10 Lessons Learned from a Legend

Tech pioneer Rick Forsythe passed away this winter. Here’s how his business model influenced BlueHour.

IMO: Robert Dvorak

Rick Forsythe founded Forsythe/McArthur Associates, Inc. in Chicago way back in 1971. Starting with $200 and a home office in his apartment dining room, Rick began building client relationships and doing deals, working the phone frantically all day, every day. From buying and selling used IBM mainframe gear originally, Rick quickly expanded into equipment leasing to help solve clients’ financial objectives. As the saying goes, the rest is history. Rick led the growth of Forsythe/McArthur into new offerings and business solutions for over 30 years, culminating with the sale of his company, Forsythe Technology, Inc., to his employees in 2006. At that point, Forsythe Technology, Inc. was a billion-dollar company with nearly 1,000 employees nationwide making it one of the largest and most successful ESOP operating models (100% employee-owned).

Along the way, Rick taught us important business and life lessons that we could never learn at even the most prestigious business schools.

Rick’s alma mater, Miami University, was so proud of his accomplishments, and any visitor to Oxford, Ohio, can see Rick’s legacy showcased in the Forsythe Library at Miami’s Farmer School of Business. Rick downplayed that distinction, but I know it made him proud and happy.

We were all lucky to learn from Rick’s wisdom, courage, bravery in battling AMD, and tireless work ethic. He was loved by many and will be sorely missed.

Our mission at BlueHour is to carry forward the very best aspects of Forsythe Technology’s culture and use them as our foundation for modern approaches. Rick had a profound impact on teaching us how to treat employees, clients, and stakeholders with mutual respect. That will always be at our core for beginning and developing successful and meaningful relationships. Business solutions and technologies will be dynamic; our core is static.

I think Rick would be proud of BlueHour, because, as they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery. RIP, big boy.


Like Rick, I will try my best to keep the points concise and simple—Rick was always great at saying a lot with just a few words or sentences. Regrettably, I often fall short of that high standard of brevity.

     

    1. “Stick to your knitting”
      Know what you are good at and stick with it. Keep your eyes open for growth opportunities, but do not wander too far from your core

    2. “Take care of the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves”
      Expenses were always watched. Spend money like it was your own, so don’t blow it on needless things. Every dollar saved goes straight to the bottom-line, so be diligent. It should be noted and commended, Rick ran a profitable business every year…from year 1 to year 35, through every imaginable economic business cycle.

    3. “Risk not thy whole wad”
      Take risks but steer clear of “bet the business” transactions. Never wander far from the voice and challenges of clients as this tells you where to place your bets.

    4. “The turtle wins the race”
      During the dot.com madness, most of us were frustrated with Rick’s slower and more deliberate pace of running the company. We all wanted to expand and get into the dot.com race, but Rick’s wisdom paid off in March 2001 when the bubble burst, and we kept growing at a steady rate. In semi-retirement, Rick’s investment company was appropriately called TWR3—Turtles Win Races.

    5. “Deliver the “A” package”
      Delivering the A Package is “Do what you say you will do when you say you’ll do it.” This is essentially a version of the golden rule but living up to delivering the A Package takes a personal commitment to excellence and provides a competitive advantage. Not many companies ingrain the importance of serving clients with this level of consistent, exemplary service. It does not go unnoticed or unappreciated by clients.

    6. “Follow up”
      Many people ask for favors and then disappear. Circle back and complete the story. Tell the curious person you asked the favor of how the story ended. Do it with common decency and good manners. You tapped into the goodwill bucket, and it is your obligation to refill it.

    7. “Learn your craft” and “Dumb is forever”
      These are two sides of the same coin. Intellectual curiosity is one of the most common traits among top performers. And that takes a commitment to lifelong learning and investing in yourself. The desire and need to always be relevant require a commitment to your craft. And those that don’t see the need to improve, never do. The biggest compliment any employee could be given was the earned right to make business decisions on their own, which usually came from a handwritten note from Rick that simply said “your call.” That is when you knew you had earned the trust.

    8. “If you stay up with the owls, you still need to rise with the eagles”
      A culture of “work hard, play hard” does not lower the standards of excellence. Stay up late at the sales kickoff? Fine, have fun. Miss the 7:00 am meeting the next day? Unacceptable. One never wants to be the story at sales meetings or company events. Act like a pro.

    9. Run your business like a lemonade stand
      As our business became more complex, so did accounting and finance rules and strategies. GAAP financials, EBITDA, deferred revenues, amortizations, and many other income and balance sheet mechanics, could sometimes blur the real health and trends of the business. Rick organized the accounting and finance strategies to GAAP standards, but also looked at the health of the business through his “RAF” financials—a short snapshot of bookings, expenses, and profits. What was coming in the door, what was going out the door, and was more being collected than was being spent. Simple. And that simple view of the business is a primary reason Rick’s company stayed profitable every year for 35 years running.

    10. Employees should be treated like adults
      Micro-managing was never part of Rick’s style. He never liked people looking over his shoulder, and he never looked over the shoulders of his people. But he set performance goals and expected everyone to meet them. There was an unwritten, quiet pressure to meet goals, and most did. The culture allowed personal styles to flourish yet assimilate around the Company objectives. That created a diverse mix of styles focused on delivering the “A” Package.

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