Cognis IT technology firm CEO Geoffrey Kent knows that Wharton is a stand-alone word in the English lexicon. Even though is just one school under Ivy-League powerhouse University of Pennsylvania, you only need to say you graduated from Wharton and the doors of opportunity swing wide open from many different directions.
The expertise he procured from that esteemed school, Wharton School of Business, helped Kent to land the enviable job of managing the business portfolio of NBA legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving in Philadelphia and work at the America’s elite companies before moving into entrepreneurship full time.
CognisIT.com is also only in existence today because Kent followed that age-old advice. When you come to the aid of someone else, you wind up helping yourself more than the person you intended to provide assistance to. When a frustrated employee of another company came to Kent for help starting his own business, Kent mentored him and helped the protégé write up his business plan and subsequently was asked to join as the CEO.
What is CognisIT.com and what are its business objectives?
We are a managed information technology support services company. We provide three things: computer desktop and server support services. We have a data center in Reading, Pa. so we provide privatized computer services to our clients. We are five years old. Four years ago we acquired a small application development company. So we also offer web-based, custom-application services.
How did you wind up leaving your esteemed CFO position at a financial services company and helping to form CognisIT?
A business partner asked me, “can you talk to my friend and let him pick my brain for 15 minutes.” We went to dinner, thought he was a nice guy. I told him “you need to write a business plan.” I’m eating and thinking how can I help this kid? What I did was I emailed him three or four questions every week and he would send back his answer. We did this every week and we would meet for dinner every other week. We did this for a year. We ended up launching the business 10 months into this process, two months before we finished the business plan.
How did you and your first partner, Bob, wind up with this company?
Bob, the person who was my first partner who I hired at my former company, said to the third person, “I can do my job blindfolded. After hours, I will come and sell for you and maybe after six months I can quit my job.” In the first month, they doubled their client base and Bob quit his job. So he became employee No. 2 in month 11. I was CFO, and I was given a month of vacation. I told my boss to just roll it over to the next year. But he said if you don’t use it, you lose it. So I took off the month of December off and I told them that I’ll come to the loft and I’ll finish the plan for free to give me something to do. The business is up and running, they’re both involved. They asked me to join them. I said you really can’t afford me. But my wife gave me every reason to join. She said “you hate being a CFO.” So I quit my job and two months later and they asked me to be the CEO. I joined them as a partner, and we merged the two companies and it happened in April of this year .
In addition to helping someone help themselves, which, in turn, helped you leave your hated CFO job, there’s a great lesson in this.
We’re [he and his first business partner] sitting down at another business dinner. The third business partner comes in smiling from ear to ear. Bob and I are already waiting for him. He said, “I quite my job today.” And I said, “we haven’t finished the business plan yet; why would you do that? It’s got to be the singularly the most stupid thing you’ve ever done in your life.” And he said, “I really want to do this. I know it’s going to work.” Fortunately, I knew someone who owned a townhouse that he wasn’t using all the time. I got him on the phone and said, “do you have space? I got a friend who is starting a business and he really needs some space.”
Fortunately, he had space. The lesson in this is this: his company never had him sign a non-competitive agreement. So when he left his company and told his clients he was leaving, the first question they asked was, “well, where are you going?” and he said “I’m starting my own business.” Six of his clients joined him on day one. That gave him enough money to pay himself a salary and get started.