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“There are never any shortcuts to success, but it is possible to follow the paths of those who have blazed a trail in their own fields of endeavor. Jan has created great success in the area of entrepreneurship.

If you wish to become an entrepreneur, you will find much in the pages of Jan’s “Go Start Something” that will guide you to success. However, anyone can benefit from these 18 chapters of experience and learn from the examples Jan describes.

I believe the stories of succeeding against great odds, sacrificing personal comfort to put everything into your business, living according to your vision, putting in a full day’s work day in and day out, and enjoying your life every moment can provide great inspiration.

One of the most powerful forces in the world is the will of men and women who believe in themselves, who dare to hope and aim high, who go confidently after the things they want from life. Jan went after his dream and accomplished it, you can also achieve great success if you follow his Rules for Entrepreneurship. Go Start Something.”

Professor Jim Gibbons, PhD
Northwood University


Executive Director, The Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UT Dallas

Jan Collmer has been a good friend for nearly twenty years. I’ve had the privilege of working with him in a variety of roles – both personal and professional – and I consider him one of the wisest, most straightforward and generous individuals I’
ve ever known. Although we’ve shared a lot over the past two decades – including a love of aviation, a close association with the US Navy, and a fascination with entrepreneurship – we don’t necessarily agree on everything. Over the years, we’ve had some spirited intellectual debates over politics, economics, religion, and the challenges of everyday life.

I was delighted when Jan asked me to write a foreword for this book – he had asked me to read an earlier draft and give him my thoughts.

I’m not quite sure why Jan picked me – but perhaps he figured that a few words from a professor of entrepreneurship might lend a bit of gravitas and academic credibility to his authorship. I’m more of a practitioner than an academic, however, with more than thirty years of “real world” experience before earning a PhD and embarking on a teaching career in my mid-fifties. Although the wisdom he imparts in the pages that follow would be valuable to students as well as aspiring entrepreneurs, Jan’s message speaks to me more directly in the context of my experience as an entrepreneur and businessman.

Let me explain. I got into academia through the back door. After about ten years as a finance and marketing officer in Fortune 200 companies in the ‘70s, I shepherded two companies through the IPO process and managed several turnarounds as a CFO or COO in the ‘80s. By the late 1980s I was running a successful turnaround management consulting practice. Sometimes, however, life has a way of taking you where you didn’t expect to go. In 1990, in a casual conversation with the Dean of the business school at UT Arlington, I admitted that I had once considered following my father’s footsteps in an academic career. The Dean baited his hook, dared me to enroll in the PhD program in his school, and eventually reeled me in. I earned my degree in 1995 and taught at Southern Methodist University for several years before I joined the UT Dallas faculty in 2001.

In the course of my doctoral studies, I was intrigued by Peter Drucker’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship, written in 1985. A couple of passages still resonate with me:

          Entrepreneurship is “risky” mainly because so few of the so-called
          entrepreneurs know what they are doing. They lack the methodology.
          They violate elementary and well-known rules.

          Unless a new venture develops into a new business and makes sure of
          being "managed,” it will not survive no matter how brilliant the
          entrepreneurial idea, no matter how much money it attracts, no matter
          how good its products, nor even how great the demand for them.

Go Start Something!!!

This book provides a rich and overflowing treasure chest of useful advice for any small businessman or would-be entrepreneur. Jan’s practical suggestions are right on target! I’ve watched him in action for years, and this is real, learned-from-experience advice. Jan has practiced what he preaches. Over my career, I’ve encountered many situations similar to those described in the pages that follow – a number of which might have been handled more effectively had I had this book in my hands at the time.

At UT Dallas, I teach an MBA class in leadership. In my opening lecture in the first class of the semester, I tell my students:

          When I got my MBA forty-five years ago, there were no courses in
          leadership. So everything I’m going to teach you, I learned along the
          way by “screwing up”!

I hope that that statement is not literally true – I’ve had some successes along the way – but it always gets a good laugh and reinforces the point that experience is frequently the best teacher. That’s why this book can be so valuable – both to experienced and practicing entrepreneurs, and to aspiring beginners just starting out on their own adventure of a lifetime.

For the beginner, this book can be an invaluable road map – helping them to avoid tripping over the “elementary and well-known rules” that Peter Drucker described. For the experienced entrepreneur, it can serve as a useful reminder and checklist of important concepts and practices, perhaps once learned, but occasionally forgotten or ignored in the heat of battle.

Along the way as you read, and may often reread, the chapters of this book, you’ll get a sense of Jan Collmer the man – and a remarkable man he is. Among his many interests, Jan has been a great supporter of the Jesuit College Preparatory School in Dallas. There is probably no better three-word summation of Jan Collmer than the school’s motto “Men for Others.” I have watched Jan walking through his company’s factory or in the employee lunchroom, stopping to chat with the workers, remembering their names, and demonstrating an abiding concern and caring for each. He has given freely of his time and financial resources to dozens of civic groups and charitable causes, and been an active supporter of the educational programs of a number of local universities.

Throughout this book, Jan makes a big deal about maintaining control and avoiding partnerships, but Jan consistently treated his employees, customers and suppliers as if they were partners – in the best sense of the word. Jan’s employees and business associates have returned the favor with exceptional loyalty. Leadership rule 5 states: “Fairness in all your dealings will serve you well in business and at home.” Honesty, integrity and fairness are a big deal to Jan – far more important than money, as the following story will illustrate.

Several years ago, Jan asked me to help him by negotiating and managing the sale of one of his companies to a prospective buyer, who also happened to be a competitor. Jan was concerned that the buyer might terminate some of the employees and asked me to include a clause in the purchase agreement that required the buyer, in the event any of the employees were terminated within the first several months after the sale, to abide by the generous severance arrangements that Jan had always provided to his employees. Within a month after the sale, the buyer terminated several of the employees without living up to the severance agreement. Within hours after hearing of this, Jan called me and asked me to calculate the difference between the two weeks’ severance the employees had been paid and what they would have been paid under the former policy. He then made up the difference out of his own pocket. “Fair is fair,” he told me, “and these people have been fair to me – I could do no less.” That is a lesson that adds an exclamation point to Leadership Rule 5.

In Leadership Rule 3 Jan advises the aspiring entrepreneur to “maintain a sense of humor.” He lives by this rule, too, although occasionally his sense of humor is appreciated only in retrospect. In Chapter 2, Jan briefly mentions one of his hobbies – that of an acrobatic “stunt pilot” performing at airshows around the country. Jan took me along for a ride as he practiced his airshow routine several years ago. It was a cold January day and I was wearing a bulky leather jacket. Before we took off, he asked me if my shoulder straps were tight. I assured him that they were. As we flew out to the practice area, he repeated his question and I again responded in the affirmative. I suspect he knew otherwise, but rather than debate the point with me, he suddenly flipped the aircraft, an Extra 300L on its back. There I was, upside down, hanging in the shoulder straps, with several inches of clearance between the seat and my backside. After letting me hang there for ten or fifteen seconds, he rolled the Extra back to level flight and I cinched myself in tightly. We had a good laugh over that.

Since that occasion, Jan has generously provided all three of my sons, each now a pilot, and a son-in-law with memorable rides in the Extra as he practiced his routines. Not for the faint of heart or anyone with a fear of heights, but great fun, nonetheless.

Leadership Rule 17 advises “don’t take yourself too seriously,” and Jan lives by that rule as well. We are both members of a group of twelve that meets twice a month for dinner and discussion. Throughout 1999, Jan was convinced that the Y2K computer glitch would wreak havoc on our ability to do business as usual, including speculation about rioting in the streets as the government was brought to its knees by computer failures. I took the opposite view – it was a technical problem, with a date certain, and adequate time to implement the necessary “fixes” before the calendar rolled into the next century. We had a spirited debate that extended over many months. As it turns out, Y2K was a non-event. In the first meeting of January 2000, Jan hosted the meeting of the group and celebrated the occasion with a cake, decorated with the image of a black crow, so that he could publicly “eat crow” over the Y2K issue.

Aviator, successful entrepreneur, businessman, civic leader, mentor, and a generous friend to many…and now an author, to boot! It’s an easy read, but take it in small doses and let the lessons sink in. There is a lifetime of wisdom in these pages. Thanks, Jan, for sharing it with all of us.

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