Fairfield University Dolan School of Business's "How to Become a Successful Entrepreneur" forum to feature a diverse panel of passionate self-starters


Whether fueled by layoffs or the growing uncertainty of losing one's job, many people have decided to take destiny into their own hands and launch their own businesses.

The founders of Vineyard Vines, Kicknote.com and Greenfield Online are among the entrepreneurs who will share their secrets to success at a Fairfield University Dolan School of Business forum on Thursday, April 16. "How to Become a Successful Entrepreneur," free and open to the public, will feature a panel that includes entrepreneurs with Connecticut ties and Fairfield alumni who left corporate careers behind to follow their passion. Sponsored by the Dolan School and the DSB Advisory Council, it will take place in the Dolan School of Business Dining Room, at 5 p.m.

Advisory Council member Hugh Davis is a panelist. He played significant roles in growing Greenfield Online from a Wilton-based two-person start-up to a global company with more than 600 employees that was sold to Microsoft last year. "This is a time when most individuals are looking for control of their careers," said Davis, a 1995 Fairfield graduate. "They might be out of a job or very afraid of losing the one they have. Whatever the situation, it causes individuals to start thinking, 'How can I be fulfilled by my work?' The answer may lie in starting a business."

Norm Solomon, Ph.D., dean of the Dolan School, said entrepreneurship is a growing field of study at the Dolan School. "Being an entrepreneur is an important and viable career path for our students to consider. It can lead to innovation and a dynamic exchange of new ideas in the marketplace, let alone great personal fulfillment."

The Dolan School is developing a new Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development program within the Management Department. Donald E. Gibson, Ph.D., professor of Management and chair of the Management Department, will be the moderator of the forum. He said, "Fairfield University is poised to make a real contribution to the study and practice of entrepreneurship. We're initiating a new program for students, and this year we hired a new professor, Dr. Mukesh Sud, who will teach in the areas of Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management, starting in the Fall."

Rob Cottle, director of Corporate Relations at Fairfield, said the ideals, work ethic and attitude of an entrepreneur can transition into a larger organizational setting, so that one can be an entrepreneur within a corporation. "This is an opportunity for people to get a flavor of different life paths from an accomplished and diverse panel."

The panel will include the following entrepreneurs:

  • Michele Sommer, who graduated Fairfield in 1984, and Yvette Yelardy, are co-founders of MY oilcloth, Inc. They propelled it from a spare-room start-up to a burgeoning accessories corporation in just over a year. The Massachusetts business primarily sells distinct handbags and totes made out of oilcloth. Family Magazine labeled their totes "cool stuff" in a recent article. Sommer left behind a successful 18-year career at PricewaterhouseCoopers to start the business, bringing to it her love for oilcloth and her business and design acumen.
  • Hugh Davis, who graduated Fairfield in 1995, and Andrew Greenfield, are co-founders of the pioneering Greenfield Online/Ciao Surveys, one of the first companies to use the Internet to conduct marketing research. The New York Times reported last year Microsoft agreed to buy Greenfield Online to bolster its Internet search and e-commerce business in Europe. Greenfield is also founder of the Westport, Conn.-based Greenfield Consulting Group, a firm that measures brand awareness for GM and MTV.
  • A 2008 Dolan School graduate, Brian Erickson spent his final semester assembling a talented, highly motivated team to work on Kicknote.com, a web resource about musical artists. He's had a whirlwind of a year building the site, which is one stop shopping for all the information available on musicians, including biographies, discographies, photos, videos, news, mp3s, lyrics, forums, tickets, and merchandise.
  • Shep and Ian Murray, who grew up in Greenwich and live in Fairfield County, started Vineyard Vines after quitting their unfulfilling corporate jobs in New York City. With no money and little experience, they started Vineyard Vines, a Stamford-based tie company. In the early days of the 11-year-old business, they sold ties out of their backpacks, in bars, on boats and on the beaches of Martha's Vineyard. Since then, they've branched out to selling other popular clothing and gained a loyal customer base that continues to grow.  Former Presidents Bush (both of them) and Clinton have all been spotted wearing their ties. The Wall Street Journal said, "Vineyard Vines now does for men what Lilly Pulitzer has long done for women."
  • Thomas J. Hughes, chief executive officer of LNR Property Corporation and the father of a Fairfield junior, oversees a company making strategic investments in real estate and real estate related assets. Hughes left behind a successful banking career to helm the company. He previously worked for Deutsche Bank, where he was chief executive officer of Deutsche Asset Management and part of the eight-member committee responsible for the bank's strategic direction and operation.
  • Jim Malski, who graduated Fairfield in 1980, began his career as a CPA for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Since then, he's bought and sold 16 businesses. He is founder of the Westport-based ActionCOACH of Connecticut, a business-coaching firm. The Westport branch was recently recognized as one of the top ActionCOACH offices worldwide.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on April 2, 2009

Vol. 41, No. 284