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Elements of Execution Key to Entrepreneurial Success

The central message from the panel at the Center for Entrepreneurship Development's 3rd Annual Discussion Forum on Entrepreneurship was this: The key to being a successful entrepreneur requires execution of the business plan, a process thatis directly related to leadership, diligence, and team effort.

The theme of this fall's discussion was "Entrepreneurial SUCCESS is all about EXECUTION." Sitting on the panel was University of Illinois alumnus and former Goldman Sach's Partner & Advisory Director Joseph Gutman, Champaign real estate magnate Jon "Cody" Sokolski, and Silicon Valley icon Kanwal Rekhi. For over an hour and a half , the three business leaders discussed their methods to success and offered advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.

"It helps to have vision. If you don't know where you're going, how will you put a plan into effect?" said Sokolski in response to a question about proper execution. Joseph Gutman backed his statements, emphasizing the importance of following through with ideas.

"You have to have the passion, desire, and focus to make it work," he said, noting that the number of people with good ideas is significantly greater than the number of people with the determination to promote and execute them. The panel also upheld the importance of being a team player.

"In (the) technology business, it's all about people," began Rekhi. "You have to have people as sharp as or smarter than yourself," he added, stating that it is bad business to let the fear of being upstaged prevent one from seeking help from the most qualified individuals. Sokolski put this idea in simpler terms, saying that it is not helpful to have "low" people on the team and that there is strength in numbers.



"When you start, you have to wear all the hats," Sokolski said. But once a business is in motion, specialization amongst team members is the key to efficiency. However, Kanwal made sure to advise future entrepreneurs to "be on top of details" when delegating work. Even if it is not possible for a leader to perform all tasks, he or she needs to be knowledgeable about the nature of the work.

When asked to share advice about how students can prepare for careers as entrepreneurs, Kanwal told the audience that it is imperative to "become a generalist, not a specialist." Being flexible is a step in the right direction. Knowing how to sell ideas and recruit investors is also crucial.

Sokolski's message stressed high levels of confidence. Students need to feel comfortable approaching employees, make the best use of their time, and leave self-defeating attitudes out of the equation. They should also believe in their idea 150%.

During the forum, Gutman, Rekhi, and Sokolski each emphasized the importance of risk taking. Gutman assured the audience that business includes many ups and downs, and entrepreneurs "have to be ready to sacrifice." Rekhi was even blunter, saying that entrepreneurship is in a person's blood and there is no room for the weak-hearted.

"If you can't ride the rollercoaster, you might as well stay out of the business."

The Center for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) was established in 2002 to serve as a focal point and to coordinate the various entrepreneurial initiatives of the College of Business. The Annual Discussion Forum is an integral part of CED's mission - to educate and enhance the appreciation and understanding of entrepreneurship among the College of Business and the University of Illinois community stakeholders.

Kanwal Rekhi.Joseph Gutman.Jon Sokolski


--Rosalyn Yates
November 2004