There are 75,000 businesses in Northeast Ohio. So what makes these people so special?
It's not their background or education. You'll read about the 25 finalists in this issue, and while some had companies handed to them by parents, others started from scratch with nothing but an idea.
It also isn't economics. Ken Conley founded a computer services business with his wife and another couple more than 15 years ago after being laid off-with about 15,000 other people-from IBM.
On the other hand, Carol Latham quit a perfectly good-and high-paying-job less than 10 years ago to start a company with no money in an industry where she was completely unknown.
If it sounds like a strange thing to do, I'm sure Latham had plenty of moments, when she was short on cash and customers, when she thought the same thing.
But when Intel started endorsing Latham's heat-dissipating products to all computer makers, her company suddenly looked like one of those overnight successes we all dream about.
For the most part, these entrepreneurial superstars aren't poets and dreamers, either.
Who, after all, wakes up in the middle of the night with a passion to become a world leader in producing rubber gaskets for doors and windows?
But 30 years ago, Dale Foland invested $7,000 to start Lauren International and sure enough, today it's a world leader in continuous rubber seals.
But there are some things that these successful business people do have in common.
For one, they all carry a presence of intensity and intelligence. You don't need to know them well to understand that these are simply people who know how to get things done.
Also, if you talk to them at length, you'll find they are all deeply concerned that their customers like them. It may sound like an obvious point. But how many times can you recall looking at a vendor's bill and thinking, "Wow! I'm really happy to pay this." That's the standard by which they operate.
While their personalities are varied-ranging from cheerful to sullen-all are passionate. You'll find that out if you start asking some detailed questions about their business. The eyes flash, the words start to move faster and there's suddenly a new energy to the conversation-even if it's about supplying axle parts for the heavy truck aftermarket.
These people also have outside interests. They have families and hobbies that they pursue with the same kind of enthusiasm that they put into their business.
And contrary to what the popular press often seems to assume about business owners, they are not necessarily in it to get rich. And when they do start making money, many are inclined to share it-not only with churches, charities and the community, but with their employees.
And finally, if you ask them the key to success, every one will say something to this effect: "It's the people. I couldn't have done it without the help of my team."
So what do the most successful entrepreneurs have in common?
Simply the knowledge that being good in business means being good in life.
Bob Rosenbaum can be reached at (216) 529-8584, or by e-mail at email@example.com.