Rick Inatome

Chairman of Léman

Rick Inatome is a transformative business leader and mentor, entrepreneur, and investor whose legacy includes being one of the architects of the digital age. Working with the founders of companies such as Apple and Microsoft in the computer industry’s early days, he established a disruptive technology distribution channel that introduced the personal computer first to the general public and then to corporate America. It grew into a NYSE Fortune 500 company.

Inatome’s business successes typically have been accompanied by a positive social utility. They have included business turnarounds and innovations in education that improve learning outcomes and enable students to become more successful as learners and graduates. In his leadership roles, he invests heavily in personal development pursuant to his conviction that it is the precursor to optimal performance and organizational greatness. Inatome is among a select group of tech giants in the Computer Hall of Fame.

Rick Inatome has been named Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. Magazine and by the Harvard Graduate School of Business (presented by the Harvard Business Club (Detroit Chapter), He has chaired the Michigan Information Network and Michigan Technology Council, served on the Michigan Minority Business Commission, and was the founding chair of the Michigan Virtual University. Rick has founded and managed various private equity funds, served on numerous boards in both the private and public sector, and is in demand as a consultant, mentor, and public speaker.

Where did the idea for Léman come from?

Actually, the idea for Léman came out of the legacy of the Swiss International Baccalaureate World School Consortium, and Collegio Partners came about because we were looking for ways to foster innovations in education through reengineering, process improvement or capital access.

What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?

I usually spend 1 to 2 days traveling per week, meeting investors, talking to the team, checking in on things. Obviously, since we are located across the country, this also includes several Zoom-based team meetings.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Our system is defined by process thinking. We begin with the end objective, break it down and move ahead with backwards planning – that means setting up time-limited, well-defined, small and achievable goals until we reach our end state. We’re really focusing here on progress, not perfection.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The potential to harness and integrate new technologies is the greatest trend. In fact, it might always be the greatest trend. People are innovating constantly, and as an entrepreneur, you need to stay at the forefront of that innovation (of course, while also creating some innovation in your own field as well). You can avoid or ignore that trend at your own peril.

What is one habit that helps you be productive?

System thinking is my greatest habit. My background was in economics and programming, and those skill sets have been of immense benefit to my career.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Before you begin, fully process and understand the difference between ‘what you are running from’ and ‘what you are running to.’ If you can do that, you can achieve major success.

Tell us something you believe almost nobody agrees with you on?

That’s a great question. I would have to say that habitual authority defiance and conflict avoidance is often your unenlightened impediment.

What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?

Look, if I could recommend one thing, I would have to say this: Don’t own your success or personalize your failure. Well, I suppose that might be two things, but they are intimately related, so I think it’s safe to say that.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?

Perseverance cures ADD. Keeping on a task, or continuing to apply yourself to a task, is how you stay engaged.

What is one failure in your career,  how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?

I would have to say the hardest thing I deal with, and also that I’ve seen others deal with, is unenlightened self-interest. I’m not quite sure if I have overcome that, either. But it’s something to consider.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

If you want to find great business opportunities, you need to understand the difference between ‘pen-stroke risk’ and ‘pen-stroke opportunity.’ In other words, the challenges and opportunities that arise from changes in the regulatory environment.

For example, imagine the government institutes a mandate tomorrow that businesses of a certain size need to buy a certain amount of carbon credits, you might start a business helping facilitate the exchange – that’s pen-stroke opportunity. The pen-stroke risk there is for the businesses affected by the change, who now need to deal with the fallout brought about by the regulations.

What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

It has to be Zoom. And that’s still true today, even after the pandemic has passed. It’s just great to stay on track even when you’re across the country.

Do you have a favorite book or podcast you’ve gotten a ton of value from and why?

I like all of Patrick Lencioni’s and Brene Brown’s books on the importance of vulnerability-based leadership.

Key learnings

  • Know the difference between pen-stroke opportunity and pen-stroke risk and use that information to help power your business
  • Perseverance cures ADD — keep applying yourself when you find yourself getting distracted
  • Own your failures but share your success with the team