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Entrepreneurship Insights from Distinguished Visiting Professor Warren Thompson

Tuesday, November 06, 2012
Warren M. Thompson, president and chairman of Thompson Hospitality, was the Distinguished Visiting Professor at Marymount University’s School of Business Administration on November 5. He talked about entrepreneurship – establishing and growing a business, using his own story as an example.

Thompson’s Road to Business Success
Today, Thompson Hospitality is the nation's largest minority-owned restaurant/hospitality company, with more than 3,000 employees and revenues exceeding $410 million dollars. Thompson was an entrepreneur from an early age. As a teenager, Thompson raised hogs, sold produce, and had a pest control business. A stint as a hardware store salesman helped clarify his course. “I knew I couldn’t let someone else control my destiny,” Thompson explained.

With a BA in Economics from Hampden Sydney College and an MBA from UVA’s Darden School of Business, he first interned, then worked for the Marriott Corporation for seven years – rising to the level of vice president and establishing new paradigms for providing airport food services.

In 1992, Thompson set out on his own, negotiating with Marriott and Shoney’s to purchase and run 31 restaurants. With the vision to maneuver around financial difficulties, he sold the restaurants a few years later and shifted his business primarily to contract food services – partnering with the Compass Group.

Now Thompson Hospitality has accounts with such organizations as Bank of America, Boeing, Microsoft, Exxon/Mobil, and the Inova Health System; public school systems in Chicago, DC, and St. Louis; government organizations like the National Institutes for Health and the Smithsonian; and colleges and universities across the country. Thompson Hospitality has also grown to include the Austin Grill and American Tap Room restaurant chains, Marvelous Market, and brb (be right burger).

Trust, Risk, and Professional Development
Thompson stressed the importance of trust and respect in business dealings. “It’s a two-way street,” he stated. “Compass brought me on their board right away. And their CEO sits on my board.”

Asked about risk-taking, Thompson emphasized, “I take calculated risks. I’m paid to have vision; my job is to prepare for the future.” And, when interviewing potential employees, he wants to know if they, too, have an entrepreneurial spirit.

Thompson is a strong supporter of his employees and has been recognized for his commitment to promoting diversity. He said, “I get the biggest kick out of seeing employees grow and move up. It’s tremendously satisfying.”

On Being an Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurship is about determining and meeting market needs. In describing himself, Thompson noted, “I’ve often said that I’m a hustler – getting the job done before anyone else knows there’s a job to be done.” While tremendously successful, he’s not done yet. As he put it, “There’s where you are, and where you can go.”
– Linh Do ʼ14, a BBA major, gets advice from Warren Thompson; Sadé Seaborne, who is pursuing an M.S. in Information Technology, and Tony Accinelli ʼ13, a BBA major, look on.

PHOTO 2 – Warren Thompson

PHOTO 3 – Warren Thompson answers questions from the audience.

PHOTO 4 – Mr. Thompson is presented with a Marymount sweatshirt.
(left to right): James Ryerson, dean of Marymount’s School of Business Administration; Lauren Real ʼ13, a BBA major with a focus on hospitality management; Warren Thompson; Mike Howlett ʼ14, a BBA major; and Matthew D. Shank, president of Marymount

PHOTO 5 – Aaron Walsh ʼ14, an Economics in Society major, chats with Mr. Warren after the event, as Kritishma Shrestha ʼ13, a BBA major and president of the Student Government Association, listens.