Life as a Marathon (or how to become the Most Interesting Man in the World)
by Jessica Colombo
“Go Sparty, Go!” was all Spartan-green-clad Bruce Leech could hear after 4 hours and 24 miles of running, and the perfect encouragement he needed to finish the 26.2 mile marathon in Chicago this past fall. Spartans helping Spartans at its finest.
Besides having the courage and determination to be a marathoner 10 times over, Bruce possesses the compassion to take philanthropic trips to third world countries every year, the zeal for meaningful work to be a successful entrepreneur and the passion to find time to visit East Lansing to support our Spartans. Has your jaw dropped yet?
A Michigander at heart, he received a BA in finance from Michigan State University and his MBA from DePaul University. Bruce started his career in Chicago, before he decided to ditch corporate life and become his own boss. Bruce went through the process of starting his own business, CrossCom National, building it successfully, and selling most of it. He still sits on the Board of Directors, finding it difficult to watch others run the business that was once a part of his DNA, without him. After selling off what had become his fourth child, Bruce was bored and decided to start another business.
He recognized an unmet need in the market place.
After going through the somewhat agonizing process of selling his business, he realized that other business owners have/are probably going through that same agonizing process. He asks, how can we make that process less agonizing? He teamed up with a partner to form Evolve USA. Evolve helps business owners with their transition plans. The young business has been recognized by Inc Magazine; featuring Bruce and his partner in the Inc. 500 conference and in their November 2010 issue.
Bruce helps others start businesses and end them; a pair of bookends. He’s passionate about the excitement of aiding students cultivate and launch projects, spreading his seeds of wisdom at DePaul and the University of Illinois Chicago. He aspires to bolster the entrepreneurship culture at MSU as well, believing that igniting job creation in Michigan starts with spirited students.
In my conversations with Bruce, I’ve taken advantage of asking his advice on challenges I face in the business world. As President of a student organization on campus, I asked Bruce about leadership and how to effectively manage people without becoming a dictator.
He said there are two ways to perceive people: guilty until proven innocent or innocent until proven guilty.
Perceiving people as innocent until proven guilty, enables you trust your employees more and reduce stress for yourself over everything that they are or aren’t doing. This also gives your employees a sense of worth and responsibility to get their tasks done, knowing that you won’t be hovering like a hawk. Since then, I have really made an effort to loosen my reins and trust my team is doing the right things. And until proven otherwise, I think this tactic will be very successful in the future.
We got into talking about how much we love our iPhones. I asked if all his friends were jealous because he’s no longer a slave to the Blackberry damned corporate world. He chuckled and said that along with being able to choose your own cell carrier, being your own boss has many other perks including being able to set the tone and culture of your company. To him, transparency is king. With his children and his company, Bruce is very transparent and down to earth. He is involved in their lives and isn’t afraid to talk about the very important, but often uncomfortable topics that are necessary to discuss. With employees, he wants true reports, not for them to tell him what he wants to hear. This attitude has allowed him to build trust in both arenas of his life.
I was in Chicago for an interview and decided to call Bruce up. He had just moved to a new place in the city and invited me to come check it out and grab a beer. Like a true Chicagoite, he ordered a Goose Island 312. As an aspiring Chicagoite, I had the same. He started asking me about my life and future plans, a question I still have yet to find the answer to- it’s in progress, I promise! So I switched gears to some of the other things he does with his life, like running and philanthropic efforts. Bruce has three children ranging from 16 to 24 years old. His goal is to give each of them a third world experience. Last year he took his son to Bolivia, an annual trip to provide a team of doctors and supplies to perform surgery on the less fortunate who need it most. He recently returned from a trip digging wells to provide fresh water in Honduras. Returning revitalized with a new perspective, he reminisced on the trip noting the inspiring spirit the Hondurans possessed. They were so thankful and happy with their humble living, it makes living in a developed country feel overly complicated.
From his experiences, I’ve learned that giving back is crucial. He doesn’t understand why people who have so much wouldn’t give to others who have so little. Giving back comes in many forms. Yes, Bruce has gone to third world countries and made a profound impact on many, but he has also made a huge impact locally as well. Bruce is a terrific Spartan. He has mentored many students from Michigan State University and has had a positive impact on their lives, whether he just buys them a beer once in a while and provides a listening ear or he provides them a job.
Every time I speak with Bruce, I learn more about him and about life. The greatest part about our conversations is that he gives advice without being explicit about it. He just tells stories, knowing that I’ll pick out the important take home points. I’ve learned that the best you can be is yourself and that life is a marathon where every mile is a journey. Its also been really interesting to hear from someone that has been through the whole cycle, is going through it again and is loving life in the process. I’m talking about the cycle that I’m in the crawling stage of; the process of graduating from college, finding and starting a career, probably going into corporate and hating it (because entrepreneurs aren’t cut out for the corporate cookie cutter), starting my own business, being wildly successful and eventually transitioning out of it. Bruce gives me hope that I’ll come out on the other side smiling.
If it wasn’t apparent, Bruce is one of my mentors. I am very thankful to have the opportunity to soak up his knowledge and awesomeness.
Jessica Colombo is finishing up her last semester of an undergraduate degree in Marketing at MSU. She is still the Communications Assistant where she gets to do fun stuff like write for this blog and sing the praises of MSUAA Career Services in other social media spaces. She is still searching for a company that’s hiring in their world domination department, and is super-excited to tell that story on this blog when she can share the details!
Bruce Leech is a 1978 MSU grad who hangs his hat in Chicago and provides words of wisdom to kids like Jessica, that is, when hes not too busy giving the Dos Equis man a run for his money as ‘the most interesting man in the world.’