Stuart Silberg, B.S. ’71, is a retired CFO and passionate entrepreneur. He recently sat down with The Merrick Exchange and shared his thoughts about his career and entrepreneurship at UB.
M.E: Why did you decide to major in accounting?
Silberg: I’ve always been a numbers guy interested in how business measured its success and failures. When I was at UB in the late ’60s, most accounting majors sat for the CPA. Not me! I wanted to be the corporate financial guru and help the controller (CFO) and the president (CEO) make the best possible decisions. While I was working for my first career corporation they suggested I further my education in finance. This led me to pursuing a master’s degree in financial management from George Washington University.
M.E: At what company did you get your start?
Silberg: My very first company, pre-1966, was Maryland National Bank as an auditor in their accounts receivable department. One day, while visiting companies in Towson, I saw Black & Decker on Joppa Road and decided this is where I needed to start my financial career. My first position was as a file clerk in the accounts receivable department. I worked there for 11 years and enjoyed that amazing journey as a supervisor, manager, analyst, senior analyst and controller of several divisions.
M.E: What were you expectations when you began your career?
Silberg: From the start I was truly motivated to one day rise to the top of the financial ladder. My last position at B&D was as a multi-division controller and I was in discussions with management to become a general manager in a division abroad. I had a great run at the company and I learned a lot from the brilliant and engaging leadership of the company, but I got “The Call” from my family to work at the family business.
M.E: Why did you decide to join your family’s business?
Silberg: “The Call” is what I refer to as the request by my wife’s family to join them in this gig called CMart—a small, seven-employee family business and help them grow. I went to my mentor, Al Decker, and discussed whether I should make this move. After explaining what my family expected me to do—grow the company to 50 employees and in five times the space they had at the time—Al said that when the family calls, you go and do whatever they need. What a leap of faith and a stressful decision! I was joining as the “left brain” member, responsible for accounting, finance, hiring, firing, policies and procedures and whatever needed to be done, including trash removal and sweeping.
M.E: What challenges do family businesses face today?
Silberg: Today, family businesses are very much like they were 40 years ago when I started. Responsibilities, assignments, emotional decision-making and being a “jack of all trades” doesn’t change. What has changed is the technology we have today, which is good and bad. The good news is the flexibility and the information gathering available. The bad news is the number of technological obligations to address: the constant telephone calls, emails, texts, social media and so on.
M.E: Why is entrepreneurship one of your passions?
Silberg: To dream, innovate, execute and launch has always been part of my DNA. I love to tweak what others have invented and bring value to the revised service or product. Entrepreneurship is a basket of disciplines and techniques and allows one to engage at all levels in an organization. Entrepreneurship gives you warmth, flexibility, intelligence and the fraternal feel you get from one overarching business technique is just plain awesome. The ride on this journey is what gives me goosebumps every day of my life.
M.E: Tell us about your experience during UB’s Startup Maryland Venture Pitch competition.
Silberg: What can I say, that hasn’t already been said? Johnetta Hardy, the new director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, is as entrepreneurial as one could be. Pulling off this event at UB with only three weeks to prepare is remarkable. I was blown away by the ideas and enthusiasm of the students. I enjoyed meeting the other five judges, boarding the bus and then being welcomed by students, faculty and staff cheering loudly as if it were a pep rally for the home team—wow. J.C. Weiss, our program moderator, did an outstanding job keeping order and ensuring all the judges had the information and tools needed to determine the winner.
As far as I was concerned everybody who was involved that day was a winner. UB was shining bright thanks to the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Merrick School’s administrators, staff and volunteers. I loved being asked to participate and was so proud of my alma mater.
M.E. What advice can you give to student entrepreneurs?
Silberg: Be yourself and allow yourself to think outside the box. Don’t fear failure, learn from it, and don’t repeat it. Create, innovate and explore the unknown. Leave a legacy of great work to the next generation. Be honest, always, to yourself and all the people you come in contact with. Give back, and when you are able, pay it forward so more people will make a better tomorrow.
M.E: Tell us what you like most about the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Silberg: As some have said, I’m the “godfather” of the former Entrepreneurial Opportunity Center, now under its new name. I always envisioned a physical home for our movement. Yes, a “movement”—a movement of pragmatic and academic process focused on entrepreneurship. It wasn’t until 2003 that the business school made it a strategic priority.
Now, after almost a decade, the center is in a place for our students to vet their ideas, seek coaching and be able to talk to professionals who are objective and can provide steps to success. Our new director has more energy than the Energizer Bunny. She is clever, open to ideas, charismatic, a leader and most of all delightful to work with. I’ve been blessed to work with great people over the years. Johnetta impresses me with her passion and enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. I applaud her for helping the University become the go-to place for solutions and engagement in the field of entrepreneurship.
M.E. Why do you choose to give back to your alma mater and why should others consider doing the same?
Silberg: After some time in the military, marrying my wife and starting my professional career, I had to go to college. UB was perfect for me because I worked during the day and went to school at night. UB was then and continues to be a dear friend who cares about me and encourages me to excel in everything I do.
UB is a family, and family cares. Others who enjoyed their experience here should engage and give back to the next generation. What great gifts we have to share with the next generation of decision-makers by offering our help, advice and mentorship. I often say that there are three T’s in the giving-back process: time, talent and treasure. Certainly we all can provide one of those T’s, if not all of them.
M.E: What’s one word that describes UB as an institution?
Silberg: Family. It is a wonderfully engaged university; it educates and exposes its students to making a positive difference. If you are blessed to have your own family, you know what I mean. My mom and dad taught me what was honest and fair and they never stopped being my friends and mentors. That’s how I feel about UB.
M.E: What’s one job-hunting secret you wish all students knew?
Silberg: If you are able to take a blank canvas and draw a perfect picture of what makes you feel fulfilled, what would you draw? Once you draw it, go for it. Find what makes you want to learn every day and excel in what you do. If a job needs to be taken to get by, learn as much as you can about the people, habits and processes, and one day what you learned there will transfer to you next opportunity. Remember: “a job is a job,” but how you do the work and what you do with it can carry you throughout your lifetime.
M.E: What personal goal have you set for yourself this year?
Silberg: To be the very best grandfather, father and husband I can be. Set an example and work every day to be the best I can be. Personally, I want to get more involved in the UB Foundation, offering my time and talent and learning as much as I can. Maybe one day be a speaker at graduation and share my experiences and love for my university and its people.