Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Entrepreneurship is Fat!

Or is it Phat? Anyway, Bob and Joe Riley, father and son entrepreneurs, were the most recent speakers at our Entrepreneurial Leadership class at Drake University. Bob is founder, president and CEO (why do we continue to have presidents and CEOs?) of Feed Energy Inc., a 30-year old "premier supplier of energy solutions for the livestock industry." Joe Riley is Operations Manager of FEC Solutions LLC, a "new energy company" that is developing ways to improve ethanol production and otherwise foster and enhance energy production from ag-resources. Very cool guys; I first met Bob as he walked through a gathering repeating "Cigars and port, 801 Grand; cigars and port, 801 Grand." I followed him to the steakhouse at 801 Grand where we discovered mutual interests including cigars and port and more.

Feed Energy processes fats and oils and produces highly specialized feeds; Bob used to have business cards for "Fats R Us." Under his leadership the company has grown to more than $40 million in sales and is an innovative leader in high energy feed production. FEC Solutions is a new company working to extend Feed Energy's expertise into the fast-developing alternative energy industry with a focus on improving production margins and ensuring access to safe, clean energy.

Bob claims he was forced into being an entrepreneur when he acquired acquired Feed Energy in 1986. For the first three years it was 19 hour days and a lot of OJT(on-the-job-training). Fueled by insatiable curiosity, a willingness to risk failing, and a contagious belief in success he was able to cut back to 15 hour days and build a business where quality comes first, not only in its products but also in how they treat employees and customers. Joe discussed the challenges of starting a new business based on new technology in an industry in transition. Sounds like fun!

Bob and Joe shared their thoughts and advice on what it takes to be a successful entrepreneurial leader with our class.


  • Be willing to be broke--money is only important for survival; it is not the goal
  • Focus on quality--Take any other approach and you will fail.
  • Develop a weltanshauung or world view (I had to look that one up).
  • Mange risk--t have an intimate knowledge of your costs, your market, your products.
  • Pay attention to the details...of your process and your plan.
  • Be confident--deliver value.
  • Be curious--look for better ways to make it, sell it, communicate it, improve it.
Their motto (or mantra): Profit is the byproduct of quality.

  • Stay focused--on your business and your goals; filter out the noise.
  • Get and stay organized--do the right thing, the right way, the first time.
  • Be flexible [adaptable]. Things change; you must too.
  • Follow through. Execute.
  • Be persistent. NEVER GIVE UP.

They then added some advice for approaching the future:

  • Get out of the classroom and start a business.
  • Graduate.
  • Get a job and learn the ropes on someone else's nickel.
  • Get fired from a job; experience dealing with failure.
  • Find a Baby Boomer with money, because money is hard to come by.
  • Gamble or calculate? Indian poker or blackjack? Know the difference.
  • Build your own model for developing, choosing and starting a business.
  • Save the world. Big problems need solutions from young entrepreneurs.
Bob then presented the students with a real choice:

They have found a new metal with unique properties. They have determined that it can increase ethanol production significantly. They have a client willing to use it, and they can be operational with it in less than 6 months at a cost of $50,000.


Experiments have shown that the metal also has unique properties to target and destroy cancer cells. It will take $50,000,000 to commercialize and 10 years to complete all trials and tests.

Which would you choose?

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