Tag: Becoming an Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship in a Corporation

Deciding what I wanted to be when I grew up was probably one of the most difficult decisions that I had to make in my young adult life. I knew that obtaining a college degree would provide me with the most opportunities in the future. The tough part is knowing that once you start going down a particular path, you’re pretty much locked in. Your choice in professions determines which college you should attend and classes that you need to take in order to satisfy the requirements for your degree. It’s scary to think that this decision could end up locking you into a particular path for the rest of your life.

I suppose that I had a entrepreneur mindset early one. I struggled with this decision and wrestled with what career would provide me with the most satisfaction throughout my life. I decided that I wouldn’t do something just for the money. I didn’t want to spend the working days of my life waking up and going to a job that I hated. I had a passion for helping people, and my personal evaluation led me into pursuing the field of special education. My college career began at the Harrisburg Area Community College where I took the general education classes that I would need before transferring to a four year school to finish my degree. That was the plan, but of course plans change…

When I was attending West Perry High School, I had the opportunity to take courses to become a Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CCNA). Computers had always interested me and I appreciated the opportunity to understand the interconnectivity and communication from one device to another. It was also an opportunity to gain some experience to fall back on if I suddenly decided to move out to Silicone Valley. While I enjoyed the CCNA program, and ultimately became certified, I really enjoyed my Turbo Pascal class much more! It was incredibly gratifying to write code and watch the computer execute my commands.

As most college students do, I was working part-time. It was more like full-time with four different part-time jobs. One of my part-time jobs was with a regional grocery store chain. I worked in the 90,000 sqft store in several different capacities. This not only gave me the opportunity to be scheduled for more hours, but it was an opportunity to learn a little bit of everything that was happening around the store. I would build promotional displays, breakdown the nightly delivery truck to prepare it for stocking, jump on a register as a cashier, work in the dairy department stocking and rotating product, and work on special assignments from management. I was told at one point by one of the managers that I was welcome to come in anytime to work because I was always productive and found something that needed to be done.

I would regularly browse the job postings that were in the break room to see what kind of positions were available at the corporate headquarters. I had come across a listing for an internship in the Information Systems arena. I had the CCNA certification from the program in high school and I was taking college courses, so I figured that I had a pretty good shot. I figured right. This was only a six month internship, but my plan was to do my best to remain at the office and not go back to working in the stores. When I asked my manager if I should turn in my uniform shirts, he said “keep them, you’ll be back.” That was fuel for my fire to ensure that I succeeded. I wouldn’t be back…

The internship experience was much like my store experience in that I was able float around and experience the different IT departments in the office. I was like a sponge soaking up as much information as I could. I took full advantage of the opportunity and always worked the optional 40 hours a week. It was definitely an awesome experience to see how the support office interfaced with the stores and how new technology was implemented and trained. There are also polarized perspectives. The stores feel like the support office is out of touch with their needs and that they sit in the “silver palace” without a clue. The office associates feel like the stores are slow at adopting new processes and make their lives complicated by resisting change. All that I knew is that at the conclusion of the six month internship, I wanted to be on the office side of the organization.

Desperate to find a full-time position, I was willing to take any opportunity to simply get my foot in the door. There was an opening in the mailroom and I applied for the position. When I was contacted by the HR manager explaining that I did not get the role because I was overqualified, I was extremely disappointed. However, she quickly followed up with telling me that I would have been bored and that she had a different position in mind for me. Needless to say I was thrilled and surprised. The surprising part is that someone took notice of my ambition and they took the time to help me find the appropriate direction that would set me up for success. I am grateful in so many ways for the opportunity that I received and individualized attention that I received from that HR manager.

The role that she had in mind wasn’t higher on the pay scale than the position in the mailroom, but it gave me the chance to continue to hone my skills and build rapport in the organization. I was hired as the administrative assistant for the retail strategies and pricing director. One of my primary roles was a taking the competitive price checks and chart them across our different market areas and departments to benchmark our indices against our primary and secondary competitors. This information was then passed along to the merchandising teams and the executives. As I performed this duty, I discovered that it was an extremely manual and arduous process. It was also a fairly short sighted look into the data. Everything was being aggregated by department and market area, but we were receiving the information at a store level by SKU on a hardcopy report.

This became my first real project where I could make an impact and improve our insights and analysis. I only had a small introduction into programming in high school and no relational database experience, but I knew that I could doing something if I could receive the data contained in these reports electronically. At the time, the company was what I would call a mid sized retailer. We had just under 200 stores. My idea was to create a data repository with a user interface so that the merchandising teams could slice the data by any competitor or group of stores. They would also be able to drill into the department to see the category, sub category, and segment level indices based on their selections.

I didn’t really know where to start. I just knew of Microsoft Access which had the database and UI functionality all contained within a single instance. No one else in the company had spent much time with using Microsoft Access, so I purchased a book and began teaching myself during the downtime that I had throughout the day. There were definitely moments of extreme frustration and doubt that I would be able to figure out what I had set out to accomplish. After all, I didn’t have anyone else that I could talk to. All that I had way my book and a few sparse forums on the Internet.

The good news is that I was able to do what I set out to do and the competitive pricing application was well received. I began seeking other opportunities to convert manual paper processes to a digital format. The conversions improved productivity through input validations, integration of known information, and the electronic transmission of data. An example of one of the solutions was a report that we used to email to all of our stores on a weekly basis. The report was a large file and the stores had to filter through the document to find the information that was pertinent to their particular store. I developed a program that would parse the data, create a store specific file, and automatically email the stores their individualized report. I can still feel the excitement upon successfully executing this program.

Merchandising Systems was born. I had gone from a store associate to an intern to an administrative assistant to a merchandising systems analyst. The merchandising systems analyst was a brand new role created specifically for the work that I was doing within the organization. This is an example of entrepreneurship within a multi-billion dollar company. Identifying a need and working to fill it. I have been fortunate throughout my corporate career to rarely hold a “job” where I would repetitively do something day in and day out.

Needless to say, my aspirations for continuing my higher education in elementary special education dwindled. I had a taste of the business world and I was hooked. While it is significantly different, I was helping people and improving their day to day work-life. I could positively impact people and the bottom line through software at a magnitude that I could have never imagined. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time with the right background to grow within a company during this evolution into a digital world. Gone were the days of mainframe reports piled on desks and filling up filing cabinets. All of the information that associates needed was available on their desktops in a clean user friendly interface with dynamic views of the data. I eventually grew the merchandising systems department of one to a team of 22. We moved from Microsoft Access to more powerful database servers and .NET for application development.

We were highly innovative and focused on the user experience and productivity. The amount of time and money that the merchandising systems department saved in man hours by automation was equivalent to hundreds of workers and hundreds of millions of dollars that would have been required to complete the work in the past. Not to mention the increased opportunities that and business growth that resulted from our solutions. I like to believe that I would be a millionaire from the solutions that I helped to implement and think about what I could have done differently. Unfortunately, if I were a third-party consultant, I wouldn’t have had the insight to the opportunities that helped me to grow the team that I grew within the company.

I am an entrepreneur and I always have been. I have now had the opportunity to work within a fortune 500 company and leave a legacy that will continue on long after I have moved on to my next venture. I am now working in the capacity of a Business Consultant within the organization. It’s a gratifying experience to be able to walk the floor of the office and see the tools that I built being used to drive the company forward and helping to make people’s jobs more enjoyable, productive, and rewarding.

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Preamble: It All Begins With Your Parents

Like it or not, who you are to some extent begins with your parents. If that’s bad news to you, then the good news is that you are not your parents and you can control you own life. Take the good and learn from the bad.

My mother and father grew up in a fairly depressed area of Northern Pennsylvania. Long before they were born, the area was known for manufacturing and coal. That boon came and went and now people are simply trying to get by. My parents recognized that they did not have very many opportunities if they stayed, and they wanted more for their eventual family. So they decided to move away in search of better employment and quality of life. They headed to South Central Pennsylvania and settled in the suburbs just outside of the Harrisburg area. The rolling hills of Perry County was going to be their new homestead. My mother and father moved into a trailer sitting on the land where they would eventually build the home that I grew up in. At this time, you had to save a 50% downpayment to build a house and interest rates for loans were upwards of 15%. 

Both of my parents began their careers working for the State of Pennsylvania at the Liquor Control Board. My dad would go on to hold several different positions within the State Government before ultimately retiring. My mother had a break in her career to raise my brother, sister, and I then later returned to the Liquor Control Board where she ultimately retired.

My parents have three amazing children, of which I am the middle child. We were, what I considered, a pretty average middle class family. Both of my parents worked hard to provide the necessities and even the luxuries, like braces for our teeth and a private education in a Catholic School. We had a comfortable three bedroom ranch house with a huge yard to play in as kids. The only struggle was the one bathroom that the five of us had to share.

Previously I mentioned that my mother took a break in her career to raise the family, but in reality it wasn’t really a break. She worked even harder during that time and, looking back, my parents made a lot of sacrifices for the things that I took for granted growing up. My mother gave up her 8-4 office job to be at home for us when we got off of the bus and to volunteer at school functions. At night, after my dad would get home from work, she would head off to her part-time job working at the local pizza shop or Hill’s (the now defunct department store chain).

I don’t tell my parents often enough, but I have a lot of admiration for their hard work and dedication. Perhaps that’s were I get my work ethic and unyielding desire to achieve. I know that my childhood was far from rough in comparison to others out there. I believe that it is because my parents took the initiative to give my siblings and I opportunities that they didn’t have. Had they stayed in their hometown, I can’t imagine where I would be today.

We all come from somewhere. While my childhood was not filled with seemingly insurmountable adversity, I didn’t grow up with the proverbial silver spoon in my mouth. My parents were not business owners and their approach to finances was to simply save money in bank accounts and IRAs, which is what we are all told to do. We are told to do well in school, go to college, and get a good job working for someone else. Check, check, and check. I have done all of those things and I know that there is more out there…

Regardless of our upbringing, we can become whoever we want to be! The struggle that we all face is going against the grain. Surround yourself with people that add value to you life and share similar dreams and aspirations. That’s the purpose of this site. We can all help one another succeed and break through the barriers of norm that we are surrounded by.

Perry County Land.jpg

15 Acres of Land in Perry County that I own about 1 mile from where I grew up

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