The Alter File Featured

10:50am EDT December 28, 2005
Born: The East Oak Lane section of Philadelphia

Education: Temple University

First job: Working in the family business, Advanta Corp., which was called TSO Financial when his father founded it in 1951

What is your greatest business challenge?
Finding and motivating good people. Always, whatever it is in life, the most important thing is people.

What is the most important business lesson you have learned?
Be humble. Someone is doing better than you somewhere all the time. You just may not know it yet.

Whom do you admire most in businesss and why?
I admire my parents. My dad founded the business and he worked out of a room the size of a closet for the first five years. He built a business that became a multibillion-dollar enterprise years later. During that time, my mom, who was a teacher, supported the family.

Describe your leadership style.
If you try to shine the spotlight on other people, it’s amazing how bright it gets. If you shine it only on yourself, it gets small and people not in it wonder what their contribution is. At Advanta, it’s always “we,” “us,” “team” and “Advanta,” not “I” or “me.” I’m not an I-me-mine type of person. That is a life philosophy that also applies to management and business.

Alter on small business: There are plenty of global metrics that talk about the importance of small business, and they are all true. And these owners are people. They are individuals with a couple of employees, toiling away at their passion. And when they are lucky, they earn a living at it.