EMBA Faculty Feature: Leith Martin - EMBA 714 Management of Entrepreneurial Organizations
When tech entrepreneur Leith Martin teaches the UNLV Executive MBA Management of Entrepreneurial Organizations course, he brings to the classroom the first-hand exhilaration and woes of his own entrepreneurial experiences accompanied by astute business advice.
Two years ago, UNLV’s Lee Business School lured Martin away from his position as CEO of EQUIINET, a Las Vegas-based technology company that he co-founded in 2010, to serve as director of the university’s Troesh Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Since that time, Martin has artfully and strategically led the design, development and implementation of university-wide curriculum, programming, competitions and other entrepreneurial-related activities.
Helping to propel the Center forward, Martin is a driving force behind growing critical relationships with entrepreneurship stakeholders. His efforts to make the Center regionally and nationally competitive have resulted in a significant increase in funding, the ongoing recruitment of top-tier tenure-track professors and graduate researchers, and the hiring of a program coordinator recruited from USC.
Martin began his entrepreneurial trek following his graduation from the University of Alabama with an MBA and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. Turning down numerous lucrative offers from companies such as Intel, FedEx and Andersen Consulting, he joined Turnipseed International, which was located in the owner’s basement, while building a reputation as the reliable go-to provider of fabricated steel to the restaurant industry in the U.S.
He asked himself the quintessential question - what do I want my life to look like in 15 years? “I knew I would regret working for a large company,” said Martin. So instead he honed his entrepreneurial skills by working alongside a more experienced kindred spirit – Jim Turnipseed.
Martin eventually bought an ownership stake in the company and served as president. Under his leadership, Turnipseed International expanded its operation in India and opened offices in Bangalore, increasing sales and profitability.
“I think I always wanted to be an entrepreneur because it gave me control of my own life,” Martin said. “I really enjoy growing a business and starting a company. I do not enjoy maintaining a business. I don’t consider myself an operator.”
It’s that risk-taking, but calculated mind-set, that brought Martin to Las Vegas; the impetus for selling his ownership in Turnipseed International, and the drive behind the co-founding of EQUIINET.
It’s also what attracted Martin to UNLV. “Over the last few years, UNLV’s leadership has been focused on entrepreneurship with particular emphasis on promoting the growth and influence of the Troesh Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. UNLV is at a point where great things are happening. I wanted to contribute.”
Martin, who has been teaching in the MBA program in the business school, brought his expertise to his first EMBA course this past summer and is inspired by the caliber of its students. “I’ve noticed several students already work with small businesses and are on the verge of launching new products or services, or are contemplating the launch of new business ventures. It’s exciting to teach EMBA students, because they immediately try to apply their new tools and are eager to share feedback.”
“These are people who have busy lives, but they come to class prepared to learn. UNLV EMBA students are engaged with what they are learning and care a lot about entrepreneurship,” Martin said. “Because they bring great insights from their careers, the classroom discussions are at a very high level.”
Martin’s EMBA class offers a great opportunity for cohort members to not only be operational, but also to think about the next steps in their careers, businesses or startups. “Some people are born to be entrepreneurs while others need the skills to gain a comfort level. There also are those individuals who discover they prefer not to enter the entrepreneur arena. If my class can help professionals discover their own path, it’s a success,” he added.
Martin shares with his EMBA students the successes and failures of entrepreneurship. “By design, the first guest speaker he brought to the classroom failed at his first venture. “As an entrepreneur, you often learn much more from those ventures that didn’t work, than from those that did.”
“Entrepreneurship is hard and may or may not be financially rewarding. We look at Facebook or Google as the beacon – the glamorous life of an entrepreneur that we hope to obtain. The reality is that those levels of success are few and far between. As an entrepreneur, the focus should be on building the most successful organization we can, as well as a place we want to work.”
And, according to Martin, waiting around for that one great-idea is a fallacy. “If every entrepreneur holds out for the big-idea, we may never accomplish anything,” he said. Instead Martin explains, “Opportunities often exist in mature industries either through technology disruption or new business models.”
Commenting on Las Vegas as a tech-hub – “Programs like the UNLV EMBA and the university’s emphasis on entrepreneurship programs will go a long way in convincing aspiring entrepreneurs to invest in the Las Vegas business landscape,” Martin said.
“There’s potentially more opportunity here than in any other city. Las Vegas is unique in that customers literally come to you through convention attendance, which creates incredible marketing and testing opportunities for technology companies. No other city offers the ability to meet with current and potential customers without adding significantly to your marketing budget. Equally important is the city’s sense of cooperation that doesn’t exist elsewhere. It’s what makes Las Vegas unique. There’s a real sense that your friends, neighbors, networking contacts and even competitors want to see you succeed.”