Gilkey Speaker Shares Entrepreneurial Experiences with Business Students
October 31, 2017
University of Montana School of Business Administration alumnus Bill VanSickle has built three highly successful companies from scratch. The most recent, technology firm AIM Consulting Group, generated $100 million a year with 600 employees before VanSickle and his partners sold it in 2016.
“We started from zero,” VanSickle said. “No customers. No employees. Just a vision — just an opportunity really.”
While visiting UM as part of the Gilkey Executive Lecture Series on Oct. 26, VanSickle shared some of what he’s learned with business students, faculty and staff. His experiences include building one of the first wakeboard companies in the world, which he grew to include distribution channels in more 26 countries. He also co-created the information consulting firm ConsultNet, which produced more than $60 million in annual revenue before it sold in 2004.
Vansickle said compassion toward customers is one of the most valuable business lessons he’s learned.
“It’s straightforward,” he said. “People want to make it something difficult, but what I’ve found is if you care, people get that. It makes a difference. We try to make it a true win-win for our customers and for us. And when we do that, our company seems to win too.”
VanSickle led classroom discussions with students and interacted with faculty and staff during his visit, including a morning hike to the M. In lieu of the typical evening public lecture, Jason Weiner, a student in the Master of Business Analytics program, interviewed VanSickle in front of about 150 attendees.
VanSickle said he sees entrepreneurship as creating an engine of opportunity for others.
“It’s the ultimate path, when it’s about somebody else,” he said. “When you see their experience and see them do it better than you, it’s fantastic.”
For VanSickle, the Gilkey Lecture was an opportunity to return to the School of Business Administration for the first time since he graduated in 1985. VanSickle began his career as an accountant at Boeing before becoming an entrepreneur. He has since invested in more than 70 companies in industries such as telecommunications, extreme sports, real estate, health care, gaming and technology.
He said it doesn’t matter how much someone makes or where they came from, as long as they are ready to contribute as a team member.
“I don’t care where you went to school,” VanSickle said.” I went to UM and can compete against anybody. You shouldn’t feel for one moment that you’re less than anybody who went to Harvard. I’ve worked with these guys. They’re no different. What you have here is probably more powerful because the people that come from Montana, they’re real and that relationship that you form and the families that you came from, that’s everything. That’s a differentiator for me.”
UM alumni Harold and Priscilla Gilkey established the Gilkey Executive Lecture Series to enrich business education at UM. Since its founding in 2004, the series has drawn speakers such as BlogHer co-founder Lisa Stone and Potlatch Corporation CEO Michael Covey to address issues across marketing, management, finance, ethics and leadership.
Photo: VanSickle on stage with School of Business Administration student Jason Weiner.