On April 12, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the collegiate Entrepreneurs’ organisation (CEO) hosted entrepreneur and philanthropist L. Gale Lemerand who spoke, in his very own Lemerand auditorium, about his career and experiences in business.
Lemerand, who currently has a stake in some 27 restaurants including Houligans, Stonewood and Peach Valley cafe, began by speaking about his humble upbringings in Michigan.
“We were a hard working family but didn’t have very much money” said Lemerand, “there was running water but you had to run down the hill with a bucket to fetch it” he joked.
Lemerand described thinking there was more to life than this after meeting a local insurance agent from Metlife.
“He earned $10,000 a year and I thought, oh my gosh I want to be in insurance” said Lemerand jovially.
Having been in the Air Force in Korea for 4 years, Lemerand returned to the US and began working at Williams Insulation in Chicago in 1968. Then at 40 years old he purchased the company from the current owner, and over the next 25 years turned it into a huge success.
“It really was the American dream, we went from a small barn in Chicago to being the largest insulation contractor in the states” Lemerand said, “3% net profit was common in the industry but we were making 17%”.
Eventually Lemerand sold the company to Fortune 500 company Masco corporation in 1995, while it was making $150 million a year in sales.
When asked about the secret to his success, Lemerand put it down to picking the right people for the job.
“The key was surrounding yourself with good people, and then pay then as much as you can” said Lemerand, “I gave 10% of my profits to the employees in order to create ownership, and if they were really good they could get an equity stake also”
After selling the company Lemerand didn’t stop there, in addition to becoming a restaurateur he also created the Sanidoor company, which produces a touch-free, germ-free restroom door system that can be found in the Port orange World of Beer and various other Florida restaurants.
“I was and still am a workaholic”, Lemerand said, “I’m 78 now and still can’t help working 45 hours a week”.
As an early driving force behind becoming a successful entrepreneur, Lemerand cited a love for the finer things in life, whilst remaining frugal in business.
“I wanted a yacht and an aeroplane, I also love blackjack” laughed Lemerand, “but unless you want to rob a bank, you need some way to pay for these things”.
However he believes things changed as his career progressed “today I work for accomplishment and to give back” he said sincerely.
Lemerand has donated to Bethune-Cookman, Embry-Riddle and the University of Florida as well as numerous other charity and community groups.
The event was hosted by the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ organization (CEO) at ERAU, who strive to encourage and develop student ideas and entrepreneurship along with setting up speakers and sessions with current business owners and entrepreneurs.