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Formal Education and Street Smarts – Fall 2013

While trying to crystallize a fall newsletter topic, one of my friends Julian Lum suggested that I write about education. I don’t know a whole lot about primary education, other than there are good schools and good teachers as well as bad schools and bad teachers.  A foundation of which I am a trustee, has been supporting an inspired Philadelphia teacher, Judy Willner, and her classes at the Joseph Pennell Elementary School for years.  An education group chose Judy to travel to Japan with other teachers from around the country. This trip filled her with ideas.  She had her city kids painting Japanese art, constructing Japanese costumes and eating Japanese food with chopsticks.

This year, I volunteered at the Northwood Academy Charter School. I had no personal knowledge of charter schools, only knew that several have made the headlines as the owners took big salaries and other charter school leaders embezzled money.  I had volunteered to help Northwood 7th graders with a solar car project.  On arrival the beautiful new facility in Northeast Philadelphia surprised me.  Likewise, I was impressed with science teacher Rhonda Feder.  She has a great knack for balancing enthusiasm with control in the classroom.  I was impressed with the students, who genuinely seemed interested in being there.  Northwood is a charter school founded by parents, not by entrepreneurs. So, good teaching and schools are where you find them.

My grandfather Samuel Tabas left school at 13 in Russia to work full time. School for him was Cheder, a traditional Hebrew school.  While he could read and was well informed, he never learned to write.  That did not stop him from immigrating to the United States, learning English, and becoming a success in the scrap iron and steel business.

Without a degree, he was also a moralist and prescient in relationships. I came across two memos dictated in the 1960’s by him.  The first memo was to my father and his brother about the importance of family getting along.  He was able to sense the developing negative effects that wealth, success, and spouses had on the family, and addressed them.  A huge chunk of executive responsibility is understanding and guiding similar interpersonal relationships so people work at their best.

The other memo was to my sister Linda and me suggesting a summer itinerary for us as young teenagers. At the time, our family owned the Downingtown Inn, a hotel/resort in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.  The memo states: “Out of bed at 6 a.m. Take fruit or juice.  Take a brisk walk and trot for about an hour. Play tennis or golf for about an hour. …Get on the job by 9 AM”. Pop Pop’s memo further advises:  “When you are on the job, eat right with the help. Be with them.  Listen to their conversations. Talk with them and help them as much as you can for the betterment of the business.” This sounds like the management theory “stay close to your employees”.

Nancy and I recently saw the movie Jobs, about Steve Jobs. The film starts by focusing on an unfocused dropout hanging around Reed College in Portland.  As Jobs said in a 2005 commencement speech, (dropping out) “was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions that I ever made”.  He goes on to say that he began taking classes that interested him, instead of the required classes. Calligraphy classes interested him.  “None of this had even a hope of practical application in my life.  But 10 years later, when we were designing the Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. It was the first computer with beautiful typography and multiple typefaces. If I had not dropped out…….personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.”

It seems clear from these two stories, as well as from the list of billionaire dropouts, that you don’t need more than a basic education to be an entrepreneur.

Formal education is not at the heart of providing customers with good service.  I would not want to be flying in a plane that was designed by engineers without formal education, but the basics of customer relations, employee training and management, loyalty and values are something that pretty much anyone so inclined can master.

If one has the luxury of formal education to become well rounded and provide additional time to grow up, by all means, yes. But if you wish be an entrepreneur, you can do it on your own.

Happy fall, everyone!


TABASFUNDING provides entrepreneurs with funding to acquire or expand businesses in the form of flexible loans from $100,000 to $750,000, or more. We supplement bank and other funds, and consider most types of businesses in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.   Please call 610-896-2400 or email for further information.


LEE TABAS is available as a consultant or an expert witness.  Areas of expertise include:  general business, management, problem asset resolution, marketing, acquisition or sale of businesses, relationship development, loan policies, high performance banking, and business funding.  Please call 610-896-2400 or email for further information.


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