CHESTERTON — Your employees make your business. Treat clients as people, not just customers. And never lose sight of your vision and values.
Business owners, young and old, shared that wisdom Thursday during a panel discussion and networking event at Sand Creek Country Club.
It was there, several years earlier during a high school dance, that Wade Breitzke discovered his love of music. So he created +WeCreate Media/27 Entertainment, now serving international clients.
“I come from a family of entrepreneurs,” Breitzke said. “I received incredible encouragement along the way from many, many people.”
Megan Applegate joined the accounting business her father started, Applegate & Company. Her father’s best advice: When your clients do well, you do well.
More than 160 people attended the morning program, called “Concept to Classic.” It was designed to bring together successful, long-standing businesses and those just getting started.
Among the “classic” or older businesses was Urschel Laboratories, Inc., which moved from Valparaiso to Chesterton in 2015.
“Your employees are your number one asset,” said President and CEO Rick Urschel, whose great-grandfather started the company in 1910. “If you don’t realize that, you’re going to be out of employees soon.”
The Duneland Chamber of Commerce, working with the Northwest Indiana chapter of SCORE, a business mentoring organization, sponsored the program. Other sponsoring partners included the Valparaiso, Michigan City, and Greater Portage chambers of commerce.
Noting that only half of Indiana small businesses survive past the first five years, Jim Hubbard, chairman of the local SCORE chapter, said, “It’s always advisable to have a roadmap.”
That roadmap, business leaders agreed, includes helping your community.
“Try to keep the dollars local,” said Ric Federighi of Michigan City radio station WIMS-AM. “Take care of people, make a difference in the community, and try to give back.”
“People are more important than the business,” counseled Mark Chamberlain of Lakeside Wealth Management Group. “Create a physical culture and a social culture in the office, and have that culture spill over into the public.”
All businesses make mistakes, but, as Federighi noted, “Learn from your mistakes. Always treat employees with respect. Follow that dream.”
After leaving the Air Force, Eric Zosso started Zoseco Coworking, a Valparaiso-based coworking space business for start-ups and professionals on the move.
Despite some challenges, including a LaPorte office that eventually closed, Zosso said it has been a “fun journey.”
Zosso did warn, “It’s really easy to get caught up in day-to-day operations and miss your long-term vision.”
Lauren Vogelsang, whose parents opened AJ’s Pizza Co. in 1982, has seen the pizzeria grow from 18 to 48 employees, including teenagers whom she must now train.
“I never realized how influential my parents were to all their employees,” Vogelsang said.
Lynn Duttlinger, a certified public accountant from Michigan City, enjoyed the networking opportunities the event offered. Besides hearing from veteran businesspeople, Duttlinger said, “I loved hearing the excitement of young ideas.”