THINK BIG. Often times, the only limits that you have are the ones that you place on yourself.
Paul A. Dillon is a Certified Management Consultant with more than 42 years of experience in the professional services industry. He is the president and CEO of Dillon Consulting Services LLC, a U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs certified Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business, based in Durham, NC and Chicago, IL, which provides services to veterans who want to start their own businesses. Paul is the creator of the concept for a veteran startup incubator in Chicago, called Bunker Labs, as well as the creator of the concept for a veteran entrepreneur support organization in North Carolina, called VetStart, which was recently rebranded as Bunker RDU.
Paul represents the nation’s veteran community on the Kennedy Forum on Mental Health, and is a member of the Leadership Council of the Kennedy Forum Illinois.
His articles and quotes on veterans’ issues have appeared in Forbes, Crain’s Chicago Business, the National Federation of Independent Businesses newsletter, eLearners.com, We Are The Mighty and USAA Magazine. He is a sought after commentator on national veteran matters on numerous radio programs and podcasts.
An avid distance lap swimmer, Mr. Dillon’s interests range from business ethics and governance to the media, the last of which stems his 14 years as the supervisor of elections to both the National Radio Hall of Fame and for the Chicago/Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for the Emmy Awards.
Paul holds an A.B. degree from John Carroll University (Cleveland, OH), a M.S. from Northern Illinois University (DeKalb, IL), and has served as an adjunct professor or visiting lecturer at Governors State University (University Park, IL), the University of Illinois at Chicago, and, most recently, at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, where he created and co-taught the first course in the history of the University of Chicago on veterans issues. He is a former trustee of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and a former Public Member and Commissioner of the national Commission for Case Manager Certification.
A U.S. Army Reserve veteran, he served in Vietnam as a 1st Lieutenant, and was awarded 2 Bronze Star Medals.
Where did the idea for Dillon Consulting Services LLC come from?
I retired as a consultant from the Chicago office of the McGladrey accounting firm in 2006. Upon my retirement from McGladrey, I reinvented myself by starting my own firm in Chicago, which is now devoted to helping veterans who want to start their own business. I am a former U.S. Army Reserve 1st Lieutenant, who fought in the Vietnam War. I was the creator of the concept for an incubator in Chicago for veterans who want to start their own businesses, called The Bunker, which has been recently rebranded as Bunker Labs. See my op-ed that started the whole thing in Chicago:
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
There really is no typical day. Somedays I’m working with entrepreneurs. Other days I’m researching a potential project. It varies—and, I like that.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Before I even consider how they might be implemented. I try to examine the “down side” of any idea, and talk to as many people as I can about where my “blind spots” might be, exploring as many reasons as possible why an idea wouldn’t work. That way, I try to avoid making mistakes that will prevent an idea from coming to fruition.
If it still looks like a good idea after doing all of that, then I might start to take the first steps toward implementation…but, not without a lot of careful thought first.
Ignatius Loyola had a mantra, “Action should be balanced with reflection.” I think that he was right.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
There will be increased support for the 25% of younger veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, who indicate that they want to start their own businesses.
After World War II, nearly one-half of all returning veterans started their own businesses—but, by 2012, that rate had dropped to less that 6%. Even more important, just over 7% of all current veteran-owned businesses are started by veterans under 35 years of age. The rest are started by older vets.
But, it is the lack of younger veterans who are choosing entrepreneurship as a viable career path that is the critical issue in veteran entrepreneurship today. There will be increased support in 2017 for those veterans who are aspiring entrepreneurs.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I have unquestioned integrity and honesty. If you can’t trust someone in business, little else matters.
What advice would you give your younger self?
THINK BIG. Often times, the only limits that you have are the ones that you place on yourself. It’s better to beg for forgiveness than for permission.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
It isn’t that people don’t agree with this; It’s that people don’t think of this enough, or at all:
All of the beautiful things that we have in this life will one day pass away. The only thing that remains is how much we have loved others—the only thing that matters is how much we have dedicated ourselves to improving the lives of our fellow human beings.
It’s much bigger than accumulating a lot of “toys”.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Think before you leap. You gotta’ be careful out there.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Practice “servant leadership”. If you dedicate yourself to the interests of your employees and customers or clients first, profits will come. Don’t put profits before people.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My business didn’t start out with the idea of helping veterans. I started out thinking that I was going to provide project management and business development services to companies in the service industry. But, that didn’t work out. I had to “pivot” several times, before I found a niche that worked.
HERE IS WHAT I LEARNED FROM THAT CHALLENGE: Be flexible! And, find an area or industry that is under served where you can add value…then go for it! Don’t take no for an answer. If you meet with rejection, get up, brush yourself off, and try again. There is always more that one way to skin the proverbial cat.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
For years now, I have read or heard about how entrepreneur support organizations, such as incubators and accelerators, have created X number of businesses, with Y number of employees, and with Z amount of value. And, since these are very good people running these organizations, I am sure that they are trying to estimate these success metrics as best as possible.
But, if I was a sponsor or funder of these entrepreneur support organizations, I think that I would have more comfort if there was some sort of independent, third-party attestation of these numbers.
Accounting firms provide these types of attestation services all the time for many different types of businesses. Providing an independent verification of the value metrics created by entrepreneur support organizations might open up a whole new line of business for the accounting industry.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Buying educational toys and games for the grandkids. Can you think of a better way to spend a hundred bucks?
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I use LinkedIn and Twitter extensively. I was an early adopter of technology, with my own web site in 2003, and my own blog in 2004—long before having these things became fashionable.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
There are two, actually:
Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle— September 7, 2011– by Dan Senor (Author), Saul Singer (Author)–a look at how another nation leveraged its resources to become an entrepreneurial leader.
A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction– October 5, 2015– by Patrick J. Kennedy (Author), Stephen Fried (Author)–a true “profile in courage” in how someone overcomes obstacles to lead a productive life that contributes much to society.
What is your favorite quote?
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Tell us about one friend or acquaintance of yours who we should interview on IdeaMensch. Who are they, what are they doing and what’s their email address?
There are two, actually:
Marc Schulman is the president of Eli’s Chicago Finest. Marc is a true entrepreneur, who has been successful in creating one of Chicago’s signature products.
Laurel Delaney is the founder and president of Globetrade.com, a highly successful international trade consultancy and advisory firm.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.