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Louisiana Looking Up 2011 Celebrates Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship was celebrated and Louisiana's positive business news was highlighted at the eighth annual Louisiana Looking Up event, held on Thursday, Sept. 15, at LSU.

Todd Graves, president and founder of Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers and a Louisiana Looking Up panelist, told the audience about pursuing his vision fanatically.
Jim Zietz/University Relations

The event, hosted by the LSU E. J. Ourso College of Business and the LSU Flores MBA Alumni Association-Louisiana Chapter, welcomed state and business leaders, entrepreneurs, faculty, staff and students to exchange business ideas, network and discuss improvements Louisiana has made over the years.

Louisiana Looking Up was moderated by LSU E. J. Ourso College of Business Dean Eli Jones and featured LSU alumnus David Steiner, chief executive officer of Fortune 200 company Waste Management, as its keynote speaker, and LSU Chancellor Michael Martin as a special guest speaker.

Jones welcomed everyone to Louisiana Looking Up and said he was excited about the group of panelists and speakers lined up for this year's event.

"This is really a celebration of entrepreneurship," Jones said.

He told the audience to find the entrepreneurial spark within themselves and to listen and learn from those people who've taken the calculated risks and have become very successful.

"Those of you in attendance today have journeyed here from near and far to hear the success stories of some incredibly accomplished individuals. Their spirit of entrepreneurship is the impetus behind Louisiana Looking Up," Jones said.

Those accomplished individuals speaking at this year's Louisiana Looking Up included Martin and Steiner; panelists Todd Graves, president and founder of Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers; Patrick Mulhearn, director of Raleigh Studios Baton Rouge at the Celtic Media Centre; Peter Stewart, president, CEO and co-founder of TraceSecurity; Matt Saurage, president of Community Coffee; and guest speaker Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, or BRAC.

The eighth installment of Louisiana Looking Up at the Lod Cook Alumni Center featured keynote speaker David Steiner (right), chief executive officer of Fortune 200 company Waste Management, with LSU Chancellor Michael Martin (left).
Jim Zietz/University Relations

"This is an absolute stellar part of our outreach and community relations, and to have successful alumni come back and success friends share their stories and their insight is absolutely excellent and necessary for us to continue to be the institution we are," Martin said.

Each speaker provided background on how they made it to where they are today with starts ranging from fishing for sockeye salmon in Alaska and mowing lawns to working in state government and for one of the then "Big Eight" accounting firms. Each speaker brought a unique view on what it takes to make it in the business world.

"We want our graduates to run multinational companies. Here is your role model," said Jones when introducing Steiner.

Steiner, who graduated from LSU in 1982 with a bachelor's degree in accounting, talked about how Waste Management looks through threats and turns them into opportunities. He joined Waste Management in 2000, but only after turning down another lucrative opportunity at the time with another company, Enron.

"The first piece of career advice I give, more than anything – be lucky, not good," he said regarding his decision to choose Waste Management over Enron.

Another important piece of advice Steiner provided is to listen to customers.

"I found out that if there's one lesson that I was going to learn from business it's that your customers will always tell you how to run your business," Steiner said. "In anybody's career, the one thing I would tell you is very early on, understand your customers."

Graves, a Baton Rouge native whose chicken finger restaurant concept was developed as a business plan in an LSU class, opened the talks by the panelists.

LSU E. J. Ourso College of Business Dean Eli Jones, who moderated Louisiana Looking Up, asked the audience to find the entrepreneurial spark within themselves.
Jim Zietz/University Relations

Graves said that part of his entrepreneurial inspiration came from a quote he read in a screen writing book in college – "Nothing ever happens unless someone pursues a vision fanatically."

Graves certainly pursued his vision for Raising Cane's fanatically. After being repeatedly denied by local banks when trying to acquire startup funding, Graves worked in some of the most dangerous industries in the United States to raise the funds himself. First, he worked as a boilermaker in a Los Angeles refinery then fished for sockeye salmon in Alaska, while keeping his eye on his dream to open a chicken finger restaurant near LSU.

"You tell an entrepreneur they can't do it, they're going to prove you wrong," Graves said.

Following Graves, Mulhearn, who earned a bachelor's degree in 1997 and master's degree in 2000 from LSU, talked about the successful film industry in Louisiana. The state is currently ranked third in the nation for motion picture production, behind only California and New York.

"Louisiana is ahead of the curve on something," Mulhearn said. "Louisiana's not looking up regarding the film industry, we're looking brilliant."

Mulhearn highlighted recent films made in Baton Rouge, including "Battle: Los Angeles," "All the King's Men," "Battleship" and "Twilight: Breaking Dawn."

Production of these films is a boost to Louisiana's economy and provides job opportunities. Last year, the average pay for a job in the motion picture industry was $55,600. In Louisiana, it was $62,000.

"We've had a problem with our best and brightest leaving … we've finally hit on something that's keeping them here," Mulhearn said.

Louisiana Looking Up was hosted by the LSU E. J. Ourso College of Business and the LSU Flores MBA Alumni Association-Louisiana Chapter.
Jim Zietz/University Relations

Knapp gave an overview of how BRAC is helping to attract business and industry to the Greater Baton Rouge area.

"We don't say enough about how important LSU is to our economy," Knapp said. "I'll start by saying this – I've never seen a more pro-business leadership environment across the entire LSU architecture than we have today."

Knapp said that there are three things BRAC is going to do differently to be more competitive in attracting business to the area: continue to be more aggressive with innovation and entrepreneurship, compete globally and compete and win on talent.

"If you think about our business, we are passionate," he said. "We live and breathe our work to improve opportunity in the Baton Rouge area and to improve the state of Louisiana, to make it stronger."

Stewart, who graduated from LSU in 1982, has been a pioneer in the development of cloud-based security compliance solutions.

"I'm one of these serial entrepreneurs … I like to try to create something from nothing," he said.

Stewart talked about going from owning a lawn care service and managing apartment complexes to getting an opportunity with Fifth Generation Systems and getting to work in Tokyo and western Europe, all before graduating from college.

Saurage shared his experience as a fourth-generation owner and chief executive officer of the Community Coffee Company, established in 1919, when founder Henry Norman "Cap" Saurage first brewed the brand in Baton Rouge. He told the audience that as a small company, a business can make a difference and create change.

Cane II, the namesake of Raising Cane's, takes a break during the Louisiana Looking Up discussion.
Jim Zietz/University Relations

Saurage talked about his company's efforts to help in Rwanda and Columbia, major areas for coffee bean farming. Rwanda, in particular, suffered a mass genocide in the mid-1990s and about 800,000 people were killed, including most of the older male population. This tragedy destroyed much of the knowledge of coffee bean farming in that nation. Efforts have been made to help reestablish that knowledge in Rwanda.

One of the changes taking place for the more than 90-year-old Community Coffee Company is adopting social media. With a majority of their employees being 20-year veterans of the business, social media is a major step in their marketing, which Saurage called "Back to the Future" marketing.

"Louisiana is indeed looking up," said Jones, after hearing all of the successes being made in Louisiana business and industry.

Capital One, Guaranty Broadcasting and Stonetrust Commercial Insurance Company served as the event's premier sponsors. BlueCross BlueShield of Louisiana, the Celtic Group LLC, RoyOMartin and Sparkhound were major sponsors.

Louisiana Looking Up was coordinated by President of the Flores MBA Alumni Association and Chair of Louisiana Looking Up Troy Prevot, senior vice president of LUBA Workers' Comp, and Co-chair of Louisiana Looking Up Craig Juengling, executive and professional coach, Juengling & Associates LLC.

For more information on this year's Louisiana Looking Up, visit http://www.bus.lsu.edu/llu2011.