Proverbial Wisdom

'Adage Party' Results in a Homespun Advice Book for Entrepreneurs

by Gretchen Kell

For 27 years, Leo B. Helzel has been using sayings such as "Luck is where preparation and opportunity meet" to teach classes in entrepreneurship.

"I teach the same way I talk," said the 77-year-old entrepreneur, financier and attorney. "I teach on a colloquial basis more than on a textual basis. People remember sayings that are clear, brief and humorous."

Like "Entrepreneurship is like parenting. If you wait until everything is right, you'll never get started." Or, "A genius is often a crackpot who hit the jackpot."

So it seemed natural to Helzel to create, with the help of about 80 friends and associates, what could be the first textbook in history consisting only of maxims.

But "A Goal is a Dream with a Deadline: Extraordinary Wisdom for Entrepreneurs and Other Smart People," just published by McGraw-Hill, is a book with much broader appeal as well. In it, Helzel teaches entrepreneurship with more than 400 of what he calls "guide-lines." Many are his own, others were contributed by dozens of successful business and academic leaders.

"The book shows the entrepreneurial process, from beginning to end, from how to plan to implement your dream to how to exit with a pot of gold--or how to bail out," said Helzel.

"You get an introduction to an entire subject in less than two hours of easy reading."

Helzel begins his book with "The Ten Commandments of Entrepreneurship," 10 short rules that "summarize the attitude you need to start a business," he said.

Helzel's first commandment, for example, is "Set your goal and go for it."

He then presents 13 chapters of quips--some homey, some humorous, all savvy.

They "span the evolution of a company," said Helzel, "from the birth of an idea to the emergence of an organization, through profitable implementation and international expansion, to going public and beyond."

The chapters, illustrated with cartoons, include "Raising Money," "Sell, Sell, Sell," "Keeping Customers Happy," "Going Global," "Developing and Perfecting the Product" and "Conserving Cash and Keeping Score."

In the chapter "Tough Times," readers are advised: "Never, never, never quit, no matter how tough it gets, as long as the business has a chance to succeed."

Collecting the adages was fun, said Helzel, who made it a game for his friends and colleagues.

In the spring of 1994, he threw a party at Berkeley for 28 people. To be admitted to the event, each person had to bring 10 one-liners that had influenced their careers.

Among the contributors to the book were Chancellor Tien; Rick Cronk, president of Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream; Richard Rosenberg, chair of BankAmerica; W. Howard Lester, chair and CEO of Williams-Sonoma, Inc.; and Donald G. Fisher, founder and chair of The Gap.

Clark Kerr, former Berkeley chancellor and UC president, submitted "Think twice, act once."

Helzel's successes are many.

He has helped launch more than 100 business ventures, co-founded an international label and price-marking company and helped establish in 1970 the entrepreneurship program at the Haas School of Business.

Although this will be his 28th year teaching here, Helzel actually has been teaching business, and passing along his knowledge, for about 55 years.

"I've been teaching a very long time," he said.

"One-liners are a form of folk wisdom. I use them as my teaching tools."

Helzel, who already had endowed a professorship in entrepreneurship at the Haas school, is giving all his net royalties from the book to the school for its entrepreneurship programs.


Copyright 1995, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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