Eric Newell: Entrepreneur of the Year
* Profile on Eric Newell, the 2016 ChamberChoice Entrepreneur of the Year, first appeared on the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce’s blog and in the December 2016 newsletter, The Bridge. Reprinted with permission.
As most any entrepreneur knows, with great risk comes great reward, and that is certainly the case for Eric Newell, founder of Stoneridge Software. A long-time Microsoft employee, Newell left in 2012 to start his own business as a Microsoft Dynamics software partner.
With a passion for business excellence and the drive to better serve the market, he set out to create a company with a great environment and great people. “It had been a dream of mine to start my own business since I was a kid, and the timing worked out well,” Newell said. “When I began Stoneridge Software, it was the right time in my own career development and the right time for my family.”
In the first year, Newell was joined by several Microsoft veterans to form a dream team which helped establish the company in the market quickly. The team defined its core values as Integrity, technical excellence, tenacity, a client centric approach, and enjoying our work which laid a great foundation for the company’s growth.
And things grew quickly. Each year saw more customers, more employees, new divisions and new product releases. Now, just four years later, Stoneridge Software employs 67 team members and has three times as many customers in the area as any other Microsoft Dynamics AX or NAV partner.
And like any great leader, he credits the success of the company to his whole team. “I haven’t seen as capable of a team anywhere that are all moving in the same positive direction,” he said. “We truly do have the best folks in the industry.”
All this growth keeps Newell busy. He travels one or two days a week to their Minneapolis office to meet with clients and the Twin Cities team. When he’s not there, he can be found in meetings, on the phone and conducting job interviews. But he makes sure to balance it all with family time every evening, avoiding work between 5 p.m. and when his daughters go to bed.
A resident of Barnesville, Minnesota, Newell also chaired the Economic Development Authority for years. Realizing larger businesses would never move to a small town, he made the conscious decision to change that and inspire economic growth from within. He has now set the example that a successful national business can based in Barnesville.
It’s also important to Newell to give back to his community. “I like being involved in my daughters’ activities, so I started the K-2 basketball program for Barnesville Community Education and have been coaching basketball ever since,” he said. “My wife, Becky, and I run the Whist tournament every year at the annual Potato Days Festival and my friend Leah and I play music at Barnesville’s Purple Goose restaurant once a month or so as well.”
And in 2015, a pay-it-forward initiative at Stoneridge Software allowed his employees to choose charities to donate to, in which 40 different organizations received funds as part of their corporate giving campaign.
What’s next for Newell and crew? “For the company, we want to be viewed as the best Microsoft Dynamics partner out there,” he said. “We want to be seen as the go-to choice if people are looking at a business solution software in the region. We also want to develop some industry specialization so we can serve some specific industries that haven’t gotten a lot of attention from modern software.”
And personally, Newell says you may just see him as an usher at the Minnesota Twins Spring training facility in Fort Meyers, Florida, in his retirement.
Throughout all his experience, Newell says he’s learned that communication and culture are key to the success of an organization. “It’s important to provide role clarity to your team and provide them the training and knowledge mentoring to make sure that they prosper,” he said. “I’ve also learned that there is always more to learn.”
Advice for the Next Generation
For those looking to become their own boss someday, Newell advises you to take your time. “Give yourself a chance to understand what the corporate environment looks like. While you’re there, keep thinking about what you would do if you were in charge. Take all of that and use it as the foundation for what you want to do.”
He says that there are the three key areas necessary to run a business.
1) Day-to-day operation. Understand the financial side of the business and systems that are required to support it.
2) The product or service that you are delivering. You must completely understand it.
3) Sales. It wasn’t until the last few years I worked at Microsoft that I understood everything that was entailed in selling. If I had started the business 10 years earlier, I wouldn’t have understood this valuable portion of the business.
What Newell Wants You to Know
Implementing a new business software solution for your company can really help you grow your business. Many companies are afraid of instituting this change, but when it’s done right, it doesn’t have to be painful. Think about what it would look like if you didn’t have paper everywhere and people entering data multiple times in four different systems, he says. Think about the return on investment (ROI) that you get by creating efficiency in your business and connecting your business to your clients and suppliers. This leads to responsiveness, better decision making, and greater profitability.
Putting in a solution that streamlines your business not only helps your company grow, it also really improves the experience your team members have at work.