John McGrath

CEO of American Collegiate Acquisitions (ACA)

Category: Entrepreneur


How Successful CEOs Make the Jump From Industry to Industry

The fundamental competencies that determine a successful chief executive officer generally hold true from industry to industry. This is not to say that a CEO at a SaaS startup can transform immediately into the role of a CEO at a banking institution, but at the core, running a successful enterprise requires a basic foundation which business leaders must possess. These core competencies generally allow for successful CEOs to pivot from one industry to another.


The most successful CEOs have maintained a careful balance between vision and operational details. Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001 said, “Genuine leadership comes from the quality of your vision and your ability to spark others to extraordinary performances.” A highly successful leader must be a constant source of inspiration. The ability to inspire and execute is the signal virtue of a successful CEO.

Financial acumen

According to a Forbes article “The Path to Becoming a Fortune 500 CEO” by Jeffrey Sanders, Vice Chairman and Managing Partner of the North American CEO Practice for Heidrick & Struggles, “about 30 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs spent the first few years of their careers developing a strong foundation in finance.” A leader needs to be a visionary who drives creative ideas to the forefront of business, but if that drive is not supported by strong financial competencies, the vision may never come to reality. A strong CEO needs to fully comprehend financial modeling and budgeting along with being completely comfortable with those analytics to raise capital and execute strategies to produce an attractive return on investment.


With the advent of crowdfunding and cross-industry venture capitalism, we work in an environment where starting a business is generally no longer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Financial engineering and entrepreneurial business constructs are the primary creative forces in a constantly evolving economy. Those who start their own businesses understand the struggle that comes with transformational leadership. Successful CEOs bridge thought to action!

Staying ahead

The best leaders have a fundamental understanding of current events. An article by Business Insider cites the morning routines of twelve influential leaders, including Gary Vaynerchuk, cofounder and CEO of VaynerMedia, who “plans his mornings down to the minute…first thing, he catches up on, the news.” Many CEOs stay abreast of news, current events, and technology, as well as the landscape of their individual industries whether they be finance, politics, education…


Perhaps the most important attribute that highly successful CEO’s share is their ability to lead a company with honesty, transparency and consistency — which leads to the creation of a culture of trust. With so many executives in business for the wrong reasons, trustworthiness is critically important. In order to be perceived as trustworthy, CEOs must demonstrate consistency in their leadership.


A CEO can pivot from one industry to another by understanding the long-term benefits of a value-driven approach to business. CEO decisions are based on considering the impact of that decision on the organization over an extended period of time. Will decisions made to meet challenges in the short-term ultimately uphold the overall values of the company? Will they align with its mission statement, its dedication to the client, and the judgment of the board of directors? CEOs keep the culture of trust intact by intelligently staying a course of providing value to the organization. Successful CEOs create an environment that embraces a philosophy of value over the long term.


A breadth of operational experience and business judgment is critical in building transferable skills that carry leaders from venture to venture and win to win. Successful CEOs generally have leadership qualities that span multiple industries: vision, financial acumen, trustworthiness and values are key among them. When making a career pivot, it’s up to the executive to transfer these core strengths to the new endeavor.

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Intrapreneurs are innovators who build new systems within their company

Why Is Intrapreneurship So Popular?

The intrapreneur is a word that has been utilized often but this school of thought has been around since before someone coined the term “go-getter”. In 2015, intrapreneurs are a somewhat different breed than their go-getter predecessors. For one, they are not just young, ambitious employees; intrapreneurs are often mature executives challenging the status quo within a large company.

Self-propelled intrapreneurship has been encouraged by large financial conglomerates and tech companies including Google, Facebook and Barclays through mentorships, conferences and formal programs. Intrapreneurs push the limits and insert creative ideas into competitive organizations.

Many corporations from finance to law to advertising have become static and need new talent — which does not necessarily equate to young talent. Generation Xers and older corporate employees are challenging their millennial counterparts’ productive energy and contemporary resourcefulness.

At heart, the intrapreneur must an inventor. They see problems as ways to improve  infrastructure. They seek more efficient ways to enhance complicated systems. They put themselves in positions within their organizations to fix complex or disregarded structures.

Check out my article about identifying successful intrapreneurs in your company.

Photo sources: Intrapreneur Building

Research contribution: A. Anderson


Entrepreneurs & Intrapreneurs work together to build success

Entrepreneurs & Intrapreneurs

In the 1980’s, management consultant Gifford Pinchot coined the term “Intrapreneurs” in reference to employees who are given the opportunity to develop new products and ideas from within a company. If identified and fostered properly, intrapreneurs can play an invaluable role in keeping the company highly competitive.

Teamwork creates success in a business

Teamwork creates success for a thriving business

Especially useful for businesses that rely on innovation, intrapreneurs are the individuals behind the internal ideas being explored. They are generally more comfortable for exploration within the structure of an established institution.

Forbes contributor and Fishbowl founder David K. Williams identified several common traits of successful intrapreneurs, including an exhaustive interest in finding non-economic ways to prove their own value, an intrinsic and determined ability to grow ideas without fearing failure or change, and, most importantly, confidence, humility, and deep-seeded integrity. “Tomorrow’s world of work ecosystems will be driven by the increasing ranks of intrepreneurs [sic],” Williams concluded.

Intrapreneurs especially thrive in a fast-paced  environment. They typically are naturally observant, reflective and adaptive — they love finding creative solutions from multiple points within business constructs. The intrapreneur’s mind is always working. They are architects of new ideas, new plans and generally better at  executing strategic plans. They often work very well with an entrepreneur.

Many entrepreneurs are also intrapreneurs. They are not mutually exclusive talents within one individual. The best way for a company to succeed is to encourage both entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial spirit in its culture. Challenging the status quo often leads to positive paradigm shifts within the organization.

Be a successful entrepreneur

How to Build a Successful Business

A successful business creates solutions to difficult challenges. An  entrepreneur with business acumen and related experience intellectually and practically tackles obstacles and creates an open environment where innovations, employee talents and in-demand products address problems. Companies that are able to translate a creative idea into a realistic business plan to achieve profitability goals follow basic integral steps in order to build a successful business venture.

Start your successful business today

Start your successful business today


An idea does not alone make a successful business, an entrepreneur does. The origination of a concept can only turn into reality through the vision and leadership of a strong leader.

Reserving Capital

It would make sense for this step to be called “raising capital” but reserving capital is also extremely important in the long run to achieve the goals of a business construct.  An entrepreneur who has the acuity to reserve capital for possible unanticipated events will be in a better position than one who has simply raised capital only to lose it to unexpected circumstances.

Curation of Talent

Success cannot happen in a vacuum. In order for CEOs to achieve business goals, they should seek the inspired collaboration of talented professionals. The people you hire to help build the foundation of your concept is as important as the structural brick and mortar. Without the right talent, a business will  face challenges that should have been anticipated, thereby decreasing the full potential of the company.


Many companies fall into complacency and stagnation. A successful business can often forget its creative inception when there becomes a steady revenue stream. However, revenue does not necessarily equal success. A successful business is built on the continuation of new innovative ideas and a constant stream of momentum, not simply the reliance on the continuation of current revenues and profitability.

Many companies have used these basic principles to achieve great long-term success.


This small business started in a California garage, became an empire, and continues to break new technological barriers. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak originated the business on the popularity and mystique of microchip technology and need for a more robust data systems. Inspired by new microcomputers, though unable to afford the computer CPUs that were available at the time, Wozniak created his own microprocessor to fabricate a computer system.

Wozniak brought  his completed project to the Homebrew Computer Club to exhibit his machine to the delight of his old friend Steve Jobs who was in attendance and became extremely interested in commercializing Wozniak’s design.

Utilizing creative methods, from borrowing money and space from friends and family to selling various prized items, Steve Jobs secured technological parts while Steve Wozniak and mutual friend Ronald Wayne  assembled the new Apple I. The early computer system featured existing components and new ideas, such as the incorporation of a television as the display system. The computer’s text was displayed at 60 characters per second, which was faster than other systems of that era. Initially, 200 Apple I’s were constructed.

Today, Apple’s annual revenue exceeds $185 billion dollars.


In 1997, Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph co-founded Netflix to offer online and DVD movie rentals, with a no late fee policy. This policy attracted an increasing number of customers who had been previously paying video giants like Blockbuster exorbitant late fees. By 2002, Netflix became a publicly traded company on Nasdaq (NFLX) with 600,000 member in the U.S. By 2005, membership rose to 4.2 million. In late 2008, Netflix partnered with Starz Entertainment (one of the largest cable and satellite television conglomerates under Starz Inc) to offer over 2,500 new films and television shows to “Watch Instantly” as part of the Starz Play service. Two years later, Netflix signed a five-year deal worth nearly $1 billion to stream films from Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The business arrangement drastically increased Netflix’s spending capital for streaming films annually, adding approximately $200 million per year.

Today, Netflix has become less online streaming service, and more television channel. Producing award winning original productions, Netflix has gone global and now has over 50 million members worldwide.

Ben & Jerry’s

This dream team started through an ice cream-making correspondence course that co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield completed through Penn State University’s Creamery in 1977.

Cohen, who lacks a sense of smell or taste, relied solely on texture to provide variety in his diet, which led to the company’s trademark chunks being mixed in with their ice cream. In 1978, with a $12,000 investment, the two business partners opened an ice cream parlor in a renovated gas station in downtown Burlington, Vermont.

By 1988, the two men won the title of U.S. Small Business Persons Of The Year, awarded by U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Also that year, the first brownies were ordered from Greyston Bakery, which led to the development of the popular Chocolate Fudge Brownie flavor. In 1992, Ben & Jerry’s joined in a cooperative campaign with the national non-profit Children’s Defense Fund; the campaign goal was to bring children’s basic needs to the top of the national agenda.

In 1989, Ben & Jerry’s publicly opposed the use of rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) in all their products – which many competitors had yet to do at the time. This made their brand synonymous with environmental and health awareness, which attracted more customers.

In April 2000, Cohen and Greenfield sold their company to multinational food giant Unilever which vows to continue growing the company. The company that went from correspondence course to environmentally conscious enterprise, currently generates an annual revenue of over $180 million.

 Research contribution: A. Anderson

Entrepreneur in the Digital Age

The Entrepreneur in the Digital Age

Digital advances are meant to increase productivity and efficiency.

But do they? Yes and no.

Indeed, the ‘office’ has expanded outside the brick and mortar environment so prevalent just a decade ago. Tech savvy entrepreneurs are mobile, no longer confined to any one workspace. Business travelers can receive most (if not all) publications online, including major news sources, accessible through laptops, smartphones and tablets. CEOs and Presidents can stay current — all the time, constantly, and quickly.

Digital has become so essential that $1.36 trillion will be added to the top ten economies by 2020.

GDP digital uplift by year 2020

GDP digital uplift by year 2020

However, there comes inadvertent drawbacks from too much technology, which may encumber certain aspects of work, and life.  A study by PLoS One revealed that too much web interaction can increase unhappiness, and that face-to-face time with people improves mood, trust and communication. Unfortunately, that news may present major complications. An entrepreneur can never be “offline”, there is no such option.  ‘Connection’ is omnipresent, but can wireless connection actually connect a business head to his or her employees?

In order to do so, successful entrepreneurs have to play a pivotal role in keeping passion and inspiration in the workplace where it belongs. By creating changes in daily operations, leaders will increase authentic (non-Cloud-based) manager/employee connectivity.

Decoupling Productivity & Employment Chart

Decoupling Productivity & Employment Chart

According to a New York Times article on Decoupling Productivity and Employment, “[…] we can improve their [employees’] prospects greatly by investing in infrastructure, reforming education at all levels and encouraging entrepreneurs to invent the new products, services and industries that will create jobs.”

So how does an entrepreneur or intrapreneur accomplish this?

Talent Cultivation. Leadership should offer educational initiatives within the company to inspire employees and keep them engaged in the mission statement of the organization. When a leader invests in the well-being of his or her workers inside and outside working hours, this investment can act as a vehicle for the maintenance of transparent communication.

CEO in the Middle. Transparency should be another name for trust, but oftentimes, it is not. A CEO who looks at employees from a management level can exert transparency but trust is critically important. Intrapreneurs who are the most successful at obtaining trust are ones who are in the trenches alongside their workers. Those who roll up their sleeves and work through the middle have the most success than those who work from atop.

The framework of the work culture has changed drastically in just two decades, mostly for good, but the checks and balances of the increased efficiency must be monitored and tempered regularly by senior level executives. Shifts which encourage more face-to-face interaction can change the work dynamic in positive directions.

Research contribution: A. Anderson

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