Professional basketball could have worked in Omaha, Steve Idelman said Thursday, but his ego got in the way.
“I deserved to dribble those 4.5 million dollars off the end of the court,” he said.
Idelman and his wife and business partner, Sheri Idelman, bought the minor-league Omaha Racers in 1990, running the team for seven seasons before it proved an expensive loss.
Idelman said he violated his business principle of “humility” in running the team. He didn’t work to gain widespread community support for the team or support from other businesses and investors. The native Chicagoan and Bulls fan instead saw the team as his gift to his adopted city.
“I expected people to show up, because I was giving it to Omaha,” he said. “We lost so much money, the IRS really thought it was a hobby.”
The cautionary tale was part of a lesson in business success and failure that Idelman delivered at the monthly meeting of the Association for Corporate Growth, a networking group for attorneys, bankers and other mergers and acquisitions dealmakers.
Where he’s had success, Idelman said, as with his firms Solutionary and Idelman Telemarketing, he has stuck to his firm’s core values, including honesty, loyalty and fair play, and worked hand in hand with his trusted management team. Where he’s failed, he’s ignored sound advice and let his ego get in the way.
“At the end of the day there are not a lot of surprises or accidents in business,” he said.
But Idelman, 66, didn’t say he regretted the mistakes.
“Nobody retires undefeated,” he said.
Instead, he said he learned from them, and that helped him turn around early trouble at Solutionary, the information security company the Idelmans founded in 2000 with their core management team and other investors. They sold Solutionary in 2013 to Japanese IT and telecommunications firm NTT, and the firm is still based in Omaha.
At the beginning, Solutionary was underfunded, and Idelman said he had to beg the bank to float him the money to cover payroll. He didn’t share details but said members of the management team refocused their efforts and recomitted to their goals.
If his legacy to Omaha didn’t turn out to be a basketball team, Idelman still made a difference, said Adam Kirshenbaum, general counsel for Millard Refrigerated Services. Growing up in Omaha in the 1980s, he said a position at Idelman Telemarketing was one of his first jobs.
“I think everybody worked there for at least one summer,” he said. “It was the best job you could have growing up.”
The Idelmans sold majority ownership to a Chicago investment firm in 1995. The renamed ITI Marketing Services and the Idelmans’ remaining minority holding were sold in 1998 to Illinois-based APAC Customer Services, which restructured its business and closed the Omaha call center in 2006.
Watching Idelman go on to build and sell other businesses, Kirshenbaum said, “It really taught me a lot about entrepreneurship. Steve never lost sight of his vision for the company.”