What It Takes

Entrepreneur Paul Strzelec

Paul Strzelec and his partner, Dirk Liebich, founded their company, Digital Tempus, in 2001 to provide consulting and business intelligence to manufacturing companies looking to expand. But when the terrorist attacks shook the nation on September 11 of that year, they put the company on hold and decided to keep acquiring knowledge while working for others.

Strzelec had met Liebich, who lives and works near Dusseldorf, Germany, while both worked for the now-defunct Manugistics, the Rockville company that claimed credit for the term "supply-chain management." Strzelec expanded his knowledge of the practice at VeriSign, the Northern Virginia technology security agency. In 2008, he and Liebich re-established Digital Tempus after DuPont "came around with a problem that was meaningful enough to get Digital Tempus moving again."

Two years later, their company has 22 employees and a client list including McCormick, DuPont, Nalco Company and Church & Dwight. Strzelec, 40, is married to Amanda and they have four children: Bryn, 11; Jack, 9; Charlie, 7; and P.J., 3. They live in Gaithersburg, near the Digital Tempus headquarters.

Why he's successful: Because of his "intellectual curiosity" and "passion for pursuing knowledge and understanding how the world and businesses work ... What we do is help companies think through how they are working and improve the way they are working. If you have only surface knowledge, you can't solve things. We really get in there and roll up our sleeves and get engaged with the company to help them solve very difficult problems and change the way they work. I think persistence is the other piece of it. There are so many excuses and it's so easy to give up and never do what you started out trying to do. We don't do that."

Biggest obstacle he had to overcome: "I kind of jokingly say this, but I get teased for looking youthful for my age, so my youthful appearance has been an obstacle. Unfortunately, there is a perception that when you are young you are inexperienced. You have to get exposed to a lot of different things and gain perspective so that you can get a picture of how the world works. Some companies doubt that you can do that if you are young. When you are old and have gained perspective, it's called experience. When you are young and you are gaining perspective, its called naivete ... I have found, though, that looking at solving problems through a child's eyes and approaching things more naively and asking questions [whose answers are sometimes] obvious will help you get to the details to solve the problem."

First job: "I worked at a Mexican restaurant as an expediter, a person who stands between the cooks and waiters and waitresses. That was my first lesson in balancing demand and supply. I learned that there's not a lot of time to get it wrong. I was about 15. That was my first legal work job. Before that, I did the lawn-mowing thing for a while. I worked at the restaurant up to and through college. I learned that even those who worked there with vast experience needed to listen carefully to the customers to get the orders right and if they did not, they would get instant feedback. I learned the value of learning what the customer wants and delivering it flawlessly."

Smartest move: Joining the staffs of companies where he had the opportunity to grow into an entrepreneur. "In the world of Manugistics, there was constant pursuit of new opportunities that are still paying off. You didn't have to leave to get new opportunities -- you just had to seek them out at the company. A big move was presented to me with the opportunity to join VeriSign. I seized that opportunity ...This is the company that operates the core of the Internet and that provided me with the perspective on how to build a very exciting company."

Biggest misstep: Not thinking outside of the box. "Why I'm 40 and doing this and not 30 is that much of the time I followed conventional thinking in my career."

What inspires him: "I like watching people grow ...The other thing is watching people who overcome some very difficult challenges and achieve something that nobody would have expected they would. I'm a very big believer in persistence ... People who roll up their sleeves and work hard and solve tough problems, those are the people I rally around."

What's next: "We've got a great group of customers and we continue to add new customers. Adding new customers and refining how we add services in the areas of planning ... and growing globally, acknowledging that our work is mostly in North America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. We are about to grow into Asia Pacific and South America to give the customers we work with coverage globally."

Advice to the aspiring: Strzelec teaches in the executive program at Penn State University's Smeal College of Business, where he advises his students to "develop your capabilities ... Get into something meaningful and learn and ... don't be concerned about getting boxed in or that your first move will be your last move." And, "stay focused."


Avis Thomas-Lester

 |  November 24, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  |  Category:  success stories Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Posted by: randomsample | November 28, 2010 8:10 PM
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small wonder we're in a fix---the air evidently is full of psychobabble. what in god's name does 'think outside the box actually mean????'

Posted by: ben_dunham | November 28, 2010 4:32 PM
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I like what Strzelec says--the bit about persistence particularly--is so salient. So often, these days, in this country, we falter at the thought of struggle. The fact is, struggle makes you strong, and clever struggle, struggle and persistence done wittingly, with sense, makes you tall, proud, and well-to-do.
I like this story.

Posted by: IIntgrty | November 28, 2010 1:12 PM
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I like what Strzelec says--the bit about persistence particularly--is so salient. So often, these days, in this country, we falter at the thought of struggle. The fact is, struggle makes you strong, and clever struggle, struggle and persistence done wittingly, with sense, make you tall, proud, and well-to-do.
I like this story.

Posted by: IIntgrty | November 28, 2010 12:13 PM
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Our consultant linked fees to the number of jobs they could eliminate. We would then have more to spend on consultants of course.

Posted by: jobandon | November 27, 2010 11:22 PM
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why waste time profiling someone who cashed in on the internet boom. anyone, including bozo the clown could have been making money in the internet business back then. management consultants are a dime a dozen. our company has hired several of them. they come in, waste everyone's time, come up with some grand plan that looks great on paper and in theory, and then speed out of town with a fat consulting fee, never having to implement the BS they dreamed up or have to face the music when their grand schemes never pan out.

Instead, why doesn't WaPo profile some guy who lost his job at a local foundry because some bozo management consultant convinced the company brass they could make bigger bonuses if they shipped all of the manufacturing jobs to slave labor wages in China, and the laid off worker sold his 1985 chevy for $300 and opened a hot dog stand in downtown washington catering to tourists and today he has 200 carts and provides wages that support two hundred families, rather than some 'over achiever' B-S'ing management consultant living off his cashed in stock options before the market crashed.

Posted by: dlpetersdc | November 27, 2010 7:28 PM
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Someone who says "thinking out of the box" is not thinking outside of the box because its a cliche. Manugistics was a good company. It's demise is testament that most software companies do not last unless they are a handful of the monopoly software companies.

Posted by: werowe1 | November 27, 2010 8:17 AM
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Posted by: zhengee33 | November 25, 2010 7:47 PM
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We all define our own boxes. Stay focused, yes, but don't limit yourself to your own backyard.
Ideas abound if you have the presence of mind to be on the alert for them and seize them when they cross your path.

Carpe diem!

Posted by: epespinoza43 | November 25, 2010 12:20 PM
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Why does saluting someone that has enriched themselves during the goldrush of huge government spending not thrill me. Whos next on your list Erik Prince ?

Posted by: metroman76 | November 25, 2010 9:47 AM
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