The Heisley File Featured

11:33am EDT December 17, 2003
Born: 1937 in Washington D.C.

Education: B.S., business, Georgetown University, 1960

First job: Newspaper route from age 6 through high school

Career moves: Started at IBM, then moved to RCA in 1960, where he rose to vice president of marketing; then executive vice president at Sperry Univac until 1973. President of a small Pennsylvania manufacturing firm until 1979, when he formed Heico Cos. LLC.

Boards: Board of directors, Georgetown University and Illinois Institute of Technology, as well as several portfolio companies

Lives: St. Charles

What is the greatest business lesson you've learned?
That integrity matters. That's the biggest lesson I learned.

What has been the greatest business challenge you have faced, and how did you overcome it?
The greatest challenge I ever faced was when I took $150,000 of equity from my house, borrowed more than $10 million, and interest rates in 1979, '80 ramped up. We were paying 23 percent, and I had to straighten around a company that hadn't made money in eight years.

When I went in, one of the mistakes I made is I did not realize every August the whole plant shut down. When I put the company together, I had about $250,000 surplus cash available, and virtually all of it was gone by the end of July.

We were operating on a shoestring for the month of August, and we lost a little bit more in the month of August, and then September we broke even, and we've never had a negative month since.

Whom do you admire most in business and why?
David Sarnoff. I admire him because he was the guy who started RCA, which was the first company I worked for. I admire him the most because when you list the things that he did ... probably he and (Thomas) Edison impacted more Americans than any other human being.

For example, he's the guy that created broadcast radio and broadcast TV. He was the guy who was responsible for television and color television. He was the guy who was responsible for talking movies. He was the guy who was responsible for the whole concept of broadcast.

There were a number of things that he did with RCA during the '30s through the '60s that were just revolutionary to American industry.