Retired executive lends a helping hand
Ed Egan relaxed in the front porch of his home overlooking Pig Lake of the Whitefish Chain on a beautiful summer day. His coffee cup spelled out his current work status: “Retired. No work required.”
While the former business executive may be happily retired and doesn’t want to return to the day-to-day grind, he still likes to exercise his business muscles and through the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation’s (BLAEDC) Executive Initiative program he’s found a way to do just that.
Egan is part of a group of retired and semi-retired business people who live in the Brainerd lakes area and are willing to lend their expertise to help area businesses grow.
With a background as a mechanical engineer and a master’s degree in financial and business management, he worked for Unisys where he was product manager for computer integrated circuit development programs. He later worked for Pacific Communication Sciences, Inc., and then Qualcomm Inc.’s CDMA Technology organization where he was senior program manager responsible for coordinating the semiconducter fabrication assembly and test of the firm’s CDMA mobile phone chipsets. Later in his career with Qualcomm he was responsible for the acquisition and mergers of other companies under Qualcomm. During his time in that role six acquisitions were integrated into Qualcomm. The acquisitions ranged in value from $50 million to hundreds of millions of dollars. The rapid growth that Qualcomm experienced provided Egan with hands-on experiences at how to manage business growth.
“The growth was incredible and we made all kinds o stupid mistakes,” he said.
One of the biggest mistakes he notices in businesses is when processes and structures are established and the owners unintentionally let those processes take more importance than they should.
“Don’t let the processes start running the business,” he said. “Don’t be a slave to it. Make sure you’re running the business.”
Some business owners, he said, don’t even know how to value their company. Sometimes business owners need to be told that it’s time to get out of a particular branch of the business.
“They don’t have to take the advice,” Egan said.
Area business leaders, however, have told BLAEDC Executive Director Sheila Haverkamp that they’ve saved time and money by listening to the business strategies and paths suggested by the retired executives. Haverkamp said the executives are also providing community and economic development advice for BLAEDC.
“I think the companies are really valuing the expertise of these executives,” she said. “I think this could be really cutting edge to take our economic development program and efforts to a new level. They (the executives) share ideas, insights and perspectives.”
The Executive Initiative program has about 40 executives involved with about half that number actively mentoring a specific business or organization at this point, Haverkamp said.
The headshots of the Executive Initiative program published in this edition represent just a few of the executives who are in the program.
“The program is starting to get some statewide attention,” she said.
Although individual businesses have characteristics that are industry-specific, Egan said high level management still consists of managing people and managing tasks.
One cautionary note Egan stresses is to make sure a business doesn’t outgrow its revenue. Drag your feet on expansion, he advises, until the revenues actually appear. It might mean that people will have to work a little harder and squeeze into a limited space but it’s the prudent course.
As management layers are added to an expanding business, owners should make sure that middle managers are fixing problems without hoarding information, Egan said. Those managers should be encouraged to share their information with the upper levels of management.
Careers in the upper levels of management can be demanding and aren’t 9 to 5 routines. Problems can occur around the clock.
“You were checking your emails and acting on it on Sundays and Saturdays,” he recalled of his days in the work place.
Egan retired at age 60 in 2008.
“Your body will tell you,” he said. “The stress was high and it was time to get out.”
Despite all the potential pitfalls, business owners in the Brainerd area can benefit from the advice of retired business people who have been in their shoes.
“Don’t hesitate to ask for help,” he said. “There are many sources of tools and information there to be tapped.”
In retirement, he now has the time to help other businesses but still has the time to pursue other passions.
He’s active in the Whitefish Area Property Owners Association, acting as the group’s director of natural resources. Egan has also worked with the DNR to obtain certification as master naturalist.
Still, his work with growing businesses is enjoyable.
“I’ve always been a helper by nature,” Egan said. “Each one’s (each business) is different everyone’s got a different personality.”