The Forsythe file Featured

8:38am EDT January 24, 2005
Born: 1941, Chicago

Education: B.S. in economics, Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), where he has endowed the Richard A. Forsythe Chair in Entrepreneurship. Graduated at 19 years old.

First job: "Peddler" for IBM; went to work for IBM before I could buy a drink.

Boards: Wilmer Ophthalmology Center at Johns Hopkins; Prentiss Women's Hospital, Northwestern University; Thomas C. Page Center for Entrepreneurship, Miami University

Residence: Winnetka

What is the greatest business lesson you've learned?

Surround yourself with good people.

What is the greatest business challenge you've faced, and how did you overcome it?

Giving up power; giving up authority, delegating. Trying not to be a control freak. I'm not sure I'm past it yet.

You have to be willing to let people make a mistake. You cannot put so many rules in place that you take away the opportunity to succeed. Thomas Watson at IBM had a great saying that I've always remembered. He said, 'Better to shoot for success and fail than to shoot for failure and succeed.'

I give people an opportunity and I say, 'Go do it.' If they make a mistake, I say, 'It's OK, don't make it again. Make a different mistake.' Don't walk around on eggshells.

Whom do you admire most in business and why?

The person I admire the most is dead now. His name was Ken Pontikes. He started and ran a company called Comdisco Inc., which recently went broke. He was the brightest man I ever met and the most humble man I ever met and the most loyal man I ever met.

He made a ton of money, and we went and bought him a pair of golf shoes one year because he wore the same old pair of golf shoes. He loved to make it, but he'd hate to spend it -- he'd give it away.

He had the ability to take a tough, complex situation and reduce it to very simple terms that everybody could understand. I think that takes great intelligence to be able to do that. He made a difficult problem into a simple problem. I strive to do that; I can't do it as well as he could.