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Community Breakfast on Entrepreneurs

By:  Stephen Shore, February 17, 2016

Schultz, Weitzman, and Litman answering audience questions
Schultz, Weitzman, and Litman answering audience questions
Event Date:  October 18, 2015

How Successful Entrepreneurs Build Their Companies

The Temple Emanu-El Brotherhood was honored to have presented three of the preimenent entrepreneurs in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for this program. Each has started multiple companies from scratch where each has become a dominant leader in their marketplace. Their discussion illuminated the innovative processes of starting new companies and insuring that they become successful.

This free program presented at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas on Northaven Road was open to all. A light breakfast of lox, bagels, and cream cheese along with coffee and orange juice was served before the program began.

Robert EpsteinAfter the introduction by Robert Epstein, organizer of this Brotherhood Community Breakfast Discussion, each speaker provided some background about his unique entrepreneurial situation.

First to speak was Herbert D. Weitzman, Executive Chairman of The Weitzman Group, the largest retail real estate brokerage force in Texas, and Cencor Realty Services, which ranks among the top shopping center management firms in the United States. In 2005 he received the Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Herbert Weitzman
Herbert Weitzman
Southwest for outstanding achievement in Commercial Real Estate. He is a member of the Texas Commercial Real Estate Hall of Fame.

Mr. Weitzman discussed both his first foray into real estate and his philosophy of starting and running his businesses. He related a story of his first property/building purchase and the small financial commitment, compared to his investments today, and the very good return he foresaw from this investment. Then with pride, he took his father to see the property. His father asked how much money he was putting into this property. After he told his father the amount, his father advised him not to do it because it was far too much money to invest in a business. Since that day he has never taken any advise from his father on his business.

Mr. Weitzman then discussed how he has used money to build and invest in commercial real estate, continually choosing properties, mostly shopping centers, that are in locations that will be popular. He developed strong relationships with companies such as restaurant chains that would come back and be repeat clients in multiple properties.

Second to speak was David Litman, a serial entrepreneur. He grew hotels.com to become the world’s largest hotel website. Growing from a small private company to a midsize public company that outperformed most NASDAQ companies and sold in 2003 at a business valuation of more than $5.5 billion. Getaroom.com, launched more than five years ago, uses a huge database of David Litman
David Litman
hotels and rate plans to offer more than 90,000 hotels worldwide.

Mr. Litman had two mantras upon which he concentrates with starting businesses, the first of which was frugality. Every business that he has started was self-funded. He was able to do this by only spending money on his businesses when it was necessary to the success of the business. In addition to doing things like shunning Aeron chairs, those expensive chairs of the status conscious, he extends this to bringing his own lunch to work every day. As an example, he suggested that if you bring your lunch to work every day, if you save about $8 per day, depending upon your interest rate, you could have saved between a quarter of a million and a million dollars. He extends this to every part of his companies.

In all of his companies he has looked for technology plays would he could be the big  fish in a big pond. Basically, where he could establish a technology and market leadership role so that others could not challenge his position. An example was hotels.com. While he sold 80% of the company to what became Expedia before 2000, the company was able to excel even as the technology bubble was bursting just after 2000. The company went public at about $16 a share and five years later, when most tech companies saw their net worth tumble, his company's share price had gone up to almost $100 per share.

With his latest venture, getaroom.com, he has become the hotel room aggregator for the world by putting together an online service that is the primary clearing house for hotel rooms. The getaroom.com backend has actually become the backend for a number of other companies who offer access to worldwide hotel rooms, such as kayak.com. 

Third to speak was Brian Schultz, Founder and CEO of Studio Movie Grill (SMG), a dine-in movie theater concept, who is credited as a leader of this rapidly growing segment of the exhibition industry. SMG’s twenty-three theaters in 10 states attract more than 10 million patrons annually.
Brian Schultz
Schultz, a BS in Business Finance from California State University, Chico, is a founding member of the Young Entrepreneurs Organization. He was the recipient of the 2013 Regional Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year®.

Mr. Schultz related how although we had snagged what at the time he had thought would be his dream job, administrative assistant to U.S. Senator Arlan Spector, once he started doing the actual job, he found that it bored him. Then one day while killing time between meetings while on a tour of voter meetings with Sen. Spector, he found himself in a small, less-than-clean, one-screen theater in a small Pennsylvania town that had comfortable lounge-type seats and sold less than appetizing food and drink at the seats. While unimpressed with that particular theater, he was very impressed with the idea of making moving going a much more enjoyable experience. He then toured theaters in about half the states of the country basically writing a book of best practices for theaters. He did this by going to these theaters, explaining that he was writing a best practices book, and offering to work several shifts at the theater for free just to learn how they operated. In that time he stayed a more seedy hotels and ate more bad food than he really wants to remember ... but learned a tremendous amount about movie theaters. 

Although planning to start his own first theater in California, when doing his theater tour he stumbled upon the Granada Theater in Dallas and decided it was the perfect place to start. However, start-up wasn't easy. Although he had a financial backer, he did not have a blank check. Consequently, when things got tight and payroll was due, he was not above maxing out his Discover card, the sole credit card he had to his name.

While he is fixated on providing an exceptional experience to his patrons, Mr. Schultz said that he has found the only rational way to do that is by continually making his employees happy. It is the interaction between the employees and the patrons that is the overriding factor in the attraction of his theaters over other venues.

After each of the speakers gave their presentation, the three together fielded questions from the audience of over a hundred attendees. 

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