Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Featured

10:48am EDT October 23, 2001

He's built a 60-employee firm servicing 1,200 clients, including Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. This year, he's expecting more than $50 million in capitalized billings.

Those numbers, however, might not be the most impressive behind Matthew Grossman, especially considering that he started the firm when he was just 21 years old.

When asked if his age has in any way been a problem in growing The Axis Group, Grossman, 28, is quick to reply, "Age to me is not a deterrent, but age to others sometimes is."

It could, for example, surface when Grossman is trying to hire someone in his 40s who has been in the business a long time. It can be a challenge for some people to overcome the stereotype, knowing they will be working for someone much younger.

Grossman, on the other hand, has never let his age get in his way.

While still in high school, the first signs of a budding entrepreneur emerged when Grossman started a silk-screening company that sold T-shirts to concerts and local organizations. From there, he entered the promotional merchandise arena. During his college years at The Ohio State University and the universities of Kansas and Arizona, Grossman's business flourished, selling promotional materials to fraternities and sororities.

In 1994, he returned to Columbus and founded Promohouse, a firm providing merchandise to clients wanting to promote their businesses.

"Everything I did was very natural," explains Grossman. "I started with clients who wanted 1,000 sweatshirts for their sales force. That evolved into helping someone achieve something through promotional products."

Grossman had the vision to take the process a step further by supporting a client's brand through promotional programs, such as creative design and branding solutions, and media relations expertise.

"We believe that promotional products, premiums and awards are an extension of someone's brand. In the world of marketing, that's important," he says.

Soon Promohouse was working with marketing, communications and graphics departments and providing advertising services, and its name was changed to The Axis Group. Today, the focus has widened to a completely integrated marketing concept.

Last fall, Grossman purchased Fekete & Co., an acquisition he believes adds a wealth of expertise to the company. In December, the company's promotions, advertising and public relations services expanded with the acquisition of an interactive group, Out of the Box Inc., bringing on another 22 people, with e-commerce and Web development expertise.

"Why would you want to work with three different companies to do the exact same thing one company can do at all the same place?" Grossman says. "One company gives you a more consistent message."

Others agree. Among The Axis Group's prestigious clients are Consolidated Stores, Bath & Body Works, Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Calfee Halter & Griswold and the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program.

Grossman demonstrates a wisdom that typically comes only with years of experience. Case in point is the Axis Attitude -- his approach to handling clients. The concept stems from the early teachings of his mentor and father, Jeff Grossman, about how to treat people.

"You only have your own personal reputation," he says. "People will judge you based on your word and how you act."

So when Grossman passionately talks about The Axis Attitude to his employees, he is addressing the basics of superior service. He includes such things as returning phone calls promptly, following up on what you say you're going to do and answering every phone call with a smile on your face.

"We have to be cognizant of the fact that no matter how great we are, they can find it elsewhere," he says. "The bottom line is that I believe very much that it is a privilege to do business with our clients. So the way we treat these people is something we want them to remember."

According to Jerry Gafford, owner of The Gafford Co. consulting firm, Grossman's superior treatment of others goes far beyond his clients.

"Matthew is a bright and sensitive young man who, while having great success in building the business, consistently reflects caring about the Columbus community and people in general," says Gafford, who serves as a member of The Axis Group's board of advisers. "There are others like that. I just don't find that many of them."

He is confident that Grossman will become even more involved in the community in the years ahead. Already, his philanthropic service has included positions on the Hillel Board of Trustees and the Wexner Center Hair Ball Committee; volunteer work at the Wexner Heritage House; and support of the Champion of Children Fund, Columbus Symphony Orchestra and United Way.

Today, most of what he does on a daily basis involves his work. Although he admits enjoying a game of basketball with his 10-year-old stepson (he got married in December), work remains his greatest hobby.

"I think this work is my hobby because if I didn't have the passion for my work, I would not be able to do what I do on a daily basis," he says.

Again, early words from his father surface: "Find a job that you have a passion for and you won't think that you are working."

Says Grossman, "You lay it all on the line, and you work your tail off, and you have fun."

Still, he is quick to attribute that success to the extremely talented people he has surrounded himself with -- a group of winners. Hiring bright, intelligent people who are anxious to succeed is critical.

"The team is so much more powerful than the individual," he adds.

When asked about his greatest accomplishment, Grossman again refers to his work: "It's every time I see a success story for a client -- every time I see a client increase sales or launch a new product or get the press they are looking for -- every time we do a good job."

And while this is a highly creative business, Grossman doesn't consider himself creative. Instead, he's the leader with vision, the one who thrives on inspiring others.

"I want people to feel energized when they are done talking to me," he says. "I want everybody around me to succeed."

How to reach: Matthew Grossman, The Axis Group, 324-9200 or www.ax-is.com

Lori Murray (lori3204@aol.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN Magazine.