Buffett lauds Chicago small business program graduates
BY FRANCINE KNOWLES Business Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org June 12, 2012 11:44AM
Graduate Dennis Deer of Deer Rehabilitation Services addressed his peers who graduated from Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative. The commencement ceremonies were at Malcolm X College Tuesday, June 12, 2012. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Updated: July 14, 2012 6:26AM
Showing the potential behind even a very small business, billionaire investor Warren Buffett shared the story of how he paid $1 billion to buy a Chicago area business (the Pampered Chef) started by Doris Christopher with a $3,000 loan from her husband’s insurance policy and paid $60 million to buy one launched by a Russian immigrant with $500.
“It finally dawned on me: You’ve got to catch these people early,” he said to 37 Chicago entrepreneurs, prompting laughter from the group at their graduation from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses education program Tuesday.
“I wanted to meet 37 people like I met this morning,” said Buffett, co-chair of the program’s advisory council and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. “These are winners.”
Graduates wrapped up 20 weeks of training at Harold Washington College. The college will have a new focus on small business growth and entrepreneurial professional services, part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s College to Careers initiative, it was announced at the event.
Buffett and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein joined Emanuel at the graduation of the entrepreneurs from the 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, which also is taking place in six other cities.
The five-year program, launched in Chicago last September, is designed to help small businesses create jobs and stimulate economic growth. It includes a commitment of $25 million in small-business loans to Chicago companies, business education and grants for supporting community partners.
The Chicago business owners studied accounting, human resources, negotiation and marketing, among other topics. The program also included one-on-one business consultation and advice from Goldman Sachs professionals.
Dennis Deer, graduate of the program, said he has learned skills to empower his employees to succeed. He is CEO of Deer Rehabilitation Services Inc., a North Lawndale-based company that provides case management, psychological and forensic services to ex-offenders and law enforcement professionals. He recently hired four new employees, raising his work force to 22, and is on track to double revenues this year.
In introducing Buffett at the event, he drew laughter when he said that if last year “someone would have told me I was going to be sitting next to Warren Buffett, I would have slapped them for lying.” He added Buffett is “a gentleman, who knows a good business when he sees one. Mr. Buffett today you have 37 great businesses in front of you and we’re truly honored to meet you.”
Deer said through the program he has learned to spend “time working on my business, and not working in my business.” That also was a key lesson for graduate entrepreneur Danielle Hrzic. She is owner of Gourmet Gorilla Inc., a food service company that provides local and organic meals to schools in northern Illinois. The program helped the company work through its challenge of having grown from a 10 x 10 kitchen with a few employees serving 100 meals, to serving 5,000 meals to about 90 schools, she said.
She has learned how to better analyze the company’s finances and cash flow, be an effective leader and make the right hires, she said.
She added she and her husband have been able to pull away from day-to-day management by hiring a director of operations.
“We haven’t chopped a vegetable in months,” she said. “Because we have that additional support, we were able to obtain additional contracts, so we’ll be increasing our production for the new school year by 50 percent, providing about 7,500 meals.”
She expects revenues to grow from $1.8 million last year to $2.2 million this year.