A few months ago I asked the Board of the Illinois Technology Association to begin a search for new leadership, and I am thrilled that they have completed that task. Effective immediately, I’m stepping down as Chairman of the ITA, and my day to day volunteer efforts there.
I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 15 years old, which is to say most of my professional and personal life has been fused. I’ve never known normal working hours, never left my work at the office, and have generally always been on the clock. Occasionally, my work allows me flexibility that benefits my family. Too often, my work has spread me thin, at the expense of my family.
I was raised to value public service, and my time with the ITA has been a good outlet for servant leadership. Sometimes, my for-profit businesses have suffered from my volunteer efforts, but I have few regrets.
My sister died too young, leaving behind two beautiful girls for my Mom to protect and raise. Now, in the wake of my Mom’s unexpected death (also too young at 60), I’m making more life changes, partially to spend time with family, and partially because life is too short to stand still. I’m more interested in creating, and less interested in coasting along with what I’ve already built.
I pulled a broad group of people together in 2005 to create the ITA, and a few months later recruited my partner Fred Hoch to join and help me lead the organization. Our goal was to build a more connected, collaborative tech community in the region. Today, nearly 700 member companies get real value out of this organization, and collectively the organization is able to do very good work in the community. I’m particularly proud of the various initiatives that take a long-term view of how talent will develop and flow into Chicago over the next decade.
I’m leaving the organization in the best financial health it has been, though I am also proud that we started the ITA with almost no capital, and managed through nearly seven years of very strong growth (in some very challenging times). There are a bevy of leaders at the table, some of whom can easily step up to fill the gap, but in truth the ITA long ago grew beyond the little startup with a couple of guys guiding it.
Just like most startups, there comes a time when the founders step aside to make room for other people to take things to the next level, and I’ve overstayed my time with ITA. I’m glad Jim Gagnard has stepped up to take the mantle… He has a great history taking over for founders and leading companies into the growth stage, and is well suited for the job.
I’ll remain involved and supportive of ITA as Chairman Emeritus, but my primary community service around Chicago will be focused on the Chicago Tech Academy and seeing that through to success. I cofounded that school in part as an example to encourage others in our community to take on servant leadership, and find ways to help other people. I’m of better use to that effort today, than I am of need at the ITA.
There are interesting new venture ideas percolating, and I’ll continue to support TechNexus and the venture collaboration that has happened there. With more than 100 successful startups grown within those walls, there is much that can be done there.
So, while my family steps up to take the highest priority in my life, and my time leading ITA comes to an end, I’m not moving on, just moving forward. Stay tuned.