Prairie Portrait: Tom Boozer of UMKC
Name: Tom Boozer
City: Kansas City, Mo.
Intro music: "Enigmatic Ocean II" by Jean Luc Ponty. When I need to crank on some work, these songs are my energy source.
Silicon Prairie News: Early in your career you developed products for aircraft passenger cabins. What was one part of the cabin you aimed to improve and why?
Tom Boozer: Lots of hills to climb here. Here are a few: Sleep in the cheap seats. Why should it cost $5,000 to fly in a seat in which you can sleep? Normal life onboard. While it is a tube hurling through space at 500 mph, why must people be trapped in their seats for hours? Why can't we pursue normal activities, hang out with others, watch an English Premier League match with others or have a coffee in a environment that is social and comfortable? There are a bunch more, but these are two top of mind.
SPN: Following your work in the airline industry, you went to work for a venture and M&A firm in Singapore. With your focus on airline, aerospace and technology investments, what was one characteristic often possessed by the companies you funded and why?
TB: Drive, perseverance, and savvy. In a part of the world where connections and pedigree are perhaps more important than here, the differentiator is the same as it is here in the Midwest. There is no substitute for a highly motivated, smart person who is pursuing a well conceived venture idea. We worked with companies with great technology, but poor market sense that ultimately missed their chance.
SPN: In your current roles as interim associate director of UMKC's Entrepreneurship Scholars Program, what do aim to instill in each student by the time they walk across the stage to receive their diploma.
TB: The E-Scholars Program here at UMKC has about 80 ventures in work. Some are funded and are generating revenue, some are at the opportunity assessment stage. The training we provide is learning by doing – so students learn by creating and executing ventures in a community of academics and mentors that assist their progression through a sequence of teaching, assignments to the ventures and stage gate reviews through the year to assure real progress is being made. This community at UMKC is dedicated to the creation of real companies that are successful over the long term. For me personally, I want students to create viable ventures and make their ventures real businesses. I want them to believe they can do it – to prove to themselves they can do it. I view our mission here is to create entrepreneur athletes, with a set of skills and competencies that enable them to create multiple ventures through their careers.
SPN: When you moved to Singapore for work, were there any adjustments to a new culture that provided a challenge? If yes, could you share your experience of one such adjustment?
TB: Singapore is a really cool place in my book. Few cities have the cultural diversity present there. In reality, it is now quite an easy place to live for expats, but there are some adjustments. Driving on the left side of the road. Learning Mandarin slang to talk to the cabbies. Working within more hierarchical management systems was a challenge at first – but one learns and adjusts. There is something about living in another country that changes you, builds you. I think learning about the world beyond the Midwest is the one piece of advice I would give to all students. It's a big world, go drink it in.
With your background in industrial design, what's one item that you own that achieves high marks in that department and why?
TB: I am hyper sensitive to the design of what I buy, but as the years go on, I am less of a snob. I am an Apple guy – so that's the easy answer. I don't think there is one thing – but I do tend to own things that thoughtfully created, beautiful for what they are, and rich with careful details.
Images credit: Photo courtesy of Tom Boozer.