In honor of National Entrepeneurship Month, we interview John Oppenheimer, JA alum and Founder & CEO of Columbia Hospitality.
Junior Achievement: What was your key driving force to becoming an entrepreneur? Why the hospitality industry?
John Oppenheimer: I developed a passion for the hospitality industry very early in life. As the first skycap at the Boise, Idaho airport, my job was to help travelers haul their luggage. I quickly realized that exceptional service made all the difference. We were only paid by the tips we made, so I immediately learned the importance of friendly, hospitable, enthusiastic service. We serve with these same standards at Columbia Hospitality – quality service speaks volumes to our guests, residents, and clients.
My spirit of entrepreneurship grew thanks to Junior Achievement. I was an active student participant and cherished selling the JA bird feeders door-to-door. That sales experience has stuck with me and I’ve never forgotten the feeling of closing a sale of one of those bird feeders.
JA: What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
JO: What satisfies me in business has evolved over the years. Today, it is incredibly exciting to watch Columbia Hospitality team members grow and increase their responsibilities faster than they ever dreamed possible. Team members loving what they do translates to delighted customers and inevitably positive financial results, both for the business and the team, which thrills me each time it happens.
JA: What characteristics would you say best suit an entrepreneur?
JO: Key characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, in my opinion, can be boiled down to a few key traits: taking risks; acting with urgency; recognition that success is a team sport-happy teams create happy customers; keeping perspective; focusing on exceeding expectations every day with everyone.
JA: What advice do you have for students today to launch a business? What activities would you recommend budding entrepreneurs to invest their time in?
JO: I recommend students get involved in and commit to helping the communities in which they live. For me, active participation in multiple non-profits has been a great educational tool, broadening my perspective and a wonderful way to meet people and other professionals that have like-minded interests. Giving back to the communities in which we operate is also a tenet of Columbia Hospitality through our Columbia Cares program. Those engagements have made me a well-rounded leader. Bottom line – get involved outside of school and commit to making your community a better place.
Please enjoy this Q13 clip of John on the subject of entrepreneurship!