Hoover sought change through entrepreneurship
June 12, 2006
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
You meet unusual people
at awards ceremonies. The scene was the recent Cato Institute
dinner at the Drake Hotel, where Cato presented the Milton Friedman
Prize for Advancing Liberty. The prize went to Mart Laar, former
prime minister of Estonia, who adopted a flat tax that rejuvenated
his economy after years of communist rule.
to meet Laar, I bumped into Gary Hoover. It led to a conversation
about entrepreneurship and the world economy.
Hoover, 55, is the
University of Chicago-trained entrepreneur who studied under three
Nobel laureates in economics -- George Stigler, Milton Friedman
and Robert Fogel -- but cut classes to mind his entrepreneurial
"They hadn't won
their prizes yet," says Hoover who attended the university
from 1969 to 1973, earning a degree in economics. At a time when
students were protesting Vietnam, Hoover believed he could change
the world though entrepreneurship.
"In 1970, people
thought I was nuts," Hoover says.
When Hoover meets students
today they don't think he's crazy.
understand entrepreneurship is powerful stuff," Hoover says.
He travels the globe
lecturing on entrepreneurship. "I spoke in Australia, Calcutta,
Mumbai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila, Jakarta, Marrakesh, Paris,
Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, Canada and across the U.S.,"
He caught the entrepreneurial
bug early in life. At school he ran concession stands. Then he
launched a charter-bus service and later a discount book business.
In 1982, he built BOOKSTOP,
a forerunner of today's destination bookstores. In 1989 he sold
BOOKSTOP to Barnes & Noble.
"They added the
coffee shop and the mahogany," says Hoover, who was among
the first to stay open long hours, carry a wide selection, and
offer many titles below list.
Hoover is best known
for creating Hoovers.com, the online business information service
that went public in the summer of 1999 and was later sold to Dun
& Bradstreet. Hoover launched the company in 1990 to provide
paper-based business reference books. "We wanted to create
the 'Webster's of Business,' " he says.
After selling Hoovers.com,
Hoover put up his profits and his house to launch TravelFest,
the first travel superstore.
"It had books,
maps, luggage, video rentals, a currency exchange, tickets, reservations,
cruises, Euro rail passes -- you name it," Hoover says of
his failed company.
"That's the way
it goes," Hoover says without remorse. "I don't live
in that big, beautiful house anymore. I started several companies.
One failed. One was sold. One went public and then got bought.
It's never the same pattern. I'd rather have them go public or
get sold than go broke."
Hoover's new venture
is StoryStores. It's a for-profit museum concept aimed at aging
baby boomers. Hoover says aging boomers have sufficient time and
money, and seek thought-provoking experiences.
Hoover has advice for
June grads and aspiring entrepreneurs: "Successful entrepreneurship
starts with curiosity and looking in places where nobody else
is looking. Find something you love and where you have skills
that match with people's needs. That is the core of it."
Who are Chicago's top
women in technology? Women in Technology International (WiTi)
is seeking nominations for its 2006 Excellence in Corporate IT
Leadership award. Nominees must be corporate IT leaders making
a significant contribution to their company's business and tech
strategy while also contributing on a civic leadership and a mentorship
Past winners include:
MPEA CIO Ellen Barry, Allstate CIO Catherine Brune, former Aon
CIO June Drewry, UIC CIO Joy Keeler, JPMorgan Chase divisional
chief operations officer Maureen Osborne and Motorola CTO Padmasree
award shines a spotlight on leaders whose achievements might otherwise
have been left in the shadows," says Marian Cook, CEO of
Ageos and organizer of the competition. Go to www.witi.com/chicago
to nominate a candidate.
State finalists in
the Innovate Illinois competition square off Thursday at the University
of Illinois at Chicago. The program is organized by Chicago Community
Ventures to foster innovation and to recognize breakthrough small
businesses across the state.
Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.