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Four tips from a successful businessman: Mike Harter

Former executive shares his secrets for success.

Story by Eddy Hoyle

Mike and Sue Harter with their grandson Duncan, ready to fly.

Mike Harter is a self-made man and entrepreneur who set a deliberate course to obtain the skills he would need to succeed. Harter hails from Iowa, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in zoology and chemistry with the intention of going to medical school.
“When we’re young, we do what our parents want us to do. But I discovered that I didn’t have a scientific bent, and I wasn’t as interested or as good as I thought,” Harter said. “So I went to law school to learn about business, and one deficiency I had was a financial background, so I became a CPA. That combination served me well.”
Over the course of 20 years, Harter held the positions of senior tax accountant for Arthur Young & Co.; controller at White & Case; financial advisor to the Chairman of the Board at CBS, Inc.; senior VP of finance and treasurer of The Conference Board Inc.; executive VP of finance and administration of EMC Holdings, Inc.; and president and CEO of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
“I had the basics to become an entrepreneur. I wanted a boss who could teach and mentor, and I looked in the mirror and found it was me,” Harter said. So in 1989, he took the plunge and pledged everything he owned to purchase the Tulsa Welding School and form a company to acquire and operate private career schools. His company, T.H.E., Inc. (Technical Higher Education) was the culmination of his dream.
He sold his company in 2008 and retired to Hilton Head in 2010 with his wife, Susan. Locally, he serves on the board for the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra. He and his wife have two daughters, three grandchildren, and they enjoy travel, golf and lifelong learning. Here are his tips for success:

Keys to Success

Mike and Sue Harter outside St. Petersburg, Russia.

1. Money is the wrong reason. To be successful, the key is to pursue a job that’s aligned with your personal interests. Learn about yourself and pursue self-interests to be satisfied with your job. Be prepared to make changes and get a mentor. Get some experience and success under your belt, and you’ll earn good recommendations to move up to better jobs.

2. Challenge and reward. Challenge employees with opportunities for higher levels of success. Always give positive reinforcement and appreciation for their efforts and work. “None of us learn how to manage without making mistakes, so counsel and ask how you can help them to understand what it takes to succeed,” Harter said.

3. The trick is to be helpful. Listen carefully, have patience and an inquiring mind to understand people in order to help and mentor them. “The best bosses challenge people to do something they’ve never done before – to succeed in the right way, and give praise when they have accomplished it,” Harter said.

4. Realism vs. entitlement. “Young people sometimes want the top job with a sense of entitlement. They want the accouterments of the job and are impatient,” Harter said. “So ask what their business assets are, what they can do and how, in order to help them be realistic about their skill sets. It’s personality blended with judgment, education and experience.”