Helping entrepreneurs, executives, and organizations grow their businesses by transforming their workplaces from within Joe Mechlinski is the CEO and co-founder of entreQuest, a business consulting firm based in Baltimore. Since 2001, eQ has driven growth for entrepreneurs and organizations of all sizes, industries, and economic environments. Joe is also the co-founder of Maverick Local—a networking group for entrepreneurs—and the author of Grow Regardless, a New York Times, USA Today, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.com bestselling book about organizational change. He has served on the boards of Betamore, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake, Conscious Venture Labs, and others. Joe and eQ have won numerous recognitions and honors, including Baltimore Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” (for five consecutive years) and The Daily Record’s “Successful by 40” and “Most Admired CEOs” lists. Where did you get you start, and how did come to found entreQuest? JOE MECHLINSKI: I’m a Baltimore boy. I grew up in Baltimore city, right in Highland Town. I’ve got a great family that made sure that I didn’t break too many laws and too many rules. I went to Patterson High School so, since we’re in Baltimore, everybody wants to know where you went to high school, and from there I was lucky enough to get into Johns Hopkins. I played football there, and going from Paterson to Hopkins was just an amazing learning experience. I went to school with guys that are doctors, and fancy Wall Street bankers, and people that are super successful right now. It taught me a lot. It taught me how to overcome the gap and deficit I had from an academic background. It taught me there was a whole new world here in Baltimore city that was sort of enclaved called Hopkins, and again, it was a great learning experience. That was actually where I started my entrepreneurial carrier. I was working a bunch of jobs, and I couldn’t find a way to make enough money to make ends meet while I was in school. So, I started painting houses and it turned into this little, mini kingdom, an empire of college kids. We went from about five people to about 150 in three years in terms of employees. I just got the entrepreneurial bug. That was great because I loved the idea of providing value and service to people—and certainly getting paid for it—and then I also loved the idea of providing opportunities for others. I know that sounds like it should be, you know, sitting on a Facebook post somewhere but my dad has given me so much. One of the things that he would always give me which is you’ve got to treat your employees like your clients and your clients like employees. I give him the credit for a lot of my values and principles. I started a bunch of other small businesses, and some were good and some were total disasters. I just love business. I think it’s a pure sport. You know whether you’re good enough, you hear from your customers about what you should do. I fell in love with it. Right out of college, I started entreQuest with a partner. We have gone through some serious ups and downs but, you know, as a small management consulting firm that really focuses on talent, how do you help a company build a mission-driven growth machine? It’s been just a great learning experience, and we’ve got an amazing team here in Baltimore, and that’s how we got here. In your perspective, what has made the company a success? What I’ve taken out of the last 15 years is that if we’re going to scale, we need to have a big vision. One of the things that’s been really exciting about entreQuest in the last year or so is that we’ve been able to cast a vision over the next ten years to build this cluster, or ecosystem, of companies that are going to help companies grow regardless—that are going to help them from an HR point of view, from a talent acquisition standpoint, from a strategy point of view. We may get into different lines of businesses, and the bigger our vision gets, the better talent we keep attracting. Recently we’ve appointed a managing partner to our consulting practice. He’s someone I’ve known for a long period of time—Andrew Freedman—and you don’t get a guy like that unless you’ve got a big vision where you want to basically solve the world’s problems. I feel like the bigger our vision, the bigger problems we take on, the better talent we’ll bring in. Again, on the talent acquisition side of our business, we just brought in Chris Steer and he’s equally amazing. Is there anything you would change if you could go back and do it again? I would love to tell my younger self to appreciate the ride a little bit more. What I mean by that is—we’ve had the chance to work with more than 500 companies over the last 15 years—and I can’t tell you how much not only have I learned and gained from those experiences, but there were some really fun moments of watching companies just totally kill it. I don’t know that I always appreciated it as much as I probably could have. Whether it was a company once that we worked with that went from $2 million to $50 million—and the guy sold—to other instances where we helped companies go from $10 to $30 million and do really well. I would say I would go back to that younger Joe and say, “You should smell the roses a little bit more every once in a while. You’re doing good work, you’re doing good work.”
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