What drives your interest in entrepreneurship?
From my vantage point, what is really tremendous is not only what I do, but what I get to see. Our company is a technology distributor of both software and hardware. I would say that 5-10 new companies a week come to D&H and present their innovative ideas. They need help with price points, marketing, and a number of other business problems.
What’s so encouraging to me is that these individuals come from all walks of life. Many of them have decided to leave large organizations, and have ventured out on their own to work on a product they believe in. When I think about that aspect of entrepreneurship, that’s what gets me excited.
Why work for yourself?
After graduating from law school and working for several large companies, I found that I was looking for something specific; the ability to control my own destiny and to have a positive impact on defining a firm. Entrepreneurship gives you the flexibility to make those decisions on your own. D&H’s business profile really lends itself to an entrepreneurial spirit. We’ve done it through shared ownership in the company. By providing employees with ownership stakes, we’ve created a business with more than 1000 entrepreneurs.
How did you get involved with the Dingman Center?
My son, Brett, is an undergraduate at the University of Maryland in the Smith School. The entrepreneurship program was a big part of his decision to attend. I now have a second son there as well.
Dingman has an entrepreneurial process and program far beyond what I had ever seen or experienced and I wanted to get involved. I wanted to help the Dingman Center grow by leveraging my own expertise. My goal was to help students understand the fundamentals of starting a business, and the importance of intellectual property in the marketplace.
I was also interested in Dingman’s efforts to bring many pieces of the University together, whether through Tech Transfer or through the annual trips to Israel and China. This is an important part of [University of Maryland President] Dr. Loh’s focus on the future of innovation and entrepreneurship on a global basis.
What type of business has the greatest chance of success right now?
I would say we are seeing strong growth in storage technology. In other words, how do you take all the information being created by individuals, corporations, etc. and make it readily accessible by a number of individuals on a number of devices? This is about the creation of a “personal cloud” instead of using another shared cloud solution.
What traits do all successful entrepreneurs have in common?
Diligence and Grit. As an entrepreneur, you can’t give up. The successful entrepreneurs understand that if Plan A doesn’t work, they need to deploy Plan B, C, or D. The most successful people we’ve worked with understand that running a business requires long hours and being in the right place at the right time. If the first opportunity doesn’t go quite as well as you thought it would, look to find a new strategy, always focusing on the long term. The reality is that for most entrepreneurs, businesses have the opportunity to grow exponentially, but not necessarily on a straight line.
Michael Schwab runs D&H, a 93 year-old company which focuses on e-commerce solutions and the distribution of technology products to retailers, e-tailers, college bookstores, and solution providers. With annual revenues exceeding $2.5 billion dollars, D&H has expanded its operations almost ten-fold over the last decade. In 2009, Michael was named #15 on the list of the most innovative executives of the year published by ChannelWeb, a division of United Business Media LLC. This list also included John Chambers, Steve Ballmer, Mark Hurd and Paul Otelllini. As well, D&H was named Cisco’s Global Distributor of the Year for 2009.