Every now and then, news services distribute litanies of famously wrong predictions. "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" asked Harry Warner of Warner Brothers in 1927. "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers," asserted IBM founder Tom Watson in 1943. Rejecting the Beatles in January 1962, a Decca Recording Company executive supposedly said: "We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out."
Decca’s rejection of the Beatles is reported in detail by Bob Spitz, author of The Beatles: The Biography, a 983-page retrospective released last December. The company was run at the time by Dick Rowe, who had spent most of his life as a stockbroker in service to Decca’s chairman—unlikely training for a tastemaker in music.
With expenditures on artists running high, he was told that a series of auditions had produced two excellent prospects. The Tremeloes had the better audition and they lived only 20 minutes from Decca’s studio; the Beatles were off in faraway Liverpool. Rowe personally delivered the news of rejection to Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, and the most popular band in history subsequently signed with EMI.
By May, the Beatles had achieved riotous success in England when Rowe attended a talent show where he was seated next to George Harrison. "I told him how I’d really had my backside kicked over turning the Beatles down," he recalled years later. Harrison laughed it off and suggested he see a group in London called the Rolling Stones. Rowe did—and soon signed the second-most-popular band in history. Before long, he had under contract a dozen more "British Invasion" bands, including the Animals, the Zombies, the Who, and Them, featuring Van Morrison.
Ernst & Young initiated its Entrepreneur of the Year program 20 years ago in Milwaukee; the Minnesota office joined in 1989. Among the Minnesota recipients that year was William Austin, founder of Starkey Laboratories, which has since become the world’s largest manufacturer of hearing instruments (and is, coincidentally, featured in this issue).
Our lead story covers this year’s Entrepreneurs of the Year. As always, there were far more nominees than finalists and recipients. Those who don’t receive the award are invariably disappointed, but many have returned to win awards a year or two later. Ron Olson and Jeffrey Dahlberg, founders of Grow Biz International, were finalists for three consecutive years before getting an award in 1996. Al Kurtenbach of Daktronics, Inc., was a nominee in 1994 and 1996, a finalist in 1995 and 1999, and a recipient in 2000, when he also received a national Entrepreneur of the Year award.
Tom Gegax, the founder of Tires Plus, was a nominee in 1991, and a finalist in 1992, 1993, and 1994 before receiving an award in 1995, when he described himself as "the Susan Lucci of Entrepreneurs of the Year." (Lucci, star of the soap opera All My Children, was an Emmy award nominee 18 years in a row before finally receiving one—and an emotional ovation—in 1999.)
Take a chance, try again—but if you think your company is too small to qualify you as an Entrepreneur of the Year, here’s another possibility.
In December, in conjunction with Associated Bank, we’ll present our fourth annual package of "Small-Business Success Stories." If anyone knows a compelling story about a Minnesota company with fewer than 500 employees, we’d like to learn about it.
What makes a compelling story? It could involve a turnaround, rapid early growth, an unusual product innovation, notable longevity, or the overcoming of an unusual challenge. Two Success Stories honorees last year were 2006 Entrepreneurs of the Year Amy Langer and John Folkestad.
Please put your suggestion in writing, limit it to a page or so, and send it to me by August 10 at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twin Cities Business, 220 South Sixth Street, Suite 500, Minneapolis, MN 55402.