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‘Learning by watching’

University’s shadowing program showing early success

October 9, 2011
By LINDA HARRIS - Business editor ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - John Riley didn't hesitate to raise his hand when the call went out for successful entrepreneurs willing to show young college students the ways of the business world.

Riley, owner of Toronto-based Kwik King Food Stores and Riley Petroleum, said he knew immediately it was the kind of thing he wanted to be part of.

"Any time you have a young person who's interested in maybe starting their own business, anything you can do to help influence him, I'm happy to do," he said. "I'm excited there are kids out there interested in starting their own business."

Article Photos

TEACHING TOOL — Celebrating the kickoff of Franciscan University’s Entrepreneurial Alliance Program are, from left, John Riley, co-owner of Kwik-King Food Stores and Riley Petroleum; Chris Solomon, a senior finance and economics major at the university; and Thomas Kelly, program supervisor and associate professor of business at the school. The program allows students to see the concepts they’ve learned in the classroom being used in a real-world business setting. - Contributed

Franciscan University of Steubenville launched its Entrepreneur Alliance Program in September. Riley, their first entrepreneur volunteer, was matched with Chris Solomon, a senior majoring in finance and economics with a minor in accounting.

Thomas Kelly, program supervisor and associate professor of business at the university, said they wanted to let students get a first-hand look at what's involved in running a business "and see how the business concepts and practices they learn in the classroom are implemented by these owners in a real-world setting."

So one day a month for three months students will shadow their entrepreneurial model for an entire working day allowing them to experience real world decision making, like buying ads, balancing inventory, scheduling staff and making long-range business decisions.

"It's not an internship, I'm not doing any work per se," Solomon said. "It's just learning by watching and asking questions."

Kelly said the shadowing program grew out of Project Bootstraps, a panel discussion sponsored by the school's Students in Free Enterprise chapter that lets successful business people share their knowledge and experiences with would-be entrepreneurs.

"We thought it would be great to get some of them to mentor, or shadow, with some of our best students one on one," he said.

Kelly said seniors in the department of accounting, business administration and economics with at least a 3.75 grade-point average are eligible. At the end of the program, participating students will be required to write a paper saying how the experience linked classroom learning to actual business development.

Riley said young people can learn a lot by watching and listening. He said it's how he learned about business, and how his own kids learned.

"There seemed to be a lot of entrepreneurs in my family, and as a young child growing up I took it all in listen to my grandfather, what he'd tell me, it sank in at an early age. I did the same with my son and daughter growing up. Every store we've started they've been right there with us."

Riley opened his first food store in 1984. Since then, he's added five more and also started his petroleum company.

He said letting Solomon see behind the curtain should dispel any notion he might have that running a business is easy.

"A lot of times people look at your business and think it's really easy to do," he said. "Believe me, it's not. It's a lot of time, effort and agony, some of the decisions you have to make every day. My job is a problem solver all day, from the time I get to work until the time I leave, I'm solving everyone's problems."

He sees the program as a way to "pay it back."

"The community has been good to us, it's supported our businesses," he said. "And if I can do something to help somebody out, I'm happy to do it. I feel like I have a responsibility to do that, to be a responsible business person."

Solomon, meanwhile, said he still has two shadow days to complete, "but I've already had a chance to pick his brain. I could tell he made a concerted effort to expose me to aspects of his job ... he's done a good job making himself available to me, encourages me to ask questions. Whether he's taking a phone call or talking to an employee, he always makes a point of explaining whatever it is he's doing.

"It's interesting to hear how he operates his business, in such a down general American economy and a not very thriving Jefferson County economy. To see how he operates a small business so successfully, the risks he has to take. I've definitely learned a lot about being an entrepreneur," Soloman said.

Local business owners interested in participating in the shadowing program can call Kelly at (740) 284-5806.

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