Matt Pozel of the Kauffman Foundation Shares the Story & Legacy of Ewing Kauffman (Interview)

In America, we are lucky to have an environment that welcomes innovation and supports small business owners and entrepreneurs. The current environment is the result of countless organizations and individuals that have made the case for the importance of entrepreneurialism and helped individuals get their start. Last week I spoke with a representative of one such organization – Maria Contreras-Sweet, the Administrator of the SBA. This week I am proud to share a new interview about another organization that is a champion for entrepreneurs and small business owners – an interview with Matt Pozel of the Kauffman Foundation.

Matt Pozel is a Senior Analyst in Communications at the Kauffman Foundation. Matt has over twenty years of experience as a communications professional and has received many awards for editing, writing and publication. He joined the Kauffman Foundation in 1998.

During our interview, Matt told me the fascinating story of the Kauffman Foundation’s founder, Ewing Kauffman. We also discussed specific Kauffman Foundation initiatives and a range of other topics regarding entrepreneurs. As always, I will discuss some interview highlights below, but I also urge you to listen to the full interview.

The Story of Ewing Kauffman – A True Smart Hustler

The Kauffman Foundation was founded by Ewing Kauffman, one of the greatest American success stories and proof of the power of smart hustling.

Kauffman started out as a pharmaceutical sales representative and proved to be an amazing salesman. As Matt tells me in the interview, one year Kauffman did so well that he actually made more money than the president of the company! Instead of rewarding him for this amazing performance, they actually ‘punished’ him by lowering his sales territory. This didn’t stop Kauffman. Even though he had a smaller territory to sell in, he worked even harder the next year and again made more money than the company’s president. His thanks? This time his commission rate was cut.

Recognizing that he wasn’t being treated well by this company, Kauffman decided to strike it out on his own. He quit his job and started working out of the basement of his Kansas City home, selling to doctors during the day and counting and packaging pills at night. He named the business Marion Labs (after his middle name) so doctors wouldn’t know that he was a one-man operation, which is one of the classic ‘rules’ for the savvy entrepreneur: fake it until you make it.

With perseverance and hard work, Kauffman was able to build Marion Labs into a billion dollar pharmaceutical company. One of his philosophies for running the business was to “share the rewards with those that produce.” This philosophy is a result of the way he was treated as a salesman. In his own company, he called people ‘associates’ instead of ‘employees.’ He wanted them to own stock in the company and benefit from its success.

Entrepreneurship Opens Doors for Kauffman

Many people become entrepreneurs or small business owners because of the opportunities running your own business presents, including the ability to create your own schedule, be your own boss, and if you accumulate wealth, there are many other great things you can do with your life.

Such was the case for Ewing Kauffman. In building Marion Labs, he was able to hire thousands of workers over time and delegate tasks so he could do other things. One of them was bringing baseball back to Kansas City. It was Kauffman who established the Kansas City Royals in 1969 and ran the team for 25 years. The stadium is now named Kauffman Stadium in his honor.

Later on in life, Kauffman started thinking more and more about philanthropy. Wealthy entrepreneurs often create philanthropic organizations, but Kauffman wanted his to be based on the things that most influenced his life. His two greatest influences were education and the chance to start his own business, so he founded the Kauffman foundation to focus on the advancement of education and entrepreneurship. While the educational initiatives take place in the urban core of Kansas City, the entrepreneurship initiatives have spread all across the country.

Kauffman Foundation Initiatives

As a philanthropic organization, the Kauffman Foundation has money to give but not to individuals specifically. Instead, it focuses on conducting research and creating programs that boost education and entrepreneurialism.

On the entrepreneurial side, many of the initiatives are related to training and mentorship. For example:

  • Founders School is an online resource with dozens of teaching modules on dozens of topics that help entrepreneurs create and grow their businesses.
  • FastTrac is a program in community colleges for aspiring entrepreneurs along with a growth program for current business owners who want to take their business to the next level.
  • 1 Million Cups started as a small event in Kansas City where entrepreneurs would come together on Wednesday morning. Two entrepreneurs would give a short 8-minute presentation about their business then there would be a 20-minute session where the audience could ask questions. As an innovative way to learn and be mentored by peers, the program has now spread to 50+ locations around the country.
  • Research and policy are other focuses for the Kauffman Foundation, where they research the business climate in order to explore policies and conditions that limit new entrepreneurs and ways to better help this important part of the American economy. One example is their recent research on the New Entrepreneurial Growth Agenda.

The Kauffman Legacy

The story of Ewing Kauffman and the Kauffman foundation is fascinating. I urge you to listen to the complete interview, where we also dive into topics like whether there is a difference between small business owners and entrepreneurs, and the various types of entrepreneurs. Kauffman died in 1993, but there will be a big celebration this year in Kansas City to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth.

It’s important to recognize that Ewing Kauffman was an incredible businessman and a role model for all entrepreneurs. As Matt puts it, when you know more about his background:

It makes you realize that you sort of lose sight of the fact… when they start naming baseball stadiums after you and there are statues in your honor and all these awards…that it was one man working out of the basement of his house just to provide for his family and succeeded again beyond his wildest dreams.

However, in the end, the Kauffman Legacy is less about the business and more about the philanthropic organization he was able to create from the wealth of that business. Marion Labs is no longer in existence; it was divided and merged, so now there are pieces of it here in there. The Kauffman Legacy, then, is a legacy of a foundation that has supported education and American entrepreneurship.

“I think there is a lesson here,” says Matt Pozel, “Your business is great but, for an entrepreneur, what does it allow you to do? What does it allow you to do to help other people?”

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