for complementary coffee and lemonade or luncheons after a service, offices to discuss plans, a crematory, and a room to browse for supplies.  This crematory, which cost the company about 90,000 dollars, gives McGuire and Davies the competitive edge against other local competitors that cannot do cremations on site.  When speaking of the crematory, Al spoke of it not as a “cost” but rather as an “investment,” one that has paid itself off in roughly one year of operation.

McGuire really stresses gaining close relationships with his customers.  Since it is a small town business, it is key to gain the customers trust and show them signs of reliability.   Here he sells his customers a truly great experience and a grand variety of options.  McGuire and Davies provides great services and very flexible hours to customers mourning their loss. All of this leads to the spread of very positive word-of-mouth communication about the business.

McGuire and Davies has been nothing less than successful in their short time open and have installed some key principles that have boosted them to the top.  They have created a peaceful environment that allows them to accompany the needs of their customers.  Even though this field of work presents much emotional stress on Al and Trevor, they find the strength to overcome and create great environment for their customers.  I think the moral of this story may very well be “Treat your employees—as well as your customers— right”.  We all know the value of treating customers right. But treatment of employees matters too; if not treated well, they could very well be your worst nightmare in the competitive business world.

Well done Blake… In closing, allow me to reiterate one of the key points discussed above. This involves Al McGuire speaking to the class yesterday about his $90,000 outlay for the crematory not as a “cost” but rather as an “investment.” One of the many keys to entrepreneurial success is minimizing necessary costs and then making the right investments (as part of taking the right risks, something we spoke about at length in the first week of the class this semester). Entrepreneurs are faced with risk all the time. It is knowing which ones to take and which ones to not take that matters. Al McGuire took a big risk when paying $90,000 for the crematory; but it was the right risk in that the investment has paid for itself in just one year and is one of the key profit centers of the business.

See you next week for more inspirational local and regional entrepreneurial stories and learning!

Prof. Gabel

Doing Wine the Right Way

By Midwest Entrepreneurs Student Miguel Hernandez

What better way to start of the semester for the Midwest Entrepreneurs class than to talk about alcohol; consumed responsibly and in a comfortable environment. Yesterday afternoon the class welcomed our first speaker of the semester; Susan Schuytema, owner and sole proprietor of Market Alley Wines (

Susan came to class with 3.5 years of experience and a couple of handy dandy index cards to talk about her business and her actions in life that made her bring this luxury to the town of Monmouth.

Her entrepreneurial experience was and is crucial for her business today and she makes sure she uses everything she learned not only to have a successful business, but also to keep it successful in the long run.

Susan has worked since she was 13 years old and has worked in a lot of places before her grand opening of Market Alley Wines. She has worked in retail, as a lifeguard, bartender, freelance writer, a journalist in college, and marketed for a nursing home.

All the jobs and positions that Susan has held in her life got her thinking about what she really wanted to do in life. Of course she wanted to do what she loved most so she spent a lot of time looking back in her life to see what she could make out of her past experiences and memories and turn all of that into reality. On top of that she also utilized some research commissioned by the City of Monmouth. This research had found that one of the products that local residents were going out of town to buy was wine. So, she knew there was demand for what she had in mind. She, along with her husband Paul, had the idea of not just selling wine but making it available for sale and consumption in a very welcoming, comfortable environment. Thus, Market Alley Wines was established.

With her experience with wine and her outstanding customer service skills she started her journey to open Market Alley Wines, even if it meant having to make a video from a mobile phone, she did anything and everything possible to get her business going.

Even though she knew that she would be selling bottles of wine at higher prices than other stores that selling similar bottles of wines, she decided to stick with her gut and keep this business alive. But she sells more than just wine at her establishment; she sells an experience unlike anything else in the area. A person can purchase a bottle or a glass, sit on couches with friends or meet new people, listen to bands or people who perform in her business, and experience the relaxing atmosphere that her business has to offer.

This is why people go back for more of the experience that Market Alley Wines provides. They talk about her business and regulars bring new people to check out her place. Price is never an issue when an establishment offers great service, an amazing experience, and a relaxing atmosphere that just takes the world off your shoulders.

Finally, Susan Schuytema advised the class that if they want to start up their own business, they should “do it in your own way.” It’s your business, your face, and your reputation that will affect your business; but make sure you do something that you love to do. It’s a destination and you’re the only one that can decide where that destination leads.