Successful entrepreneurs see possibilities that others might not. That’s why 1988 Auburn University business alum Jeff Stillwell perked up when a colleague told him about four fishing buddies who started a business selling branded T-shirts and car window stickers at sporting goods and fishing tackle stores near their home city of Jacksonville, Fla.
Salt Life, they called it. The co-founders had kept their day jobs and were still generating more than $1 million in sales, but Salt Life was, as Stillwell recalls, “a little bitty fishing brand with a name that was so good. I thought it could be a lifestyle brand.”
Within three years of acquiring Salt Life, Stillwell and his team grew annual sales from $6 million to more than $20 million. As the company’s president, Stillwell has guided the brand’s evolution from fishing-only to inclusion of surfing and diving. Salt Life is now sold in more than 2,200 store locations. This year, consumers will spend more than $100 million on the company’s products.
“Our demographic is a 40-year-old who wants to be 30 and a 30-year-old who wants to be 20,” said Stillwell, a Phenix City, Ala., native who earned a marketing degree from Auburn.
Stillwell will share his insights about identifying and seizing opportunities in business when he speaks at the fourth annual Auburn University Entrepreneurship Summit April 5-6. Hosted by the Harbert College of Business, the summit will include student business pitch competitions, an Entrepreneur Hall of Fame induction gala, and recognition of fast-growing alumni-led businesses. Stillwell will serve as the keynote speaker at the Top Tigers awards luncheon honoring the fastest-growing companies founded, owned or led by Auburn University graduates.
All events will be held at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center. Tickets for the Hall of Fame dinner and Top Tigers luncheon can be purchased at http://harbert.auburn.edu/tickets.
The two-day summit will begin with the Hall of Fame awards program on Thursday, April 5, at 6 p.m.
Joe Forehand, Jr., a 1971 Samuel Ginn College of Engineering graduate and the former chairman and CEO of Accenture, will be inducted into the Auburn University Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. During his time at CEO, Accenture grew from $6.9 billion in revenue and 66,000 employees to $13.7 billion in revenue and a worldwide workforce of 103,000. His 34-year career with the company ended in 2006.
Other individual award winners who will be honored at the gala include:
- The Broadway Group founder Bob Broadway, a 1991 Harbert College graduate. The firm specializes in retail development for national tenants, including Dollar General, McDonald’s, AT&T, Fastenal, and Michelin. The company’s annual revenue exceeds $80 million. Broadway’s ventures also include a general contracting firm, Broadway Construction Company, and Broadway Investments, an investment property firm with commercial real estate and office property holdings in 14 states.
- Tara Wilson Agency CEO Tara Wilson, a 1997 Harbert College graduate. Her Fort Worth, Texas-based experiential marketing firm ranked No. 901 on the 2017 5,000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing businesses. Her agency provides strategy, insight, ideation, event production and management services for companies seeking to improve brand engagement. Clients have included Samsung, Nike and Ann Taylor.
- Elite Transit Solutions CEO Michael Johnson, a 2008 Harbert College graduate. The Pittsburgh-based business provides third-party shipping and logistics management services for clients across North America. Elite Transit Solutions also earned recognition on the 5,000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing companies, placing 697th in 2017 with $7.3 million in revenue.
The Entrepreneurship Summit will conclude on Friday, April 6 with business pitch competitions and the Top Tigers awards. High school students will share their early-stage product and business concepts with a panel of judges in the Junior Tiger Cage competition at 8:30 a.m. Auburn University students will compete for shares of a $50,000 prize pool in the finals of the Tiger Cage pitch competition at 9:30 a.m. Both events are free and open to the public.
The Top Tigers awards, presented in partnership with Business Alabama magazine and Warren Averett CPAs and Advisors, will begin at 11:30 a.m. The event will honor 60 alumni-led companies for outstanding revenue growth.