Mix a venture capitalist, a countertop manufacturer and an airline operations expert with a healthcare provider and what do you have? The entrepreneurial Brothers Baiada — Mark, Michael, Matthew and Mel — who gathered at Drexel March 8 to discuss what makes a great entrepreneur.
“My brothers, uncles and dad all started businesses. I figured I could do it, too,” said Mel, the youngest of the four and the venture capitalist behind creation of Drexel’s Baiada Center for Entrepreneurship. “I learned that succeeding as an entrepreneur is all about attitude. We were taught to treat failures as setbacks, nothing more.”
That was not the only lesson the brothers learned at home. Their parents taught them to be quietly confident, work hard and keep learning. For years, the screen saver on Mark’s home computer has preached “Think big. Work hard. Show love,” a lesson that all four have imparted to their own children.
“My daughter complained she was the only third grader who had to help change the breaks on the car,” Michael told the audience of more than 150 attendees. “I didn’t see the problem.” He added: “I put a tape recorder in her pillow that kept repeating, ‘Work hard, make lots of money, take care of your dad.’”
Some of the brothers were barely teenagers when they were told to build a seawall to protect their home from a rising river. Or fix the roof, paint the house and replace the siding. Often, they were not told how to do the work; they were told to figure it out.
The boys had a two-mile walk home school each day that took them past a lumber yard. “There was a contractor there who was a real character,” Matthew recalled. “He was at the counter with this whole wad of cash, buying supplies and paying bills. I thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty impressive.’ I didn’t know what I was going to do, but right then I knew I wanted to be in business.”
Mark founded Bayada Home Health Care; Michael is president of ATH Group Inc., which brings operational efficiencies to the airline industry; Matthew is founder of SolidSurface Designs Inc., a leading manufacturer of custom countertops, wall systems and store fixtures; and Mel is president of Basecamp Business and managing partner at Basecamp Ventures, an early-stage venture fund.
Mark Loschiavo, executive director of the Baiada Center, introduced the brothers by describing entrepreneurship as “an inherent need … part of the human condition. This country was founded by entrepreneurs,” he said. “They were people who secured funding — probably not enough — and organized the resources that were available to them and built a better life for themselves and their families. They had an unwillingness to accept that things have to stay the way they are.”
Can you teach someone to be an entrepreneur? “If a person has the fire, you can give them the skill set,” Mark says. “But you have to be driven to make something happen and stick with it for a long time.”
For the Baiada Brothers — who describe themselves as curious, incessant, thoughtful, analytical and disciplined — those entrepreneurial skills were developed by some serious hands-on learning while they were growing up. Not only by building a seawall, but by competing with each other for second helpings at the dinner table and calculating whether it was better to be the one who sliced the last piece of pie or the one who chose which post-slice portion was his.
The primary lesson, said Matthew: “Be what you want to be. Do it right or don’t do it at all.”