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End Notes: How Hard Could It Be?

by Jo Throckmorton '87
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Two sweaty guys slugging it out in a rented ring in front of about 400 spectators: I just knew it was going to be a great night!

But to anyone watching the Caveman Bouts of 1987, an annual fundraiser at Wabash to raise money for local charities, the event must have seemed simple, the planning effortless.

I must have been thinking that myself when I inexplicably volunteered to plan, coordinate, and manage the Bouts in the final months of my senior year at Wabash.

The timing couldn’t have been worse—I was trying to finish all my classwork, filling out applications to grad school, and trying to keep the relationship with my girlfriend from crumbling underneath all the distractions.

It seemed easy enough: Put up a ring, throw in a couple of guys, and ring the bell.

But that was before I found myself on the phone with Indiana pro wrestling legend Dick the Bruiser after numerous dead-end leads, trying desperately to rent the ring I had to have to pull off the event.

And I still remember the sinking feeling when Dick called me on the day of the event in a reedy voice that was all that remained from taking too many shots in the throat during his performing days.

"I might be a little late." His trailer had a flat tire. The fans, fighters, and media might all be showing up for nothing.

Fortunately, that crisis was averted and the event went off without a hitch. I remember seeing Jim Amidon ’87 sitting ringside and broadcasting the evening’s show card on WCVL to the greater-Crawfordsville listening area. Friends stepped into the ring to spar for three rounds, or as long as they could stand it. A TV camera recorded the action for posterity and I watched the crowd as it took in the full slate of action.

I was proud that night of my classmates and friends for their participation, but most of all I was proud to be a part of raising a lot of money for charity. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction I’d not experienced before. I was reminded of all this recently as I looked through journals from those days of 20 years past. Now, with just over two years under my belt running my own company, I’ve discovered something about my time at Wabash: It prepared me to be an entrepreneur.

Yeah, who would have thought? After all, Wabash is well known for turning out a high percentage of students who go on to be great business leaders with well-established companies. Sure, a lot of doctors and attorneys have gone on to private practice, too.

But I’m talking about nurturing the spirit to venture into the unknown—to build something that didn’t exist.

Being an entrepreneur wasn’t something I spent any of my time at Wabash considering. Or so I thought. Looking back now, however, I see clearly that preparing me to be an entrepreneur was exactly what was happening. Within weeks of coming to campus I began working in the campus radio station; by the time I graduated, I was running the organization. In the fall of my senior year, I was given the opportunity, with the help of John Gremer ’87, Chris Whitfield ’88, and Philip Rittenhouse ’88, to publish the humor magazine Barrickman’s Revenge. I had even broken out of the safety of the college environment and devoted weeks and months to trying to pull off an all-university dance in downtown Indianapolis just weeks before the Caveman Bouts. I had gone so far as to make the down payment on the rooftop ballroom at the old Omni Hotel.

Looking back I see example after example of my striking out on my own in small business ventures and with campus clubs, some successful, some not. Those experiences instilled and nurtured what I have come to accept as my entrepreneurial spirit.

And so it was that 19 years later I found myself sitting behind the desk of a company for which I had worked for 10 years, suddenly thinking, "How hard could it be?" I’d been the president of this large media company on the north side of Indianapolis for the past three years, and for seven years before that I had been its creative director and vice president. So perhaps I might be forgiven for believing that starting my own business wouldn’t present that much more of a challenge than I’d already experienced as an employee of a similar business.

How hard could it be? If I had only known!

First of all, starting your own business is worlds away from participating in a campus club or running a small side business; these don’t have much liability, and your very economic survival isn’t riding on their success. What starts out as a manageable and organized journey soon turns into an all-consuming mission. Time and money are chewed up and spit out with little regard for your personal life or financial resources. That pretty puppy you brought home in the cardboard box soon grows into an insatiable beast that takes control of all that it surveys.

That’s not to say it’s all bad; it’s just different. There is something reassuring in knowing that at the end of the week under someone else’s employ, a check will be waiting. That check, minus certain medical and governmental donations, will be yours to use as you see fit. You put in your 40 hours and you’re done.

Not so when you own the place.

But what really separates an employee from a business owner is that entrepreneurial spirit. It’s simple, really.

An employee will stop as a traffic signal turns yellow. A business owner will gun the engine and make a run for it—every time.

An employee knows there’s always tomorrow to get done what wasn’t finished today. For a business owner, tomorrow is too late.

The liberal arts education in which I was immersed at Wabash, coupled with the invaluable experiences of extracurricular clubs and activities, prepared me for what was to come. All those late nights spent laying out the Barrickman’s to make the print deadline prepared me for this challenge. Walking out of the radio station at 1 a.m. after covering for yet another student who failed to appear for his shift laid the groundwork for the long hours I have come to know with my new company. Even the Caveman Bouts of 1987 gave me that taste of success when so many parts of a plan come together.

Wabash prepared me all right. I had to dig deep and remember Coach Johnson standing in front of me, yelling out his famous call and response, "I’m a Wabash Man—and I know I can—every day, and in every way, I’m getting better and better."

The girlfriend is long gone—we didn’t make it to graduation. All the papers were turned in and the grades came back higher than anticipated, and I made it through grad school. All those things are past.

What remains, however, is the same spirit I now understand was nurtured during my days at Wabash. It instilled in me the thrill of setting out on a new venture, knowing that all the hard work and struggle can pay off. It helped develop the confidence and courage to step into the unknown.

After all, how hard could it be?

Jo Throckmorton most recently won the 2007 Telly Award and is the
winner of the CINE Golden Eagle for his documentary on the Greater Indianapolis YMCA. He is the owner of Blue Ace Media in Bloomington, IN.