For many San Luis Obispo County business leaders, the recession has meant learning to navigate through tough economic times.
On Thursday night, more than 300 such leaders were given practical advice to deal with present-day challenges, as well as a glimpse of what the future holds for those seeking to be on the cutting edge of local business development.
The crowd that packed Arroyo Grande’s Clark Center for the Performing Arts for the Central Coast Business Symposium represented a variety of industries and disciplines, including technology, law, accounting, finance, education and nonprofits.
In its third year, the event, sponsored by San Luis Obispo law firm Andre, Morris & Buttery, featured Carrol Pruett, retired chairman of the board for Mid-State Bancshares, and Blake Irving, chief product officer for Yahoo.
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Jeffrey Armstrong, president of Cal Poly, kicked off the event with his first impressions as the university’s new leader, and former NFL player Michael Young, now the chief revenue officer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, gave the keynote address.
While each speaker offered his own take on how to overcome obstacles in business, the overall theme was adapting in an environment where technology moves at lightning speed and where the old ways of doing business no longer apply.
Pruett, who began his banking career in 1959 after graduating from Cal Poly, discussed the regulatory oversight dogging the banking industry and its impact on banks’ ability to lend to businesses.
Banks have money to lend, he said, but are often unable to do so because they do not want to take the risk.
Until the regulatory burden eases, he noted, cash is king, and he recommended that business owners and entrepreneurs be creative by tapping into alternative sources of revenue to grow, including Small Business Administration loans or finding venture capital.
“You better be prepared or be prepared to use the three F’s (to get a loan),” Pruett said jokingly. “Family, friends or fools.”
Irving, who travels weekly to the Bay Area to lead Yahoo’s products organization, urged the crowd to “get ahead of the curve” with technology.
The Internet, tablet computers and other innovations have opened up new avenues for business, but business people have to be willing to embrace them. He noted that many consumers today, particularly those in the younger generation, are more comfortable tapping on glass than they are on a keyboard.
Business leaders need to be aware that each potential customer or employee is a marketer, that holding the attention of the customer will become more difficult in the future, and that managing an online presence will have to become a priority.
“It’s not a revolution, it’s an evolution,” Irving said of technological innovation.
Young, the keynote speaker, offered an inside peek at the inner-workings of the legendary Dodgers baseball franchise and imparted some advice for building collaboration and overcoming challenges in an organization. He offered his business advice at a time when his own organization is still reeling from a fan-on-fan beating incident at the season opener and in the midst of the owners divorcing.
He also discussed ways to develop new revenue streams. His advice about technology and social media was to use it in the right place at the right time.
“Be careful how you invest in it,” he said.
Bob Dumouchel, owner of a local technology business, said that the event helped him to realize that many business leaders in the county are not using technology to their advantage.
“It’s critical to a lot of businesses, but there are a lot of businesses that don’t get it,” he said.