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Entrepreneurs and the liberal arts education

By Contributing Writer on January 21, 2013
Bob Chamberlain '74

Bob Chamberlain ’74

I am a Colgate graduate and currently a successful entrepreneur, and participate as a mentor in Colgate’s Thought Into Action (TIA) Institute. The TIA program at Colgate captured my imagination as a potential approach for someone with a long history of both success and failure in entrepreneurial activities to get engaged with students at the grass roots level and actually help to make a difference in their lives.

TIA is the kind of grass roots program that will allow those of us with experience, who would like to help, to go hands-on with students and open up a new vista of possibilities, while providing real world work perspective the students will not get from their normal classes, and helping TIA student participants to avoid the mistakes we made as entrepreneurs. I believe that TIA is a terrific opportunity for learning.

TIA recently posed the question to me – did the liberal arts education I received at Colgate contribute to my success as a business entrepreneur? Unfortunately, there is no easy, straightforward answer to this question. Reflecting on my Colgate experience, I was a horrible student. That might be too strong, but between all of my jobs and the fact that I had no idea what I might want to major in, getting motivated to study was a challenge for me.

I majored in Economics, because I couldn’t think of anything else I was particularly interested in. I then took as many courses outside of my major as I could manage, including the likes of geology, astronomy, physics, geography, calculus, and a few others. Probably the course that had the most impact on me was our freshman core course, Philosophy, Religion, and Drama, as it taught me to think, expand my horizons a bit, and perhaps most importantly, to write well. Professor Jerry Balmouth is one of the very few professors that I remember from my Colgate experience.

So, with that as background, did my Colgate liberal arts education provide me any advantages in becoming a successful entrepreneur? Perhaps. After graduation, I took the road less traveled, and in May of 1974, with the Vietnam war still going, I applied for, and was accepted into the Naval Aviation program, and was designated as a Naval Aviator in 1975. 3400 flight hours, and 327 carrier arrested landings later, I completed my aviation career. After my active duty period in the Navy, I worked for several years for the Lockheed Corporation, a very large company that bore many bureaucratic similarities to working for a large federal government organization. My first entrepreneurial experience was working for a small company based in Atlanta called Flight International.

I went on to try a series of start-up activities in defense consulting, the medical equipment business, tele-radiology, and ended up with my current company, Monterey Technologies, Inc. (MTI) doing human factors engineering, where most of my staff are Masters or Ph.D. level experimental psychologists, and we do things like functional requirements analysis, and user interface design for a variety of products and systems. Who would have guessed this is where I would end up upon graduating from Colgate?

This is a long way of saying that the Colgate liberal arts experience certainly did contribute to me becoming a successful entrepreneur. The Colgate experience makes you think, teaches you to write, and gives you the opportunity to try a wide variety of different courses and activities, and this helps you (hopefully) to begin to sort out what your interests are, and where you might like to go. Being an entrepreneur is not for everybody, but for those with the entrepreneurial personality, it is almost unthinkable to do anything else.

My encounter with the current TIA student participants indicates to me that Colgate has a rich crop of potential entrepreneurs. Colgate could have the next Steve Jobs, or the next Facebook business concept lurking within the student TIA participants. The TIA program has the potential to make that path to success easier for these students who just may have the next great idea.

Bob graduated from Colgate in 1974 and entered the US Navy, as a Naval Aviator flying off the USS John F. Kennedy. Bob did seven years of active duty, and 23 years as a Navy Reserve Officer, retiring as a Navy Captain. Bob has participated in a number of start-up companies, some successful, and some not. Bob merged a startup company with Monterey Technologies, Inc. in 1997. He is currently President of Monterey Technologies, Inc., a Human Factors Engineering Company, headquartered in Monterey, CA. Bob works in the local education community and participates in the Monterey County Business Council, assisting small businesses and entrepreneurs with turning good ideas into new businesses.

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