Graziadio Business Review: When you left the bank and “broke out” of that lifestyle, what were your immediate priorities and what did you do?
Jeff Rigsby: My first priority was family time. From 1991 to January 1997 I commuted 65 miles each way to my mid-Wilshire office in Los Angeles. I missed much of my nine and five-year-olds’ early years. I would leave for work at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. in order to beat the traffic and would get home at 9 or 10 p.m. There was just enough time to say “Hi” to my wife and get some sleep and then do it again the next day. In addition, the last two years of that period I was also in the P/KE Executive MBA program at Pepperdine University.
I decided not to re-enter banking. With that decision made, I spent the next several months primarily with my family. I drove my kids to school everyday. I participated in school activities and coached and refereed my daughter’s soccer games.
GBR: Did you do things to take care of yourself as well?
JR: I have had a strong commitment to a good exercise program for a long time. Fortunately, we had a health club in our building in Los Angeles, and I would start my day in the gym with a five-mile run and light workout. I joined a club close to home and have kept up the same exercise routine since I left the bank, but it is a continuation of a program, not something new. I did take some time just to get away on my Harley, though, and I traveled to England, France, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Macao, and several US locations.
GBR: How did you decide what you wanted to do if it wasn’t going to be banking?
JR: I looked at a lot of options before I decided that I wanted to start my own business. On a personal level, I wanted something that would let me also have time with my family. On the business side, I made the decision early-on to move away from mature, cost control driven industries, but the specific direction of the business didn’t fully develop until the third and fourth quarter of 1997. I was most interested in opportunities that represented rapid growth and expansion. I spent several months researching different opportunities in the area of management information.
If you think about it in terms of a Maslow hierarchy, you have to determine what level of need you have. It sounds a bit esoteric, but you have to decide what is right for you. And for me, it is creating jobs and building up something. I needed something that wasn’t just cost-control and risk management.
During my career in banking I became heavily involved in data warehouse applications and developing better management decision-making models. As I continued looking for a long-term data management opportunity, I became reacquainted with a business colleague who had a thriving Organizational Development consulting practice. We both agreed that management teams today often formulate decisions in a vacuum and without considering the broader strategic implications of their decisions. We set out to write a book targeting senior executives that could be used as a guide to incorporating organization influences in the areas of strategy, design, and culture when forming business decisions. The book rapidly evolved into a diagnostic tool and became the foundation product for my new company.
GBR: Do you have any advice for someone facing your situation?
JR: There are several specific recommendations I would make to someone who is thinking of moving from a large corporate environment into an entrepreneurial pursuit.
One would be to allow plenty of time to evaluate your opportunities before jumping into anything. The transition is dramatic, so make sure that mentally you have made an absolute commitment to your new direction before you begin.
Second, identify those disciplines or skills that supported your success in the corporate world, and determine how they can best serve you in your new venture. If you can align your former skills and knowledge with your new venture, that will diminish the start-up risks associated with a new business learning curve.
The third thing I would emphasize, is the importance of creating a work environment of your own design that fits your work style. In the early stages of a start up, most work product will be developed by you or your team of associates. Make sure that the physical environment you set up is conducive to creativity and the work process. You are going to be spending a lot of time there.
In that regard, it was important to me to be close to home so that I didn’t waste a lot of time commuting, but I couldn’t go into a home office. For me, that would not be a disciplined environment. I wanted a place that was more formal and “business like.” But being that close to home lets me spend some of the time that I used to spend commuting adding value to my work, and I still have time for my family.
Finally, be sure that you have sufficient funds to avoid compromising on your initial product or service. If the first series of experiences with your customers is lackluster, it adds to your challenge to reverse those poor first impressions.
While this is not really “advice” for someone contemplating this type of move, for me one of the great discoveries I have made since leaving a large corporation is the realization that my time at work is now quality work time. It is amazing the amount of quality work that can be achieved when you are not dealing with redundant meetings and political issues. Senior executives waste a significant amount of time posturing and placing form over substance. As an entrepreneur, you identify your organization’s “value proposition” and then you drop your head and drive to it. No politics, no games, no watching your backside. It’s refreshing.
GBR: What is your business now?
JR: We provide technology-driven management information products. Our target customers are executive management teams, boards of directors, and business schools that provide executive MBA programs. The product is a self-assessment tool that identifies gaps or incongruencies that may exist among the organization’s strategic plan, organization design and organization culture. The results of the assessment provide a foundation for dialogue and debate and can support a prioritization of the issues, and ultimately, facilitate an approach to targeted solutions. We also maintain a data base of client results in order to provide peer analysis by industry sector, financial implications, and organization benchmarking.
GBR: Was it scary to begin your own business?
JR: Yes. But for me it’s scary like a roller coaster. It gets the heart pumping and you’re never quite sure what’s around the bend, but you don’t want the ride to stop. The advantage of having your own business is that you are spending your time and energy on something you believe in and have a passion for. There are no greater motivations.