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Money: Medium to track success

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At an age when many of his contemporaries are reflecting on past accomplishments and writing their memoirs, LeRoy K. Speirs only wants to talk about one thing: his next big project.

"It's the most exciting thing I've ever done," he said of his 28th entrepreneurial venture, Synthonics Inc., a computer software operation based on three-dimensional computer modeling technology that he says is "absolutely incredible — the only thing like it in the world."

The excitement is what drives him, he said.

"The interest is the most important factor for me. I have never paid that much attention to the money. That's just a way to count, to keep score. But I'm not motivated by money on any level beyond that. I'm motivated by projects that are interesting, exciting and fun."

And since there are plenty of projects in his life right now that provide that kind of motivation, retirement isn't even a consideration.

"Retire from what?" he asks when the subject is mentioned. "I already do whatever I want to do. Isn't that what retirement is for?"

Clearly, Speirs thinks so. And who can blame him for savoring his entrepreneurial successes? As a child of the Great Depression, he can remember when times weren't so good.

Born near Salt Lake City as the eighth of Ron and Wanda Speirs' nine children, he learned early that life can be tough — and that it can get tougher. His father had a limited educational background and was restricted in the physical work he could do by a serious heart condition.

Consequently, the family lived on a tight budget. But when Ron Speirs died when LeRoy Speirs was just 3 years old, the family's financial situation immediately went from bad to worse.

"We were very poor," he said. "We had outdoor plumbing until I graduated from high school. But I wasn't really aware of how poor we were."

That's probably because he grew up in such hard economic times. The Depression was a great social equalizer. Nobody worried about keeping up with the Joneses because the Joneses weren't doing all that well themselves. Still, it would be natural to assume that Speirs' passion for entrepreneurship — and its potential for financial independence — was a result of poverty.

Even though that assumption would be invalid.

"I like to make money — no question about it," he said. "But that's not what drives me. If you think that money is important beyond scorekeeping, you're out of balance."

Such balance is important to Speirs. While making a successful career with his 27 (going on 28) business ventures, he has also found time to be a father to his five children (four of whom are entrepreneurs themselves), a grandfather to his 18 grandchildren, a dedicated Scouter and a faithful and active member of his church.

"I'm more than just the sum of my professional experiences," he said.

"What I do doesn't define who I am. It's just what I do. My family, my faith, my service in my church and my community — that says more about who I am because it identifies what's really important to me."

Still, his career as an entrepreneur has been important enough to him that he has found the time and energy needed to become successful at it.

Although not every venture has been successful, enough of them have been profitable that he has long since retired from working for others. Which is not to say that Speirs has retired — not by a long shot.

"I'm content and at peace," he said. "I live comfortably. Who'd want to retire from that?"

Especially not with the next big project getting ready to take off.


Steve Gibson and LeRoy Speirs are associated with the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship. They can be contacted via e-mail at cfe@byu.edu