MERRILLVILLE | Jim Oberweis of ice cream fame said being an entrepreneur means experiencing “the good, the bad and the ugly."
The 66-year old businessman and newly-elected Illinois state senator representing the 25th District was the keynote speaker at the 21st annual Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards luncheon Wednesday at the Radisson at Star Plaza.
Nine entrepreneurs were honored during the E-Day event hosted by the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center.
“I’ve been referred to as a hopeless serial entrepreneur,” said Oberweis, who took the small family retail dairy business started in 1926 from one ice cream shop and 50 employees in 1986 to a $60 million enterprise with 46 ice cream shops and more than 1,000 employees.
His Oberweis Asset Management now manages $1 billion in assets in six no-load mutual funds.
“When I was growing up I was good at chess and interested in business ventures,” he told the more than 300 luncheon guests.
From his first business, OB’s Coins started while in high school, Oberweis said he learned valuable lessons. His interest in money eventually took him into investments and asset management ventures.
Along the way the economy took dips and dives and left him with staggering bank debt and low self-esteem, he said.
One of those “bad” days was Black Friday, Oct. 19, 1987, when the stock market lost 22 percent of its value in one day. Another he said was when he discovered that Oberweis Dairy had a $700,000 deficit instead of the expected $500,000 profit.
“I see Gus (Olympidis of Family Express) sitting over there. You’ve done a heck of a lot better than we have in the dairy business,” Oberweis said.
Working hard to create success has been a lifetime commitment, and is something he expects of his own employees,” he said.
However, Oberweis said the long hours he put in to become successful may have cost him his 35-year first marriage.
The experience of his first wife leaving him was “the ugly” in his story, he said.
“I’ve given my five children this advice and will give it to my 17 grandchildren if they will listen to me: Do everything you can to protect your relationships. I worked incredibly hard. I wonder if I had not worked that hard, would I have a lifetime marriage instead of a 35-year marriage?”
Since remarried to a woman he first met in childhood, Oberweis said he has one more piece of advice for everyone.
“Find something you like, or preferably, love to do. Then it’s really not working, he said. “Don’t worry about what you’re paid. Compensation will come. The rewards will be there.”