Orange County’s emergence into an economic powerhouse is a fascinating one. In writing this book, I was intrigued by the common attributes of the entrepreneurs that created winning companies in this region. I also found it interesting to observe the parallels in their pathways from start-up to success. It was rarely a straight line. The men and women behind these companies are extraordinary people and I have strived to tell about their personal journeys alongside the corporate ones.
Much is said in business schools and in the annals of strategic consultants about the need to have a vision…a great concept of the company that one wants to build. In real life successful companies are created by the “doers”, not the “dreamers”. Companies are not born out of some grand plan. Generally they get started through the spark of an idea, an innovation, or an insight of a better way of doing things. That excites an individual or small team to take the leap into the unknown…to make big sacrifices…to risk failure. All entrepreneurs start with a little naiveté, because if they really knew the struggle that lay ahead…and the courage that it would take and the obstacles they would need to overcome, they may never have started out on the voyage.
No Easy Path to Success
During the evolution of a business, virtually all of its creators confronted with set-backs at some point. The journey of these company creators has rarely been one without challenges, overwhelming ones at times. Often they travelled to the edge of oblivion. It was during those times that the entrepreneur’s metal was tested. Courageous decisions had to be made. Often they had to go “all in” risking everything…putting all they had on the line to save the company. They did not shy away from risk, believing that failure was not an option. It was the passion for what they were pursing that kept them going and a total conviction that they could make it successful.
Innovation as a Creative Driver
Those that started and built the successful companies of today did not set out to make money, to build their personal wealth. Generally they saw a need that was not being met in the market. Often they would offer up their idea to their employer, only to have it rejected. Frustrated, they would leave the security of their job and venture out on their own with very little capital to fund the new enterprise.
Some innovation was almost always at the heart of the company’s launch. It was to offer something new in their industry. Innovation is a broad concept, not just one of invention of a new product. In the more comprehensive sense it embraces new business processes, new business models, innovative marketing approaches and other creative insights. It is not simply the territory of products, but also applies to breakthroughs in service industries. In this book we endeavor to highlight what is special about each company and the personal journey of those individuals that made it happen.
Achieving a Durable Success
While the spark of a new idea or a breakthrough innovation may have been the catalyst to get the company going and important to its early success, it took more for the great companies to succeed as they grew and matured. It was enlightening to discover the ingredients that propelled these companies beyond the entrepreneurial stage. It was necessary for those to develop a durable competitive advantage in the markets they served. There are many ways in which this was accomplished which varied greatly by the type of business that the companies were engaged in. Hopefully our readers will discover these attributes as they move through the 165 plus company stories that we have featured in this book.
The success of these entrepreneurial efforts has produced enormous personal wealth among those that created and built successful companies in the region. Most of that is fairly recent, but there has been an extraordinary surge in philanthropy by those that have made it big in Orange County. The county’s business leaders have turned to the support of its charitable institutions. This will benefit the educational, arts and healthcare infrastructure of the county in years and decades to come. Orange County has virtually no old money wealth, but the new wealth created by company creators and builders is a powerful charitable engine that is just now ramping up.
A strong attribute of these company creators and builders is their personal tenacity. These are individuals that will go to the limit to make their companies successful. They do not shy away from difficult choices. As I researched these companies, I was taken by the fact that virtually none were founded by MBAs. Mostly they were started by individuals with engineering backgrounds or individuals that were rising stars in an industry. In an established company, they learned about the business in that vertical industry sector and understood the opportunities presented by unmet needs. They saw a better way to do things, a better way to serve the customer’s needs. Virtually all sought a degree of independence. They were not happy being “employees”.