Lessons of a successful entrepreneur

Apr 5, 2012

Jerry Ross in the classroomJerry Ross’s time back on campus this week was busy, a little nostalgic and filled with great give-and-take with Heidelberg students.

Ross, who graduated from Heidelberg in 1972, is the executive director of the National Entrepreneur Center in Orlando, Fla. He’s held leadership positions at AT&T, Ohio Bell and Goal Systems. But for this week, he was the first-ever Entrepreneur-in-Residence with the Heidelberg School of Business.

“It’s been exciting to meet with students and see their enthusiasm and excitement,” said Ross. “And a little nostalgic to remember some of the classrooms I sat in 30 years ago.”

Dr. Haseeb Ahmed, director of the Heidelberg School of Business, designed the Entrepreneur-in-Residence program, along with its partner, the Executive-in-Residence program, to give Heidelberg students direct experience with business people who have been successful and innovative in their fields.

While on campus, Ross met with management, marketing and business classes, and talked one-on-one with business majors and communication students. He conducted two radio local interviews and spoke to students being inducted into the business honorary Tau Pi Phi. He also reconnected with the Tiffin community, delivering the keynote address at a breakfast co-sponsored by Heidelberg and the Seneca County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

At the Chamber breakfast, local business people shared ideas about how to grow Seneca County. “That’s a healthy discussion to be having now (given the new economy) … because we’re all in this together,” Ross said. While he enjoyed seeing some old friends, his interactions with students fueled his own enthusiasm.

“The students had great questions. I found them to be very knowledgeable, very sharp. They have a good understanding of the material and its application,” Ross said. “The faculty asked great questions, too.”

Today’s students, who are about to enter the workforce, grilled Ross about starting small businesses and doing business in difficult economic conditions. Because they have greater access to technology and information, their challenges are different.

Jerry speaks to a group of students

But one factor that will work in their favor – as it did for Ross – is the diversity of experiences, both inside and outside the classroom, they’re having at Heidelberg. Many of the students, he said, will work for small businesses and in doing so, they’ll be required to wear many hats.

“Employers will be looking to see how they can bring value to the company … that they’re engaged and knowledgeable,” he said. “They’ll have to be flexible and humble and move easily between departments.”

Ross’s experiences at Heidelberg prepared him for those situations. “Heidelberg allowed me to have lots of different experiences,” he recalled, adding that he worked on the student radio station WHEI and then local station WTTF, played football and participated in the theatre.

A speaker on the national stage, Ross said his time with the theatre “has served me well in my business career.” The same is true for his time with the radio stations. “Now, when I do media interviews, I rely on some of the same experiences I gained here.

“These are practical skills that I did not know 20 or 30 years ago I would rely upon. … At Heidelberg, you can try everything. It’s great leadership experience. … What I’m doing today I wouldn’t be able to do or do as well if I hadn’t had those experiences at Heidelberg. That is a real strength of this university.”

Ross recently self-published a book, “Business Shorts,” an outgrowth of his blog. The book shares short vignettes that each make a business point and guide readers toward business success.

That’s his hope for the Heidelberg students he met this week. “My goal is to accelerate their success,” he said. Often, that requires innovative and creative thinking that begins in the classroom and extends with the interview process.

“An innovative economy requires innovative thinkers,” Ross said. “If we do the same things we’ve always done, we’ll get the same things we always got.” For employers, “It’s always great to bring in new and fresh ideas.”

In all, he enjoyed being back on campus. “I’ve received as much back as I came to give,” he said.