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Interviews


Tom Ortolf T'77
President, Colorado Meadowlark Corporation

Visit Date: September 26, 2003

Center for Private Equity and Entrepreneurship (CPEE): What kind of people are most successful and happy as entrepreneurs?

Ortolf: Based on my own experience and on what I have seen in others, successful and happy entrepreneurs are passionate about their ideas, and there is nothing else they see themselves pursuing. They do it because they truly believe that their ideas will work and, although the hope of financial success is strong, it is not necessarily the main driver. The uncertainty and the risk factors are present at all times, and entrepreneurs view them as opportunities rather than as obstacles. When you are certain about something, your decisions are more reactionary; but in times of uncertainty, those decisions become levers that provide more control and responsibility over a final outcome.

CPEE: What do you enjoy most about your entrepreneurial experience?

Ortolf: I never intended to work for anyone other than myself. I enjoy the control, the freedom to make decisions, and the clear view that I have of the direct and immediate impact of my choices.

CPEE: What do you enjoy least?

Ortolf: Sometimes, the direct and immediate impact of my decisions does not produce the desired outcome and I must accept the responsibility for it. Although this is not easy or enjoyable, I am able to know right away the reason why something did not turn out as I intended it. I can then take corrective action sooner.

CPEE: You mentioned that entrepreneurs must thrive under uncertainty and high risk of failure. What is your view of failure?

Ortolf: An individual fails only when he or she gives up on the dream. True, it is always difficult to bounce back from a setback because of all the physical, mental, and emotional effort invested in pursuing that dream. However, in my opinion, an undesired result brings with it many opportunities. The entrepreneur will always learn from these setbacks, find the opportunities they bring, and act to take advantage of them so as to still move toward his or her ultimate vision.

CPEE: What if you don't have that brilliant idea? You just know that sooner or later you want to have your own business. Do you do it right out of the chute, or do you again find someplace where you make mistakes which will be nonfatal and where you'll have other people to learn from?

Ortolf: Opportunities abound out there for entrepreneurial individuals. If you know you want to be your own boss but do not exactly know what you want to do, my advice is to be open minded and observant. You are at Tuck to equip yourself with the necessary tools and to prepare yourself to pounce on the opportunity when it comes. If you decide to work for someone else first, be sure to go somewhere where your special abilities will be appreciated and nurtured rather than thwarted. Make sure the job you choose will be your first step toward your ultimate dream.

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