Sarasota entrepreneur Eric Baird is the Review's Entrepreneur of the Decade. He speaks candidly about his upbringing, his drive and his successes.
Readers of the Gulf Coast Business Review selected Eric Baird as Entrepreneur of the Decade. He's the founder, president and CEO of Sarasota-based MyUS.com, a shipping and mail-forwarding company to people overseas.
In an online poll at Review.net, readers cast 15,690 votes and went overwhelmingly for Baird, beating the nine other past winners of the Review's Entrepreneur of the Year award. The firm's revenues rose 30% last year to $35 million.
Employees cheered when they heard Baird, 41, won the award, playing the tune “Hail to the Chief” in the company's break room recently.
Below are portions of a conversation with the entrepreneur at his new headquarters in Sarasota, edited for style and clarity:
I was an army brat, so we moved around a lot. I was born in California, then we moved to Germany. Then we moved to Iran for a couple years and got out right before the Ayatollah Khomeini took over. Then we moved to Texas and back to Germany. I was in Germany until I was 10 and then my parents got divorced and I moved to North Carolina with my mother and my sister. It made me more adaptable. I don't mind change. It made it harder to make long-term relationships, but in terms of business it probably made me better.
I did a lot of sports in high school. I was good at wrestling. I'll always remember starving myself and eating egg whites for three months.
My first job was at a grocery store. I think it was a Food Lion, running the mop machine at 4 a.m. and on the weekends. Actually, my first job was selling newspaper subscriptions after school in Fayetteville, N.C. You know, walking door to door. It was competition to see who could get the most subscriptions.
My parents were both entrepreneurs. My dad was in the Army and started a company converting cars for GIs to ship back to the U.S. He did that in addition to his day job. My mom started a furniture showroom in Germany before they got divorced. When they got divorced she got nothing, really. She moved to North Carolina with my sister and me. She started a company called Gailynn Collection. That was selling British China, tableware, to U.S. households. She had a showroom in the back of our house. She used to bust her butt. She then changed to helping U.S. catalogs prospect internationally.
My mom worked very hard. She always says you guys never realized how poor we were, so she tried to hide it. We never felt like we were poor. We lived in a decent house, but we were on the verge. I knew she worked hard, but I didn't know we were that close. If she didn't do well, we wouldn't have the house. She hid it well. There were a few times when she'd leave my sister and me alone for a few weeks, not because she wanted to, but because she had to get on the road to make sales.
I picked the University of Arizona because they had a good basketball team. They're really well known for their astronomy program but I majored in finance, so go figure. I wasn't usually making decisions based on the right criteria at the time.
I used to not be good at life balance, but my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer two years ago and that changed everything for me. I used to work the 14-hour days, seven days a week and thought that's what I was supposed to do. But really it's about living and being happy. So you have to find a good balance. So I work hard, but every day I leave at 2:30 p.m. and pick up my daughter. We're going to make a bracelet at the bead store today. And then we'll go to my mom's house, play some games and eat dinner. I have a great ex wife.
I quit smoking with the pill, Chantix. It's extremely hard, especially for someone who works a lot. I had one the other day, so I still cheat occasionally. I just got my life insurance and I had to take the smoking rate.
I got a Porsche 911 turbo. This Thursday I'm thinking about going to the DeSoto Speedway. The car's top speed is 196. It can do 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds.
When I was 17, I was pulled over for doing 122 in a 55. I try to avoid those big tickets now. I was a pretty wild and crazy teenager. When I got caught doing that, my mom let them throw me in jail for 29 days. I was on probation for something else. That taught me a very good lesson. It was horrible. It's the slime of the earth in there and you start to realize how you can become part of that culture. I told myself I would never, ever go back to a place like that. I was with all the men, the adults. I was in a block with 20 other guys, the one where all the drunks came in. You just see how they treat each other and steal from each other and you know you don't want to become part of that. She taught me how to stay clean. I was a crazy little kid, tough teenager with no father figure around.
I only play basketball with people taller and better. I'm 5'9. I'm only short on the outside. They don't measure your heart. I recruit well. Always hire people better than you.
I did support Marco Rubio and Vern Buchanan. I lean toward Republican. But I was happy Obama got elected. I thought it was good for the country. I've done well and I think he has the right intentions. He continued to push tax cuts, which for a businessman is a good thing. I didn't vote for him, but I was proud when I saw the inaugural celebration and the victory on election night.
I'm not artistic at all. I can't play any instruments. I can't sing.
I'm tough but fair. I try to reward great work. I try to minimize mistakes. I'm kind of a perfectionist. I don't like mistakes of any kind, just because they're just so inefficient. They make your customers upset, they cost you money and double work.
I have some real estate. I own an apartment building in Venice and a few houses. I just bought a lot two months ago, so we'll see how smart I was.
I don't really feel sorry for myself, ever. When it's a tough day I remember to think that I'm very lucky, I'm blessed. I've got a great business, a great family. I don't have anything to be depressed about.
I have very stressful days here. It's pretty daunting. I do it one day at a time. You come in, you make your list of what's important to get done and you start checking them off. You make sure you accomplish some each day and finish something. I have way too nice a life to worry about it and if this went out of business tomorrow I'd be OK.
I have an iPhone 4. I love my iPhone. I also have an iPad. The iPhone is constantly on my person. As my mom will tell you, I need to learn to put it away at dinner.
I read newspapers on the iPad at night. I am reading Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. I try to read how to be a better parent.
I don't like to wake up early. Some people ask me why not and I say I've worked hard for a long time so I don't have to.
In November, I saw on Facebook that a church was trying to raise enough money for turkeys for all their parishioners. They were 200 turkeys short. I just emailed the person and covered the last few hundred turkeys. I'd rather give when I'm not asked.
I listen to hip-hop. If my favorite song was playing and I was dancing and you asked who's that singing, I don't know. I like anything that pumps you up. I'm not a big country guy or the opera.
Work hard and make the sacrifices. That's the only difference I think between those who succeed and those who don't. That's the one key to success, your work ethic.
My mom lent me $30,000 and she got a share of the business. She said this is the only $30,000 I'm giving you, so make it count. So we were profitable from our second month on.
After college, I got a degree in finance and went to work on the stock exchange. I thought I could do well trading on my own and my parents lent me $100,000. I promptly lost all that very quickly and realized I had the wrong personality for trading.
Just last month, Homeland Security was in here. A guy from China, he was trying to smuggle something like Sudafed inside a jacket pocket sewn in there. Someone had chicks delivered. We told them we couldn't ship live animals and one of the girls here took them to her ranch.
We used to ship to Iran, but now nothing to Iran, nothing to Cuba, nothing to Somalia or North Korea.