Advice from three big-business big shots
You've had some ups and some downs since starting your small business, and when the going is particularly tough, you wish someone would just step in to give you some advice. It would be nice, too, if this mentor were wildly successful -- someone like Elon Musk, Brad Smith or Richard Branson. Those guys know how to do more than just run a business. They know the secrets to drive it to success. Not satisfied with "millionaire" status, these extraordinary businessmen claim standing in the billionaire brotherhood and are listed in Forbes 400 Richest People in America.
Running a billion-dollar company tends to keep a guy's plate full, so Musk, Smith and Branson don't have the time to take on protégés one-on-one. But they do like to give back, and don't mind sharing what they've learned about starting and running a business, and seeing it through to success.
Smith has been the CEO and president of Intuit since 2008, having dedicated his work to improving the financial lives of Intuit's customers. Before taking the helm of the company, Smith led the small business division and served around 7 million small businesses with Quickbooks, Quicken, Intuit accounting software and other financial tools.
Smith took his small-business savvy to head the company and lead it through a tough economy, keep employees happy while serving large and small companies with equal care. In a LinkedIn article, Smith wrote about the best business advice he ever received, which was from his father at his college graduation.
Smith wrote that when choosing the right entrepreneurial path, there are no make or break decisions. It's all about trial and error. He gives four guideposts to live by when faced with any business decision:
- "Do what makes your heart beat faster." Find something you're passionate about.
- "Surround yourself with people smarter than you." You will constantly learn and grown.
- "Volunteer for assignments no one else wants." Distinguish yourself from others.
- "Make sure you can pay your bills." Bills are like promises. Whether they are financial or not, always keep your promises.
Imagine being able to tap the mind of the man who's designed rockets and cutting edge electric cars. You'd think with such talent and genius, life would be a bed of roses for someone like Elon Musk, but you'd be wrong. Not that being CEO for Tesla Motors is a hardship, but Musk points to his early days with SpaceX, the spacecraft company he founded and made a success before moving on to the automobile industry. Elon Musk reports that the first three rocket launches failed -- that certainly puts any business's day to day difficulties into perspective. Musk's advice to entrepreneurs, as was captured in a recent Business Insider interview, is to expect tough times in the first few years and work through them. Focus your resources on one or two areas and don't spread yourself too thin. Musk also stresses the importance of building a supportive team of people who have an interest in your business and the ability to help you meet your goals.
Richard Branson is one of the most inspirational big shots on the planet -- soon to be in the universe. Already packing his bags to head off into space, Branson has led many businesses to success in the music, finance, telecommunications and now the space travel industries. The advice he gives entrepreneurs on Venture Beat is "Screw it -- just do it!" Branson likes taking on a challenge, and says if you've got a fantastic concept that will enhance people's lives, run with it. He doesn't deny that his company, Virgin, has seen its lean times, but he encourages business owners to fight through the hard times and come out on the other side, even if it means going up against the "big" guys. Branson says that focusing on the quality of the product or services you provide and staffing your team with quality people is the formula for success.
How innovation is transforming government
According to Washington Technology’s Top 100 list, Leidos is the largest IT provider to the government. But as Lieutenant General William J. Bender explains, “that barely scratches the surface” of the company’s portfolio and drive for innovation.
Bender, who spent three and a half decades in the military, including a stint as the U.S. Air Force’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), has seen action in the field and in technology during that time, and it runs in the family. Bender’s son is an F-16 instructor pilot. So it stands to reason Bender Senior intends to ensure a thriving technological base for the U.S. Air Force. “What we’re really doing here is transforming the federal government from the industrial age into the information age and doing it hand-in-hand with industry,” he says.
The significant changes that have taken place in the wider technology world are precisely the capabilities Leidos is trying to pilot the U.S. Air Force through. It boils down to developing cyberspace as a new domain of battle, globally connected and constantly challenged by the threat of cybersecurity attacks.
“We recognize the importance of the U.S. Air Force’s missions,” says Bender, “and making sure they achieve those missions. We sit side-by-side with the air combat command, intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance infrastructure across the Air Force. There are multiple large programs where the Air Force is partnering with Leidos to ensure their mission is successfully accomplished 24/7/365. In this company, we’re all in on making sure there’s no drop in capability.”
That partnership relies on a shared understanding of delivering successful national security outcomes, really understanding the mission at hand, and Leidos’ long-standing relationship of over 50 years with the federal government.
To look at where technology is going, Bender thinks it is important to look back at the last 10 to 15 years. “What we’ve seen is a complete shift in how technology gets developed,” he says. “It used to be that the government invested aggressively in research and development, and some of those technologies, once they were launched in a military context, would find their way into the commercial space. That has shifted almost a hundred percent now, where the bulk of the research and development dollars and the development of tech-explicit technologies takes place in the commercial sector.”
“There’s a long-standing desire to adopt commercial technology into defense applications, but it’s had a hard time crossing the ‘valley of death’ [government slang for commercial technologies and partnerships that fail to effectively transition into government missions]. Increasingly we’re able to do that. We need to look at open architectures and open systems for a true plug-and-play capability. Instead of buying it now and trying to guess what it’s going to be used for 12 years from now, it should be evolving iteratively.”