Owning and operating a business can be an emotional rollercoaster ride. Just ask T.J. Eberle (MBA ’98), who turned one of his dreams into a multimillion dollar business and information technology consulting company. The alumnus of the Wake Forest University Schools of Business Charlotte MBA program talked openly with fellow alumni, students and prospective students about the ups and downs of his journey. His presentation was a part of a Wake Forest networking and recruitment event on Sept. 15 at the Levine Center for the Arts in Uptown Charlotte.
Eberle is a Senior Vice President and President of U.S. IT Solutions for hiSoft Technology International. He joined hiSoft in July of 2011, when the company acquired NouvEON, a business and technology consulting firm that Eberle established in February of 2003.
Eberle said NouvEON was started for less than $100,000 and he went without a salary for the first six months. “We only had about six and a half months to make it happen,” he said. By October of 2003, the company was cash flow positive and experienced tremendous growth with more than 1.5 million dollars of revenue in 2004.
However, the growth didn’t come without a price. Eberle said the company started running out of cash and needed to get a loan to finish a major project. “Not everything is easy. Even in high growth, there are ways to lose your way,” he said. The company was able to secure a loan to finish the project, but would need to get even more operating money. “We raised $500,000 technically from friends and family, but we were losing money a fair amount and by mid-April, we were out of that money. We maxed out on our credit line.”
Eberle said he and his wife faced a difficult decision. They needed to get cash for payroll, and their house was the only place left. “We had three weeks and we were able to secure our first project with Duke Energy and never had to put the house on the market. We lost our way around the profitability curve,” he said. “You have to go back and live your core values and live your business plan.”
June of 2007 was a profitable month and Eberle said NouvEON had been profitable every month since. “We knew we were on fire, but if you run the company like you are on fire, you will always be on fire,” he said.
In 2010, the company celebrated its first million dollar month. Soon, suitors started calling. One was China-based business and technology firm hiSoft Technology. Eberle was intrigued but insisted, “If you only want us to sell services to outsourcers, we are not your team.” HiSoft meanwhile saw the full benefits provided by NouvEON to become the platform for leading U.S. consulting services growth. The deal closed in July of 2011. Eberle held a special meeting for NouvEON employees in a Wake Forest Charlotte Center classroom to share the news. He is staying on with hiSoft as the leader of the company’s U.S. operations. He said it’s business as usual for the most part for NouvEON employees. “It’s the same management team and the same set of services. It is very important to me that we maintain our culture. We are still running our business as our business and that is frankly what the CEO wants us to do. “
Eberle learned a lot since starting NouvEON. He offers valuable advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, starting with having a great partner. Eberle credits his wife for offering wisdom, support and keeping him grounded. “It’s a very lonely place when you are looking at how to make payroll. You need to have someone to talk with, someone who is willing to listen, and someone who can talk sense into you when you need it.”
Long before you get there, Eberle says you need to envision what success looks like, know what kind of business you are running and act like you are already where you want to be. He says you must know what drives your business, key metrics, trends, and how to tell what’s going to happen before it happens.
Eberle cautioned that being a business owner/operator is an emotional rollercoaster. “Fortunately in the business we do, when we mess up, nobody dies,” he smiled. “Don’t get too high on yourself because things can change quickly.” He continued, “Be prepared to be disappointed. People will disappoint you and some of their actions may even shock you.”
In a small business, people can also feel like part of your family. Eberle shared an emotional story of losing an employee, who was a single mother, to breast cancer. The team at NouvEON stepped up to raise money to build a college fund for her son. “Is it a family or is it a team? I don’t know. Business is business and people are people. You have to put the two together. We spend too way much time together to not embrace it,” he said.
He stressed that no matter what stage of life, you can’t be afraid to fail. “You have to dream big. If your dreams don’t come true, dream again.”
“A Wake Forest MBA will equip you with the fundamentals to be successful. The rest is what you bring to the table with passion and being able to keep people motivated.”
Elberle has more than 20 years of leadership experience in the information technology field. His company, NouvEON, won numerous awards for achievements in business, including the Top Ten Growth Award by the Private Company Index (PCI) for six straight quarters, Inc Magazine’s “Inc 5000” list four years running, and Consulting Magazine’s “Best Firms to Work For” and “Seven Small Jewels” awards. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations from Virginia Tech before earning his MBA from Wake Forest.