hall of fame inductee, 2006
sandefer capital partners
You started your first business at the age of sixteen. Can you tell us about that first venture and when you knew you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
I worked as a manual laborer painting large metal tanks in the West Texas oilfields as a summer job while in high school, watching minimum wage laborers like me go through the motions, watching the clock. Facing yet another summer in the hot sun, I decided to hire our high school’s football coaches to paint tanks as my employees, overseeing their football players as workers. Instead of paying by the hour, we paid by the job.
My minimum wage co-workers took three days to paint a tank; our coaches and crews, properly incentivized, painted three tanks a day – a 900% productivity increase. We charged 80% of the price of our competitor’s and still had 75% profit margins.
So in essence, I started my first business just to get out of the searing West Texas sun and into air conditioning.
After earning your MBA, you founded Sandefer Offshore and Sandefer Capital Partners. What did that experience teach you about being an effective and impactful leader?
Early on, I learned that helping my colleagues succeed, motivating them, and At Sandefer Offshore I was 27 years old, leading 60-year-old scientists who had worked at Exxon, Chevron and Mobil. I took the smallest office and parked in the worst parking space, as a sign of respect to those who knew far more than I did but were willing to follow the vision and mission I described.
In 2010, you and your wife Laura started Acton Academy, a K12 school that blends a one room schoolhouse, the Socratic Method and 21st century technology. What was your inspiration behind starting Acton?
Our inspiration were our three children, Taite, Charlie and Sam. Each a genius in his or her own way, who deserved better than to be chained to a desk for eight hours a day, five days a week for their entire childhood. My biggest lesson has been that children are capable of far more than we ever imagined.
How do you define “excellence” in business?
Find a deep customer need that makes the world a better place; deliver on your promises and have some cash left over in the end.