Entrepreneurs in Pursuit of Innovation Executives Take Creative Exodus from the Corporate Culture

By Todd, Deborah M | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), May 16, 2013 | Go to article overview

Entrepreneurs in Pursuit of Innovation Executives Take Creative Exodus from the Corporate Culture


Todd, Deborah M, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Working with one of the world's largest tech companies in 2005, John Feghali had hit the career jackpot. Living in the heart of Manhattan, where wall-to-wall NYC taxis and subway stops make car owners seem extravagant, the IBM strategy consultant was swept to appointments via the company limousine. That five-star lifestyle extended to lodging, restaurants and access to the tech and financial sector's brightest shining stars, all in the name of business.

For all the good corporate America had brought Mr. Feghali it couldn't give him what he desired most: his own business, operated his way. So at the peak of his success in 2008, he stepped away from IBM and joined Carnegie Mellon University student Sarjoun Skaff in Pittsburgh for a new life as full-time co-founder of robotics company Bossa Nova Robotics.

Today, sitting inside the former Oakland shoe store that serves as headquarters for Mr. Feghali's mobile media company Walking Thumbs, the surroundings are notably less posh than his former life allowed.

The office, located above a GNC store and a Chinese restaurant, sends stir-fry scented drafts into the central workspace when the front door opens. A storage area crammed with promotional stickers, fliers and 8-foot banners that will transform storefront windows into billboards is the heart of the company's marketing operations. The 16 employees work side by side at borderless stations that allow for maximum collaboration and zero privacy.

Looking around the room, comparing what he was given in his corporate career to what he had created on his own, Mr. Feghali said there was no other place he would rather be.

"I was staying in the most fancy hotels. They paid for my meals. Everywhere was open bar. I was pretty well paid. But that's not what I wanted," he said. "I wanted to build something, to basically see how far I can go."

In retrospect, Mr. Feghali's exodus from corporate culture shouldn't have been much of a surprise.

Self-motivation, resilience and infectious enthusiasm -- many of the qualities that help corporate executives rise to the top of their organizations -- are the same qualities that push many of them out of the corner office and into their own ventures. However, one of the biggest contrasts between corporate leaders and those who excel as entrepreneurs is an attitude of exploration and risk- taking that isn't always the first course of action for traditional corporate leaders.

Susan Foley, managing partner of Boston-based management consulting firm Corporate Entrepreneurs LLC, is working to change that attitude. The company's core mission is to help corporate executives grow their companies by helping them see the businesses with the fresh eyes of someone seeking to build something from the ground up.

"The issue is that many of the things you need to do to manage the core business are just the opposite of what it takes to build a new business. Traditional leaders may only have experience leading the core business. The key difference between both types of leaders is that the entrepreneurial leader can do both -- he can simultaneously lead a company at the same time he is building a new one," she said in an email statement.

For financial reasons, that course is often the one entrepreneurs follow when deciding to set off on their own.

Chuck Fluharty, founder and CEO of Atlasburg-based machine tools manufacturing company Apex CNC Swiss, found himself as dissatisfied with corporate life as Mr. Feghali when he stepped down as a director at Bayer in 2001.

Tired of the constant travel that came with his position and wanting more time with his newborn son in Pittsburgh, Mr. …

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