Passion vital to success, say businessmenMuth and Musick discuss how they created and grew their companies.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Successful Mitchell businessmen Roger Musick and Dick Muth told a noon luncheon audience Tuesday that their achievements have had more to do with a passion for their respective businesses, than luck.
Musick, the CEO of Innovative Systems, and Muth, the president of Muth Electric, were the keynote speakers for the second annual “My Biggest Break” speaker series, which is sponsored by the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce. The event, which was held at the Logan Luxury 5 Cinemas, in Mitchell, drew nearly 70 people.
Musick’s company Innovative Systems, founded in 1998, is a $25 million business with 180 employees. Both had a tough time limiting their breaks to just one.
“It takes way more than one big break to make it in business,” Musick said. Pressed to narrow his breaks to one, however, Musick said the start of his professional career began with a summer job he got in 1974, but his intense personal love of electronics provided the needed springboard for success.
“For my entire career I took hobbies and made them into businesses,” he said.
Musick told his audience that he knew, from the age of 12, that he wanted to attend the School of Mines and become an electrical engineer. He did just that, working his way through college at radio shops and television stations.
“I really enjoyed double-e (electrical engineering),” Musick said, noting that integrated circuitry was in its infancy when he graduated from college.
He also figured out, early on, that he did not want to live in a big city, which was the normal order of events for an electrical engineering graduate. Musick continued his education with an eye to bucking that trend and creating his own business in a smaller community.
His success in achieving that goal was recognized last month when Musick was awarded “The Spirit of Enterprise Award for Entrepreneurship” from the Enterprise Institute.
When Martin tapped Musick for that summer job in 1974, Musick learned to his amazement that he enjoyed designing rural communications systems.
Martin, Harvey Kelly and Musick eventually founded the Martin Group, which, with Musick’s technical expertise, successfully transitioned into the computer era. Over a period of 30 years, it became a prime developer of digital telecommunications systems, many of whose components have been sold internationally.
The Martin Group (now CHR Solutions) was sold, but not before it spun off Musick’s current company, Innovative Systems, in 1998.
Through it all, Musick, 63, said his formula has been to find an interesting idea, locate people to make it work, and then figure out a way to make it a business.
Money has been a by-product, he said.
“In my career, money was almost insignificant,” Musick said.
It does, however, allow him to hire good people and contribute to his community. He and his wife Vicki have been married since 1971. They have three children, two of whom are involved with the family business.
Musick said good schools and companies that pay a solid living wage are essential if Mitchell is to continue growing.
“My advice is make sure you’re doing something you like,” Musick said. “If you’re not, don’t complain. Go find something you like and do that.”
Both men were also in general agreement that luck and money had little to do with their successes.
Muth credits Mitchell Technical Institute
Muth, who was raised in Ethan, said he came by his delegating skills naturally. His mother died when he was only 13 and, as the oldest of seven children, he became his family’s second boss.
Muth, 65, said he always knew he wanted to run his own business, but unlike Musick, he didn’t know what that business would be as a boy.
“I don’t think luck has anything to do with how successful you are in this life,” he said. “Call it what you want, but the harder you work the luckier you get.”
Muth agrees, however, that he was fortunate that Mitchell Tech opened in Mitchell soon after his discharge from the Army. It allowed him to get the skills he needed — quickly.
Citing another stroke of good fortune, Muth said that four days after coming home from Vietnam he met Darlene, his wife of 42 years. Together they built a $70 million company with 350 employees and nine locations. They have four children and nine grandchildren, and many are involved with their companies.
He enlisted in the Army and did a tour in Vietnam in order to qualify for the G.I. Bill education money he needed for school. Mitchell Vo-Tech’s shorter curriculum filled the bill.
“I didn’t have time for college,” he said. “I needed to start my business.”
He saw the courses Mitchell Vo-Tech (now Mitchell Technical Institute) had to offer and thought the electrical program looked interesting.
He joked that when they began Muth Electric with a 1959 Ford as a service (and hunting) vehicle, he and Darlene “had a net worth of $500.” Both men cautioned wouldbe entrepreneurs against going into debt to start a business.
“People borrow too much money, for businesses and personally, today,” Muth said, “We never had an item of significant debt on our financial statements. We expanded on profits, not borrowed money.”
He said a key to his success has been in finding the right people to do the things he didn’t like or was unable to do.
“Hire the best and pay them more than they can make elsewhere, and pay them a portion of the bottom line,” he said.
Failure is not an option in business, Muth said noting that successful businesses deliver quality jobs on time. His company has had its setbacks, he said, but setbacks can be instructive — and humbling.
Muth called them “God’s way of making sure your head is screwed on right.”
Money is a side benefit, he said.
“If you don’t like what you do, life’s a drudgery,” Muth said. “I’ll probably retire when I don’t like Monday mornings.”