By Alan Piñon
Entrepreneur and business maven Bob Skandalaris has a list of business successes many miles long. He founded and served as CEO of several private and public companies. Skandalaris is currently principal and CEO of Quantum Ventures of Michigan, a firm he started that specializes in the acquisition and development of middle-market businesses. His path to this success, however, was twisty, unaccepted, and many miles longer.
His journey through Michigan State University during the politically turbulent 1970s, and how his lessons learned are applicable today, will be part of what Skandalaris will share as he addresses the Broad College of Business Class of 2016 at commencement on May 7.
“When I graduated from Michigan State in ’74, there were a lot of naysayers. We were told we were in for a long, bad ride. Everything we heard was negative. These graduates today, they face the same negativity, but they will need to get beyond that and focus on opportunity,” Skandalaris said.
Even though Skandalaris graduated from the Broad College of Business and went on to have a very successful career, business was not his first choice as a discipline. He started with engineering and jumped to pre-medicine, but ran into the same roadblock each time in organic chemistry class.
“All those roads led to organic chemistry, which seemed more like a foreign language than a science class to me,” Skandalaris said. An interest in accounting made the business college the next logical step. What Skandalaris learned in the College of Business was how to manage risk and failure and, more importantly, how much risk and failure he was willing to tolerate.
“There is a time to take a risk, and an amount of failure you can live with and an amount you can’t live with. It’s important to go about that journey finding your threshold for both risk and failure in a supportive environment like a university, where you can not only learn from failure, but really break it down and grow from it,” Skandalaris said.
For Sanjay Gupta, the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Dean of the Broad College of Business, having Skandalaris as an alumnus of the college and an avid supporter of Michigan State University has been a great benefit to the community.
“Bob Skandalaris has been a leading voice in helping shape the direction of the university at large and especially at the Broad College of Business. His depth of knowledge in business, his willingness to constantly share the lesson learned, and his generosity in giving back to this university in both time and dollars has made this institution and everyone who comes through it better,” Gupta said.
Skandalaris said he gives back to higher education because he sees the university setting as a place for young people to find the passion that is critical for success, and because he feels giving in this area can be a catalyst for change to produce tangible results. This desire to produce tangible results is the reason Skandalaris is also serving as the co-chair of MSU’s Empower Extraordinary Campaign.
His advice for all students is to find a passion early and pursue it with vigor. “Too often we get into ruts. When you are 60 years old you can’t change your career, life or direction very easily. If you find your passion early in life, the money will come eventually. Find the thing you enjoy and do that, and just take any challenge and view them as opportunities,” Skandalaris said.