Words of wisdom from Delaware leaders

Pedro Moore of Innovation Ventures joins other Delaware leaders in sharing his best career advice.

By Kathy Canavan 
Special to Delaware Business Times

Newspaper articles have dubbed Rebecca Byrd a “superstar lobbyist” and “one half of a lobbying powerhouse.”

The attorney-lobbyist was born into the business as the daughter of longtime lobbyist Bobby Byrd, and Legislative Hall watchers say she’s a natural.

“She’s probably the best lobbyist I’ve ever run into, and I’ve also worked in the Maryland legislature,” said Stephen Crockett, who was a legislative aide when Byrd was coming up.

“She has an ability to see business from an entrepreneurial view and from a corporate view, and there are not that many people who can do that. She knows the personalities, she knows the processes, and she understands the forces at play.”

“Some of it is her personality,” Crockett said. “She is intelligent and warm, so she builds good relationships, which is key to any kind of business.”

So what’s the best business advice anyone ever gave Byrd? She couldn’t narrow it to one nugget of advice.
“There are two,” she said. “The first is a quote from Ronald Reagan: ‘There’s no limit to what a person can do if they don’t care who gets the credit.’ The other one is actually my Dad’s: “What matters most is what you learn after you know everything.”

We asked other successful Delawareans if they received any prized bits of advice they followed along the way.

Former Gov. Jack Markell said he followed advice from Jim Perry, managing director of private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners: “Surround yourself with great people and figure it out together.”

Mike Meoli, owner of the Meoli Companies in Rehoboth, got sound advice from his grandfather James T. Dresher, a successful turnaround artist who was CEO of Unidata, Bekins and York International.

Dresher’s advice for CEOs: “If you believe you’re the smartest guy in the boardroom, then you’re getting bad advice.”

“What, in essence, he was saying is that successful leaders surround themselves with competent advisors and listen to the wise counsel of those they have chosen to help lead their company,” Meoli said. “I’ve never forgotten his words, and I attribute much of my success to the incredible people whose expertise I rely upon each and every day.”

Bob Aerenson, president of Rojan Inc. in Fairfax, has been following one piece of advice since college: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

Retired Defense Attorney Carl Schnee followed the advice of the late Delaware Supreme Court Justice William T. Quillen: “Never, never do anything of which you are not proud.”

It was a mail-order wizard who gave best advice to Bob Older, president of the Delaware Small Business Chamber.

As a young entrepreneur running a sign company, Older penned a letter to Joseph Sugarman, who owned one of the country’s largest mail-order companies. Sugarman wrote back.

Sugarman’s advice: “Never give up on an idea you have, and be willing to fail many times to be able to succeed once.”

Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, took her dad’s advice to heart: “Always do the right thing for the right reason.”

James DeChene, lobbyist and senior VP at the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, took his cues from recently retired chamber president Rich Heffron.

Heffron, whose packed retirement party was attended by three governors, gave this advice to DeChene when he took over as lobbyist: “Your word is all you have to trade on in this business. Be honest, and know although sometimes you may not come to agreement every time, there’s always another day and another issue. Don’t burn bridges.”

Sam Paoli

Dover Downs CEO Ed Sutor received helpful advice from another casino CEO. Peter Boynton of Caesars Atlantic City told him: “In times of crisis, keep calm and quickly gather relevant information. With a steady hand, take decisive action in a timely manner.”

When Roxane Ferguson, executive director of the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce, was taking graduate classes at Wilmington University, one of her adjunct professors was Cathy Ross, vice president for AAA. Rossi gave each of her students some advice – and a cactus plant.

Her advice: “The world of business can be a prickly climb, but it will be well worth every effort you make, both personally and professionally.”

Now Ferguson passes that advice along to her classes at Longwood Gardens, where she teaches business management to students in the professional gardener program.

Ciro Poppiti III, register of wills for New Castle County, took his sage advice from his father. He said it’s simple advice yet far too few people follow it: “It’s not what you make, it’s what you spend.”

Chip Hearn, owner of Peppers and The Ice Cream Store at the beaches and a member of the inaugural class of the Hot Sauce Hall of Fame, said Rehoboth restaurateur Sike Sharigan gave him advice that stuck when he first went into the business: “We’re at the beach. Always show them something new every year.”

“He said, ‘They come back to see us based on what happened last year, but they also want to see something new and different.’” Hearn said. “I just always went by that concept. Always give them something new. Don’t sit back.”

Early in her career as a commercial real estate agent, Lorraine Sheldon was taken with a quote from Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca: “The most successful businessman is the man who holds onto the old just as long as it is good and grabs the new just as soon as it’s better.”

Sam Paoli, president of The Charter School of Wilmington, got sage advice from retired school administrator Joe Hemphill: “The only thing you have control over is you. You will be much more productive spending your time planning and preparing for the task at hand than worrying about what others are doing or saying.” 

Pedro Moore of Innovation Ventures received good advice in his first post-college job as an assistant manager at Walmart. Bob Davis, Walmart’s market manager, told him: “Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.”

“One day he took us out to lunch and dropped that nugget, and I took it to heart and applied it to my life,” Moore said. “I share the same counsel with others.”

John Fleming, director of the Small Business Administration’s Delaware office, suggested this advice from Sam Moses, a former chairman of SCORE:

“A small business owner needs to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses, and surround yourself with good people who can assist you with your weaknesses.” 

Mary Page Evans, a Greenville landscape painter who has exhibited internationally, was inspired by Paul Cezanne’s quote: “Painting from nature is not copying the object, but realizing one’s sensation.”

Gary Stockbridge, regional president for Delmarva Power, based this mantra on his own experience in business: “Surround yourself with a diverse team of great people, because it takes a strong team to be successful, and, in diversity is strength.”

After learning on the job as he produced games conventions for four years, Chris Cicero came up with his own advice, a spin on Steve Jobs’ observation that “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Cicero, who will present a Thy Geekdom Con in downtown Wilmington next summer, said, “No one wants what they don’t know exists.”

“When you are thinking about your product or service, you should never take for granted that people will simply want it,” Cicero said. “If they aren’t aware of what you offer, you simply won’t get their business. It doesn’t matter how superior you product may be in the market. You should be actively thinking of new ways to raise awareness about your brand and trying new ideas every day.”

Bob Prybutok, president of Polymer Technologies in Newark, was guided by advice Dick Jones, an Ingersoll Rand sales manager, gave him in 1972: “Strive for excellence in all you do regardless of how insignificant the task.” 

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