The new header photo for this blog features yesterday’s guest speaker, Mr. John Twomey, and current Midwest Entrepreneurs students (along with myself and co-instructor Mike Connell). Although the semester has a long way to go, it will be difficult to find a better—and more inspirational—example of what entrepreneurism can and should be than John Twomey.
It was not long into Mr. Twomey’s presentation that I found myself thinking of “The Greatest Generation,” a term coined by newsman Tom Brokaw in a best-selling book of the same name in the late 1990s to refer to the generation of Americans who grew up during the Great Depression and then went on to fight in World War II. Mr. Twomey grew up in nearby Roseville, IL and began working in the fields of his family’s farm at a very early age. He served two years fighting in World War II and then returned home to help his father run the family business. He was, as he put it yesterday, driven to be a “workaholic” by the example set by his hard-working father. Over the course of the next 60 years, the family business grew into one of the most innovative and successful grain storage and agricultural service firms not only in Western Illinois, but in the entire United States. The culmination of this local entrepreneurial success story came in late 2011 when the family business was sold to Consolidated Grain and Barge, Inc. for a large sum of money (although the family still runs a farming business, the CGB -Twomey Group, based in Smithshire, IL).
Of course, there is more to this inspiring story of regional entrepreneurial success than simply “working hard.” Below, I summarize several of the key success factors discussed by Mr. Twomey in class yesterday.
1. Business success is predicated largely on being “ready to meet opportunity.” Being ready to make the most of major opportunities when they come your way, according to Mr. Twomey, is a function of both “having your finances in order” and having a reputation for doing business fairly.
2. Successful entrepreneurism entails effectively managing risk. We have spoken in class numerous times already about the need not simply to take risk, but to take the right risks. Mr. Twomey took this notion one step further, saying that while there is risk in all business activity, one must effectively—and in the case of his business, incessantly—manage risks. Speaking, for example, of his involvement with federal government commodity programs and engaging in massive, multi-million dollar grain transactions involving very small profit margins, Mr Twomey calmly informed students that sometimes “you must do what you have to do” and take risk that others might choose to avoid.
3. Entrepreneurial success of the scale experienced by Mr. Twomey calls for a keen focus on serving customers coupled with innovation. Students in class have heard terms such as “focus on the customer” and “serve the customer” many times this young semester. Mr. Twomey reinforced this by stating that he always tried to give his customers “the best service possible at the best price we could.” However, the company would not have grown as it did and been as extraordinarily successful as it was had it not been for innovatively solving problems; both customer problems and internal operational problems. This innovation took the form, as proudly recounted by Mr. Twomey yesterday in class, of building unusually large warehouses and developing special machinery enabling his firm to (a) store larger than usual quantities of grain, (b) keep a far lower percentage of the grain from spoiling, and (c) processing the grain much faster than was customary.
4. The best of the best entrepreneurs are heavily involved in community activities and “give back” to their communities. Although the Twomey family business was always what we in business academe refer to as a “good corporate citizen,” it is what John Twomey has done in retirement that makes him stand out (and serve as a shining example of what entrepreneurism can and should be). Mr. Twomey described how his family has in recent years established a foundation which, among other things, provides for scholarships at Monmouth College and supports numerous churches and charitable organizations in Warren and Henderson Counties. What was most impressive here was not simply this “giving back” to the community, but the manner in which Mr. Twomey spoke of this endeavor as if it was his duty to do all that he can for the local and regional community. Never have I met a more humble, giving man than John Twomey.
At the end of his presentation to the class yesterday, Mr. Twomey offered a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “An institution is the shadow of a man.” John Twomey has a big shadow. He epitomizes Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” as well as what entrepreneurism can and should be. I sincerely hope that even just one student in the class is inspired to start a business and do with it even a fraction of what Mr. Twomey has done with his.
Have a nice weekend… See you in class next Tuesday for another enlightening presentation from another Midwest Entrepreneur.