MONTROSE - Hap Klopp, who would later become the founder of The North Face outdoor retail company, knew he was in the wrong place when a Proctor & Gamble executive asked him to wear a white shirt and tie to his first day on the job.
The idea that a white shirt and tie had anything to do with being a productive worker was unnerving, Klopp told a full house at Colorado Mesa University's Entrepreneurship Day in Montrose last week.
It was the 1960s, but even then, Klopp knew he wanted to influence history – not just follow its rules.
Klopp turned down the Proctor & Gamble offer, and in 1966, founded the North Beach, Calif., business, The North Face, which took a commodity – Vietnam War supplies – to make products that would change the camping industry forever.
It was that entrepreneurship – his drive and risk-taking attitude – that made Klopp the successful businessman and consultant he is today, and it’s why the university asked him to speak at its annual event.
The event is in its seventh year at the university’s Grand Junction campus, but it this marks the first time it was also held in Montrose.
Past keynote speakers have included writer and actor Ben Stein and Jerry Greenfield, cofounder of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Holdings.
“The event started to celebrate and honor people out on the front line – those who put their butts on the line,” said Dr. Tim Hatten, a professor of business administration and co-director of the Entrepreneur Business Institute at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. “It's also a way to connect business students with the business community.”
The April 5 event was a huge success, with approximately 190 attendees, and it was well received by the community, said Joey Montoya Boese, director of the CMU Montrose campus.
“The idea is to evolve our program in Montrose to the level at our Grand Junction campus,” she said. “This year was to test the waters.”
The Grand Junction campus takes the event a few steps further, holding an idea challenge, where students can make 90-second “elevator pitches” to a panel of judges. The top three ideas get funding – $750 to $1,500 – to help move their projects forward, Hatten said.
He said the event has been very helpful for students – and has sparked entrepreneurship in the community.
Klopp, who appeared at the Montrose and Grand Junction events, discussed the need to have fun at work. What entrepreneurs fear most is getting stuck in a job they hate, he said. He emphasized that leaders need to take risks and be creative, while empowering those around them to take on the same challenges. True leaders have a vision that is lofty enough to inspire people, he said.
That leader must have a sense of urgency, because if they wait until everything is certain, “then everyone will have the opportunity,” Klopp said.
He advised leaders to avoid focus groups, because big groups never make bold choices.
“Search all the parks; you'll never see a statue of a committee,” he said.
Klopp said he's continually asked by business owners how they can motivate workers, and his response, “Hire motivated people.”
The event was so well received by the public that Boese said there is potential for it to grow into a regional affair.
“I think we have a great opportunity to partner with such groups as the DDA (Downtown Development Authority), the city, Region 10 and the county,” she said. “But we want to look beyond Montrose and include the region we serve. We want to look at Delta, Ouray and San Miguel. There is great opportunity here.”