WILSON, N.C. — November 6, 2017 — Entrepreneur Robert L. Luddy captivated a full-house audience in Hardy Alumni Hall at Barton College with his discussion of bold vision, persistence, and sweat equity. Luddy, the founder and president of CaptiveAire, the nation’s leading manufacturer of commercial kitchen ventilation systems, was the featured speaker for the College’s recent BB&T Center for Free Enterprise Education Lecture.
Luddy laid out an extraordinary plan for beginning a business, step by step, for Barton’s School of Business students in the audience. It’s not a journey for the faint-hearted, but it’s definitely a journey worth the steps for those choosing to boldly enter entrepreneurship.
He views entrepreneurship as a vocation and emphasized that “successful entrepreneurs anticipate and serve the needs and desires of the user, reject the status quo, create demand (referencing Say’s Law) and determine how best to serve the user, regardless of current trends.” He also encouraged the students to be alert, find quality solutions for long-term results, keep things simple, and offer “five-star service.” “How you think will determine your future,” Luddy noted adamantly. In explaining how to think differently, he offered multiple examples of how entrepreneurial thinkers are different from average thinkers, and how entrepreneurial leadership is different from bureaucratic leadership. He noted the importance of continually acquiring knowledge about your discipline and applying that knowledge to move your organization forward. And, he said it was equally important to continually evaluate your performance, asking what works well and where can adjustments be made that will positively affect the process, production, and delivery of your product.
He went on to explain the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, a philosophy focused on continually working toward improvement and never accepting complacency. And, he encouraged the audience “to be bold but to be right.” He noted that part of entrepreneurship is taking risks to move forward, but make sure to take those risks carefully. “And, if you make a mistake, apologize immediately (we all make mistakes), and make up for it 100%,” he added. “This builds trust. Trust is much harder to build than break.”
Luddy lives by the mantra, “Be a person of character.” He reminded students to “uphold uncompromising integrity, and act with virtue and ethical behavior at all times. Seek truth and goodness. Users know when you are not looking after their best interests. And, give generously and be transparent.” He added that “if you live as a person of character, you will never live in disgrace.”
He told students to lose the victim mentality. “Life isn’t fair, and there will always be people who have more talent, skills, or resources than you.” He explained that while you can’t control the event, you can control the response, and your response can affect the eventual outcome.
He also encouraged the students to take responsibility and to remember that there is no short-cut to hard work. He noted that when there’s a problem, you need to fix it, and learn to be self-reliant. Luddy encouraged them to remain humble as they serve others and to always find ways to improve. “Tear your ideas to pieces to identify the flaws and make improvements,” he said. “If you don’t, the market will.”
Luddy shared that the North Carolina-based CaptiveAire began in a one-room facility in 1976 with $1,300. In 2016, CaptiveAire’s sales exceeded $400 million. With only $1,300 in funding, it was Luddy’s sweat equity that moved his company forward, proving to users that his company’s product was worth their investment.
And, he emphasized that perseverance was paramount to success. “When all else fails in life, you have determination, perseverance, and grit to get you through,” he noted. He reminded future entrepreneurs to stay focused on the future and remain determined to succeed. Luddy added, “Greatness requires a lifetime of practiced excellence.”
Luddy was the ninth annual lecturer in the BB&T Free Enterprise Education Lecture series, which was established at Barton in 2008 by the BB&T Charitable Foundation. These lectures draw attention to the moral and economic values that support leadership in the business world. The Barton School of Business is similarly built around training in essential business skills, innovation, and leadership. For more information about the BB&T Center for Free Enterprise Education, please contact Dr. John J. Bethune, Center Director and the Dorothy and K. D. Kennedy Chair in Business at (252) 399-6422 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.