Rob Mathews, Executive Director, Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at Ball State University
Dr. Rob Mathews is the Executive Director of the Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at Ball State University.
What's your industry?
Higher Education, Consulting, and Training
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
I grew up in a family business. We grinded a lot as a family to make it work. I went to college and landed in the Entrepreneurship Program at Ball State University with entrepreneurship education pioneer and legend Dr. Kuratko. As a student, then as a GA, and then as a staff member at Ball State I fell in love with working with future entrepreneurs and leaders. My life dramatically changed nine years ago after my role morphed into more of a university-wide and external approach to entrepreneurship and leadership. I acquired, learned about, and started sharing with others all kinds of new tools and skills around assessments, customer experience, creativity and innovation, leadership, and lean startup.
Today, I really enjoy helping a broad range of students and professionals become the the best individuals and teams they can. People can pursue opportunities much more effectively when they have clarity about themselves and can build strong, complementary relationships.
What does an average day look like for you?
My average day varies by season, but I like to work out in the mornings to get the day started right. I typically have classes that I teach mid to late morning. My afternoons are typically filled with writing and meetings. During non-class days I'm either writing or conducting training sessions or workshops with professionals.
How do you balance the needs of your business with the needs of your personal life?
I own two businesses. I can be tricky to balance the workload, but one of my businesses just happens to operate during a slow season at the university. My training and consulting practice intertwines nicely with my university work, which is pretty common for professors.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you on your journey in business?
Follow your passions and interests. If you chase money only, it's harder to be successful and you'll never be satisfied; and even if you are successful for a period of time, it's harder to sustain it.
Follow your passions and interests. You'll be more invested and engaged, and be much better equipped to invest in and impact people, which leads to true fulfillment.
What's been the hardest part about the path you've taken and how would you advise someone facing a similar situation to overcome it?
I once chased my father's professional life and his dreams for me. I didn't enjoy it and wasn't as engaged as I needed to be. It was a very difficult 12 years, but once I faithfully made the decision to move on that experience opened up multiple new opportunities for me that I truly loved. I ultimately was not successful in that business venture, but I was able to get out of it and take many valuable lessons and contacts with me. One of my current businesses is a derivative of that business - one I truly love. It also led to many training and consulting opportunities in that industry, so while it was incredibly tough to endure at the time, it opened the door for me to work in my real passion areas.
Are there any well-known Books, Podcasts, or Courses that you credit your current success to?
I really love Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. I believe we are all created in the image of God and put here on this earth for a reason. We all have value to add to the world. Likewise, I also really like Simon Sinek's Start With Why for the same reasons. Finally, I recently read greatness by Dr. David Cook. It's literally life changing for those people who are 100% serious about pursuing excellence.
What do you think are the most important qualities for a successful business owner or executive to have?
It all starts with people. We conduct our coaching and training in an inside-out fashion, meaning we always start with the individual. Owners and leaders must develop a deep understanding of themselves before they can be all that they're meant to be and before they cab possibly have meaningful and fruitful relationships with others. We use assessment tools such as CliftonStrengths and Builder Profile-10 to better understand the individual, but we also use those same tools to build healthy, complementary relationships with others and thriving teams. In addition, 360 assessments, team building exercises and initiatives, and ongoing coaching are all important to being your best as a leader.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out as a business owner?
You have to do your homework. You must invest in yourself first. You need expertise in your field and experience. You need good people around you. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and see where you stand.
What are the top three things you think are essential for business success?
My top three essentials for business success are It's all about people, feedback is a gift, and financial acumen sets you apart.
It's all about people. I really wish someone would have told me that at 25. Perhaps they did, and I just wasn't ready to hear it or process it. There is only one of you, which immediately limits the scale and grandeur of what you can accomplish. Complementing yourself with others who have gifts and talents you don't is so important. Similarly, don't try to be someone you're not because you think that's who others want you to be. Lean into both your gifts and talents and the gifts and talents of others to achieve a 1 + 1 = 3 effect.
Feedback is a gift. If someone is willing to take the time and energy to share their perspective, opinion, and experiences with you they have given you one of the greatest gifts in life. This is also heavily tied into creativity and innovation, as leveraging the creative perspectives of others will take you and your business to unimaginable heights.
Financial acumen sets you apart. We've been experiencing a trend among college students the last 10-12 years regarding an aversion to anything related to numbers and financials. There seems to be a cultural stigma with money and all things financial. But here's the truth: Without financial stewardship and resources, our businesses and organizations are doomed for failure. You don't have to be a financial expert or a spreadsheet whizz, but you do need to understand key business metrics, benchmarks, and indicators. Let me repeat, you don't have to be an expert, but you must be able to speak the language of business (financials) and communicate what data you need to see and in what forms and when you need to see it as a leader.
Do you think someone can be a great business owner without having many years of experience first?
Anything is possible, but it is difficult. Life usually takes the progression of successful stewardship follows more responsibility in a continuous cycle. Of course some people come out of the gates on fire, but there's a high probability they're either a savant or, more likely, they had really good training, coaching, or other life experiences that translated to the success.
In general, do you think the world is producing better business owners in 2023 than it was fifty years ago?
I would say yes in some ways and no in other ways. I'm not sure work ethic is as strong as it once was, but there are still very high performers who grind hard to success out there. We also have technological tools that can help entrepreneurs be more efficient and allow them to play inn more competitive arenas. Finally, training and coaching tools and expertise have helped a great deal. We get a lot more requests for help because leaders and business owners now understand these approaches work.
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