Finding a track for entrepreneurial options

Scott Patchin may fit the quintessential profile of a survivor in the new economy many folks are talking about. And that’s OK with him.

Patchin, president of The TrU Group LLC, his Holland-based consulting firm that specializes in employee development through professional training and coaching of his clients’ workers, joined the ranks of the unemployed in late April 2009 after a lengthy career as a learning executive, business leader, trainer and coach in manufacturing, financial and health care industries.

But he soon turned to the newly launched FastTrac program operated by the Michigan Business and Technology Center since June 2009. FastTrac is the Kauffman Foundation’s entrepreneur training program.

“FastTrac led to me experiencing some special things,” Patchin recalls. “I couldn’t believe that after hearing about this program, I literally called the phone number at state offices and within four hours received a call that gave me a $700 scholarship through the No Worker Left Behind program. All of this was in place within 48 hours and it all happened within three weeks of losing my job.”

Patchin attended the 10-week crash course that “enabled” him to develop the ability to vent his ideas about forming his own business, look at the potential market and clients, and even scope out potential competition.

“It showed how to have the guts and to make the personal sacrifice,” Patchin said. “(It taught how) to run the full financials and walk through the steps of establishing a business plan. I did my final presentation on July 28, 2009, and within about a month after that I had formed my business.”

Since his FastTrac experience, Patchin has been an active supporter of the program, appearing in a couple of press conferences and on a business roundtable with Gov. Jennifer Granholm. He also contributes as a speaker and mentor during the ongoing FastTrac sessions.

“FastTrac has been such an enabler for me,” said Patchin. “When I go talk to clients, I understand issues like positive cash flow.”

Patchin credits the state for pursuing programs such as FastTrac to jumpstart Michigan’s economy.

“Forget the politics,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do to help people with their ideas. Losing a job can be a big shock to their confidence. They can walk through this 10-week program — I did it. I understand where they are. Losing your job is the most stressful experience along with divorce and death. Starting a business is somewhere after that. But it can be done.”

Patchin also pointed to other business initiative opportunities in the area, including the Momentum program in Zeeland and Grand Valley State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, for which he has become “a big supporter.”

“There are a lot of great resources,” he said. “It will be interesting to see in 10 years what the Michigan business landscape looks like.

The trU Group LLC
Position: Principal
Age: 45
Birthplace: Midland
Residence: Holland
Family/Personal: Wife, Jenny; one son, three daughters.
Community/Business Involvement: Junior Achievement, Education Committee chair, program coordinator; Children’s Ministry, Leadership Team; Kids Hope, Training Advisory Committee; Davenport University, adjunct faculty mentor.
Biggest Career Break: Being given roles that involved the ownership of a function, and job loss that led to creation of his own business.

“I know these programs will have an impact. As much as I can, I like to stay around that center of energy where we are starting, growing companies.”

Focusing on clients who “are on a growth curve and have been,” Patchin is able to use his expertise in organizational learning, leadership development, organizational change and executive coaching to help executives identify ways to operate their businesses and use personnel more efficiently.

Patchin’s career path included stints with the former Prince Corp. and then after it became Johnson Controls Inc. in Holland.

“I started out in more of a plant role on the manufacturing side,” Patchin said. “Then I went into training function, initially technology training, and then started to do classroom leadership development and coaching.”

Patchin originally thought the assembly and product side of the business might drive his career. He attended Michigan Technological University but “in my second year, going for an engineering degree, I discovered I really didn’t like science.”

He stayed at the Upper Peninsula school and finished up with a business degree.

“That was a real life lesson — choose something you love to do. I didn’t do that out of the gate. I worked at LTD Steel in Chicago and saw how that culture was when the company went through bankruptcy amid a unionized environment.

“That showed me how companies are set up to succeed based on how they treat and manage people. I get what a company looks like with financial hardships — I experienced that for four years. I always loved to learn and that was a common theme throughout. I also learned I loved to teach and had the ability to help people figure things out through interaction.”

So he returned to school to garner his MBA in information technology from the University of Illinois, where he also was a teaching assistant.

Patchin, a Midland native, met his wife, Jenny, while in Chicago. They decided to settle in Holland, where they have lived for 16 years.

Applying skills he learned working for a small, family-owned operation in Prince Corp. that became part of an international conglomerate in Johnson Controls, and also at the 80-person Northpointe Bank, Patchin shares his perspective with small and medium-sized clients.

“That’s where there is a lot of opportunity to learn how to chip in,” Patchin observed “You do what needs to be done today. You may have a job description but you find yourself doing a lot of different things.”

Leadership traits are easy to identify but difficult to tap into, Patchin has found. “Leaders put a lot of pressure on themselves to know everything. The key is finding the tasks that are outside a person’s responsibility they might enjoy.”

Patchin conceded the top concern among most companies is not surprising: communication.

“Over and over again, it becomes the quality of the conversation within an organization,” he said.

“It’s especially noticeable now when people are busier. They’re under the gun to get things done with fewer resources. They aren’t having conversations they probably should be having.”

A top concern remains how to motivate workers and keep them “energized” during difficult financial times.

“A lot of people have been lost in the shuffle. The last two years in Michigan have been very difficult on the average worker. But now there is an opportunity to re-energize them. What can you be doing to get them all excited about work again?”

It’s important to make smarter decisions, he said. Since Patchin works with companies that continue to be in a growth trajectory after weathering the economic downturn, he can help them concentrate on the “people side” of their operations.

“If they’re worried about their cash flow, they don’t need me. They need someone else. My clients have some place to go from a business perspective. They need to understand what to do on the people side to be sure it’s successful.”

Patchin’s understanding of the “people side” includes his authorship of a book entitled, “So You’re Gonna Be A Dad — Now What?” It’s his first book in a series called the Moments Series for Fathers — “developed to help fathers make the most of moments they are given and to encourage them to create some of their own.”

“I love to write, and it was a great experience for me,” he said. “A lot I learned in writing the book helped in launching my business — using creative PR, finding support, learning how to get the word out about what you’re doing. I’ve applied it over and over again.”

The book garnered Patchin, a father of four, a “Mom’s Choice Award Winner” designation and allowed him to share tips he compiled in his own fatherhood journey.

“I write about gathering a community around a new father,” he said. “It’s more of a ‘hey, you should go out and get help’ approach. I tried to keep it funny, but relevant, not too cheesy. I wanted to encourage fathers to read my 82-page book and go out and have conversations with some of their friends.”

He termed fatherhood “another organizational transition that requires leadership. In fatherhood, it’s extremely important to have people around and to ask for help and admit you don’t know everything.”

“That’s very important in business, also. Leaders don’t need to think they have all the answers, because they don’t. There’s always a very dignified way to ask for help.

“That follows the themes in my life. Once I’ve walked through something, how can I use what I learned,” he said.

“I’m coaching people through some of the same transitions I went through myself. I get that.”

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