Going national

The 2001 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award International Conference takes place this month in Palm Springs, Calif. and Northeast Ohio will be well represented, with nine regional winners SBN Magazine profiled in our July issue doing battle against almost 500 others from 44 cities across the country.

Scott Keglovic, co-founder and creative director of Arras Group and a Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur Of The Year Award winner last year, attended last year’s national ceremony and says it was such a valuable motivational and networking experience that he plans to attend again this year, and maybe every year. Keglovic and co-founder Jim Hickey took top honors at the 2000 Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur Of The Year Award in the Marketing and Communications category.

The firm, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, has grown 428 percent in the last five years and expects $85 million in billings this year.

”One of things we took away from the conference was that you’ve got to keep pedaling, you’ve got to keep pushing the bar,” Keglovic says. ”You have to keep motivating your employees, you’ve got to empower people to move to the next level.”

Keglovic sat down with SBN recently and talked about his experiences at the conference and some of the lessons he brought back to Cleveland with him.

SBN: What was the main impression you came away with from last year’s Entrepreneur Of The Year International Conference?

Keglovic: The main thing that my partner, Jim, and I came away with was that there was a consistent message through everyone that participated that each one of the finalists had a passion for what they did, and that this was something they truly loved. They had a drive that was related more toward a sports athlete, but from a business perspective.

There was a feeling that if you could dream it, you could do it. When you boil it down to one thing, it was really passion, and passion in the fact that you could actually create your own set of circumstances and take them to market.

As an entrepreneur, I can speak for my partner also, it takes a commitment from us, but it also takes a commitment of others to make a business succeed. That’s one thing as an agency or a business in today’s market, you’ve got to have people that are team players, that are really focused on the greater good of the whole company.

We just got off of our 10th anniversary and had a party for 900 people, and what that was all about was really to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who helped us get here. It came off the shirttails of the Entrepreneur (Of The Year Award) a year ago.

What did you think of your competition at the conference?

There weren’t a lot of marketing firms, which was interesting because (the judges) are looking for companies that are pretty unique. (These companies) have to have a specific differentiation of selling ideas, how they’re going to market themselves and how they market their product.

But to even be considered in the light of some of those corporations that were much larger than ours was a fantastic thing.

We’re going back this year again to the conference because Jim and I got a lot out of it last year. It’s going to be an annual thing where we can rub elbows with some of the up-and-coming companies and also there’s a lot of good knowledge we can gather from attending.

You’re really on the cutting edge of some of the new philosophies of how business is going to be run over the next year and some of the hot things that are happening. For example, the dot-com market was very hot last year, and you can see that some of the people that spoke at the conference and some of the people that participated have had some rough times over the course of the past year.

What lessons did you start using when you got back to Cleveland?

More than anything, it was a motivating four or five days. You get back and compare yourself to what the speakers spoke about and the criteria that they set for themselves before they succeeded at a national level and became players on the stock market.

Even though we’re a smaller company, we found we were doing some of those same things here, which was encouraging. But as an entrepreneur, you get this business started, and you’ve got all this stuff wrapped into it, but at some point you’ve got to rely on others to carry the load and deliver for your clients. Otherwise, you won’t go anywhere.

A couple of things that we’re implementing in terms of the agency are more motivation tools for our employees. One of things we’re going to be doing is ”The Great Game of Life,” which is a four-day sabbatical where the whole agency will go out on a ropes course and we’ll do a lot of interacting and activities.

It’s going to be one those things where, as an agency and as a group of people, it will be learning that as my teammate, I can trust you and we can talk freely. It will be team building and we’ll build stronger company values. As a company, we have to empower our people to have the same type of vision that Jim and I have.

And as you empower those people, you have to give them the ability to take chances, take risks, fail and succeed.

What would you recommend to somebody going to this year’s conference?

Make sure you network a lot, meet a lot of people. Remember that you’re really a sponge. Jim and I really didn’t know what to expect.

We knew we were sort of getting honored, but we also didn’t realize the potential and level of which a lot of these companies had succeeded. When Jim and I came back to the agency to really talk about our experience, we sat down with the staff and we said, ‘It’s not about us, it’s about the organization. We might have been the guys that have been pedaling the bike, but we’re not going to be the guys that are going to finish the race.’

Another thing we learned and gathered is that process is so important to any business. Financial processes, business processes, that sort of thing, that as a entrepreneur, you’re doing everything, but as you grow and as you need to evolve, you need to have those strict processes in place to really move forward and get to the next level. How to reach: Arras Group, (216) 621-1601

Morgan Lewis Jr. ([email protected]) is senior reporter at SBN Magazine.