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Larry Levy ’67, founder of Levy Restaurants

Alums share advice, best practices at inaugural Entrepreneur Conference

5/1/2004 - Be open to all of the opportunities that come your way, restaurateur Larry Levy ’67 advised attendees of the Kellogg School’s inaugural Alumni Entrepreneur Conference, since you never know which ones will ultimately prove most valuable.

The founder of Levy Restaurants spoke from experience during his keynote speech at the sold-out conference on May 13. When the Chicago White Sox came calling in the early 1980s, Levy Restaurants nearly turned down a request to prepare food for skybox patrons at the ballpark.

The company ultimately took the opportunity, he admitted, only because it meant time spent at baseball games and the chance for tickets to the World Series if the White Sox ever made it to the big game. “We said, ‘We don’t do that. We’re restaurateurs. We don’t work in institutional settings.’ But we found a way to be restaurateurs in institutional settings.”

The White Sox deal was the start of a premium dining enterprise in sports and entertainment facilities responsible for most of the company’s $500 million in sales last year, Levy said. The company provides food at 66 sports and entertainment locations and has catered events such as the Kentucky Derby, World Series, Super Bowl and Grammy Awards.

Levy and other successful entrepreneurs shared advice on everything from financing a start-up company to assembling a team of motivated employees during the one-day event at the James L. Allen Center.

Conference panelists agreed the most important attributes for would-be entrepreneurs include dogged determination, mental toughness and the ability to operate in an environment of severe stress and pressure. Participants added that entrepreneurs must learn how to hire the right employees and how to sell their product and themselves if they are to succeed.

John Tomaszewski ’98, one of the founders of NaviAsia Consulting Group Inc., a company that helps firms enter China by leveraging supply chain and sales and marketing expertise, said Kellogg School connections also can benefit budding entrepreneurs.

NaviAsia opened a Beijing office by partnering with another alum’s firm, which allowed the fledgling company to cut costs by sharing the same administrative staff to answer phones and receive faxes, Tomaszewski said.
In addition to providing a place for these types of alumni connections to flourish, the conference gave attendees a chance to learn more about present and future entrepreneurship initiatives at the Kellogg School, said Steven Rogers, the Gordon and Llura Gund Family Professor of Entrepreneurship.

“This inaugural Alumni Entrepreneur Conference gave us a chance to connect with our alums who are entrepreneurs,” Rogers said. “It allowed us to show them how proud we are of their accomplishments, as well as help them grow their companies through continuous education and networking.”

Also at the event, Professor Rogers presented the Master Entrepreneur of the Year Award to Larry Levy on behalf of the Kellogg School. Venita Fields ’88 received the Student Mentor of the Year Award and Doug Cook ’98 received the Ascending Entrepreneur of the Year Award.