France 44 owner Rick Anderson ’92 (international studies, Latin American studies) took his family owned retail business from a simple bottle shop begun by his grandparents in 1959 to a multi-platform gourmet lifestyle experience.
How did Dickinson prepare you for your current career/endeavor?
My time at Dickinson prepared me in several ways. Most important, it taught me how to keep an open mind. Business opportunities are rarely obvious. In fact, every entrepreneur I’ve ever known, or read about, made their success by tapping into some underserved or undiscovered need. This demands some abstract thinking, which is a particular strength of a liberal arts education like what I received at Dickinson.
“My best work came out when others challenged me and my assumptions. No matter how right I thought I was, I learned that the arguments of others improved my own understanding.”
Additionally, an entrepreneur needs discernment to be able to judge if an opportunity is worth pursuing, and the courage of his or her conviction to carry it through. In my case, this was well honed through my international studies major. So much of the program required me to make research choices based on limited information, invest a great deal of time and effort in building a thesis and then defending my conclusions. Sometimes, an avenue would prove fruitless or a position indefensible. When this happened, I learned another important lesson for an entrepreneur. That is, when to “cut bait” and explore other opportunities.
Finally, my education at Dickinson taught me the last great lesson I needed for the road ahead: the importance of collaboration and utilizing the skills and interests of others to successfully complete a task. Nearly everything at Dickinson required collaboration to be successful. The small classes and close relationships with the professors made this a daily lesson. My best work came out when others challenged me and my assumptions. No matter how “right” I thought I was, I learned that the arguments of others improved my own understanding.
What was your "aha" moment?
The path to entrepreneurialism was a winding road for me. It started out in a major consulting firm—the ultimate corporate experience, with all of its inherent pressures and challenges. What surprised me was that, no matter how much I built up my career and expanded my influence, I ended up feeling ever more constrained. The longer I was in the corporate environment, the more I yearned to go my own way. My father and grandfather had both been entrepreneurs, and I could feel the entrepreneurial blood coursing through my veins. When my father was preparing to expand the family business, I knew the time was right to change course.
"No matter how well you plan, there will be many surprises. Expect them."
What inspires you?
My inspiration is to create as perfect an environment as is humanly possible. In the case of my businesses, it means making the kind of retail experience that people enjoy. As an employer, it means creating the kind of workplace that I would want to be in. For my family, it means ensuring them a stable base while allowing for the infinite possibilities the world presents. Everything revolves around respect and integrity. We celebrate our successes, and we honor our mistakes by understanding what went into the process and appreciating the effort and courage that went into it in the first place.
What advice would you offer to the entrepreneurs of tomorrow?
Trust your instincts, do your homework, surround yourself with people you trust and prepare for many mistakes. No matter how well you plan, there will be many surprises. Expect them. And make sure you have about three times the money you think you’ll need in reserve, as surprises are invariably expensive!
Next up for me is to consolidate the gains in the business, get my two boys ready for college and look for someplace warm to escape during the cold Minnesota winters—unless some new opportunity presents itself in the meantime!
“To create as perfect an environment as humanly possible. In the case of my businesses, it means making the kind of retail experience that people enjoy. As an employer, it means creating the kind of workplace that I would want to be in. For my family, it means ensuring them a stable base while allowing for the infinite possibilities the world presents. Everything revolves around respect and integrity.”
Published April 12, 2016