Entrepreneurs Ponder What's Next
STANFORD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS—Successful entrepreneurs are like everybody else. They don't know what to do with their lives. They aren't sure how to balance meaning and money when it comes to work. And they have trouble managing their time.
The everyday nature of their worries is remarkable in light of their accomplishments. They've started companies, invented the PC-FAX modem, and taught themselves molecular biology. Yet, when slightly more than a dozen of them gathered to talk about the rest of their lives during the second Alumni Entrepreneur Reunion sponsored by the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies on May 9 at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, they sounded like any other group of achievement-oriented people grappling with life's next steps.
"I find myself positioned very well to do more of the same," said a 1996 MBA graduate.
He wonders, "What will I want to have done?"
The youngest among them showed the most angst. They've had a few years to play golf, hang out with their children, and dabble in angel investing. Some of them teach and others joined new companies or nonprofits in an attempt to put their skills to use. It can be fun, some of them said, but does fun lead to fulfillment?
The older alumni seemed to have lost their fear of regret, if they ever had it. They were easier on themselves, taking obvious pleasure in each other's catamaran trips and cross-country bike expeditions—interludes between chairmanships of companies and full-time philanthropy, teaching, or investing.
That's roughly the path taken by John Morgridge, MBA '57, the former chairman of Cisco Systems, and a lecturer in management at the Graduate School of Business, who led the alumni discussion. When he left Cisco, he and his wife rode bicycles cross-country, stopping unannounced at statehouses to visit governors along the way. They only met with one; the governor of South Dakota hunted for them all over town after Morgridge left his Cisco card with the receptionist. Now Morgridge devotes his time to conservation efforts, international development, university donations, and teaching. He doesn't appear to be weighted with regret, but if he thinks about it he might have enjoyed politics if he'd made time by leaving Cisco sooner.
"It's probably the only thing that looking back I have missed," he said.
The seasoned entrepreneurs had some advice for their younger colleagues.
"Lighten up," said Michael Lutz, MBA '79, a physicist-turned-inventor-turned-sailor-turned-angel investor-turned-teacher. He recommends packing many careers into a single lifetime, but insists on enjoying the ride.
"I do see too many of my friends just doing what they've done all their life," he said. "Think about doing something totally new."
But don't think too hard, said Ken Saxon, MBA '88, an entrepreneur who sold his company and now volunteers for nonprofits and does some angel investing. You also have to give yourself a break.
"If I'm always looking for the perfect thing, I don't act," he said.