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SCORE retired executives counsel local business developers

SCORE retired executives counsel local business developers

In 1996, John Dean was the brandnew CEO of International Staple and Machine, a $50 million-a-year company in suburban Pittsburgh. The board of directors had asked Dean to come up with a plan for the company’s future, and he wanted some reassurance.

Dean called the local chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives, SCORE, to get feedback on his proposal.

“I was stepping up to another league, and I just wanted to talk to somebody who had been there,” Dean said. “There was nothing specific I needed help with; it was just instilling confidence in me, ensuring the process I was using was correct. I began to see this as a resource that could provide different degrees of help, depending on the client.”

Now he provides that resource. Dean lives in Columbia and is the chairman of the mid-Missouri branch of SCORE, a non-profit organization of retired and semi-retired businesspeople who volunteer their time counseling clients and organizing seminars for businesses. Nationally, SCORE’s chapters provided small businesses with 296,739 counseling sessions in its most recent fiscal year, saving small business owners about $160 million in consulting fees, according to the organization’s Web site.

Mid-Missouri SCORE has about 50 members, half in Columbia and half in Jefferson City and Moberly. Last year, SCORE members did about 130 counseling sessions, working with 80 to 90 clients, Dean said.

Here in mid-Missouri, SCORE seldom deals with the CEOs of large corporations. Most of the people volunteers are young and looking to start new businesses with one to 10 employees, hoping for $50,000 to $500,000 million in revenue.

Volunteers spend much of their time tempering youthful enthusiasm with the perspective that comes with experience.

“We never say, ‘Don’t do it.’ We just make them put their own pencil to it and stick with them until they figure out whether this is a good idea or not,” said Jo Manhart, who puts her public relations expertise to use as a SCORE counselor.

Every once in a while, Manhart works with a client and starts wishing she could invest in his or her business—but that’s the exception, not the rule.

“We kiss a lot of frogs,” she said. “Sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.”

Caroline Perdomo, part-owner of Hacienda Perdomo Wellness Spa, said she appreciated the realistic approach of SCORE volunteers she consulted before starting her business.

“They really let us know what we were putting on the line,” she said. “It’s more than just having fun, having a business. When you’re creating a business plan, you think it’s going to be fun and ‘this is what I’ve always wanted to do’ and ‘these are my dreams and goals,’ but they really bring you down to Earth.”

The SCORE counselors didn’t always tell Perdomo what she wanted to hear. They gave her statistics about how many business fail, compared to how many work. In the end she knew what her market was and what steps she could take to give herself a better chance of succeeding.

Seeing people’s risks pay off is one thing Gary Duncan likes about volunteering for SCORE. Duncan, who worked for 42 years in the agriculture and biotechnology industries, helps clients refine their business plans.

“This young man we met with today has put a lot of risk into his plan,” Duncan said. “He’s kept his day job to buy all the equipment and gotten outside training. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to see people that really want to succeed. I think that all the people in (SCORE) are just like me. They’re trying their best to give back.”

Duncan said if he weren’t volunteering for SCORE, he’d have more time for traveling and more free time. “I’d probably get bored, though,” he added.

“It’s not sacrificial,” Dean said. “It really isn’t—for me anyway. The secret is to balance what I call one’s ‘energy portfolio.’ I have about five things that I volunteer for, and they’re all fun. The whole idea is to spread yourself around a little bit.”

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