Andy Greenfield ’74, P’12
My path after Colgate was anything but straight, and was littered with dead ends, failures, and ultimately some successes. I went to college without knowing why. By the end of sophomore year, I had a 1.6 average. I called my father, saying I wanted to take time off from school. He replied, “I’m not sure your mother and I could tell the difference.” I promptly took a leave of absence, and returned home.
While deciding what to do next, a neighbor asked me if I could figure out how to light his tennis court. I did, and ended up starting a tennis court lighting business. I made some money, but was intellectually unfulfilled.
I then moved to Colorado, lived in my station wagon, and built condominiums at Copper Mountain. One night, I got into a political debate with a newspaper editor. It was the type of discourse I had experienced in Professor Hunt Terrell’s ethics class. I wanted more of that, so I returned to Colgate to major in philosophy (and to achieve better than my prior 1.6 GPA!).
I then went on to Brown University’s PhD program, and couldn’t wait to become a philosophy professor. But the job market had drastically changed — for the few jobs available, we were now competing against our own professors.
Needing to pay the rent, I found an entry-level position in advertising in New York City. However, my entrepreneurial stirrings were getting the better of me. A friend invited me to start a limousine company with him. My grandfather (a wise and successful entrepreneur) advised me that this was a “dirty business,” but because I believed I was a budding master of the universe, I ignored his sage counsel.
We started Essex Limousines, and quickly built it into a successful company. Everything was great until one of our cars got the windows smashed in. The next week, another car got the same treatment. This went on for four weeks.
We called the district attorney, worked with his office, and determined that we were the recipients of a mafia extortion attempt. We then “sold” the business to a different group of bad guys.
I was 28 years old and $250,000 in debt, but had learned a good lesson: listen to your grandpa.
After licking my wounds, a year later I started Greenfield Consulting Group, a qualitative marketing research business. No one had successfully built a company in this category with any size or breadth to it, so I decided to give it a try.
After three years, I wasn’t achieving what I wanted. I sought out — and this time followed — my grandfather’s advice, which was “try to hire people who are better than you, who challenge you, who have skills you don’t.” I rebuilt my team, following grandpa’s “hire heavy” strategy. The result was that Greenfield Consulting Group became the largest and most successful qualitative research company in North America.
In the spring of 1993, a 19-year-old employee came to me with an idea for how we could use this new thing called “the Internet” for marketing research. For the next three years, we worked to create Greenfield Online, the world’s first platform for online marketing research.
By 1996, we were ready to roll it out to prospective clients. But, one after another of the world’s leading marketers told us “No, not interested,” based on their firm belief that the web would never be a mass medium! I decided to stay the course, which turned out to be a fortunate decision.
In May of 1999 (six months before the first Internet bubble burst), I sold Greenfield Online to a private equity group. It was then taken public, and subsequently purchased by Microsoft.
In 2002, we sold Greenfield Consulting Group to WPP, the world’s largest advertising and marketing information company. I continued to serve as CEO until 2009.
Colgate gave me a great foundation for a career as a serial entrepreneur. So, in 2009, I wanted to pay it forward by creating a start-up that would benefit the university. The result was the Thought Into Action Entrepreneurship Institute (TIA), the campus-based entrepreneurship incubator for student who are mentored by alumni. Today, TIA is the driving force behind entrepreneurship at Colgate.