The new CEO of the watch, bicycle and leather goods manufacturer Shinola Detroit LLC told a largely student audience at Lawrence Technological University Thursday night to aim high and be unafraid of failure.
Tom Lewand, who spent 20 years with the Detroit Lions, was named CEO of Shinola in June. His appearance at LTU was part of the university’s Entrepreneurial Lecture Series, presented by the university and EMpwr, LTU’s student entrepreneurship organization.
Lewand’s remarks came in a one-on-one interview conducted by LTU student Justin Becker, a senior from Romeo majoring in civil engineering. Becker co-chairs EMpwr.
Lewand said he was attracted to the post at Shinola because of “the mission of Shinola – to celebrate the skills and talent that American workers have, particularly those here in Detroit. It was a daring idea, a big idea, a crazy idea, that our founder Tom Kartsotis had, to come from Dallas, where he had founded a company 30 years ago called Fossil that also made watches, but had sold. Tom decided he wanted to do something with those proceeds that would have some greater social impact and pursue his most deep-rooted entrepreneurial ideas. He convinced a Swiss manufacturing partner to go into a venture with him here in Detroit and bring back a long-dormant industry and do some of the world’s most complicated manufacturing and compete at a global level.”
Shinola has grown from zero to $100 million in revenue in just three years. Lewand noted that it took Fossil nine years to reach that mark.
And the company continues to branch out into other products from its original watches and bicycles. First into leather goods, and now the company has announced an expansion into audio equipment – turntables, speakers and headphones – as well as a line of jewelry. It’s also in a new partnership with Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert on a downtown hotel.
Lewand said that’s part of the entrepreneurial talent of Kartsotis, to make unexpected moves and break into other industries. “We look for skill, experience and authenticity in whatever space we’re in,” Lewand said. But at the same time, he said the company is “known for doing something out of the norm … we like those things, what our founder calls ‘What the F’ moments.”
With Shinola’s philosophy, when it enters new markets, “if we can raise the level of awareness, I know we can get you with our quality,” Lewand said.
Lewand also told the LTU students that in addition to management and manufacturing talent, it’s now on the hunt for engineers and people with technical skill for the audio equipment line.
And he praised Detroit as a center of entrepreneurial talent. He said Kartsotis “could have built Shinola anywhere in the country. But one of the things that attracted him to Detroit was how fertile the environment here is for startups. The barriers to entry are low, you see a lot of people getting funding from a lot of sources. It seems like there’s a new venture fund popping up every day. Technology, mobility, transportation are all huge here, but you also see things like apparel and fashion starting up downtown and in Midtown.”
Questions at the event were generated by those attending the talk, via a website that was projected on a screen behind the speakers.
In general, when it comes to business, Lewand said, “Don’t be afraid to fail. And don’t forget that we’re all part of a larger community in our professional lives and the community and the world we live in.”
Future events in the Entrepreneurial Lecture Series include Karen Evans, entrepreneur and director of the design incubator at LTU’s Detroit Center for Design + Technology, on Oct. 27, and engineer, economist, entrepreneur and activist James Felton Keith, on Nov. 17.