Bruce Leech likes to joke that he started his own business after getting his MBA because the job market was tough back then. It was the 1980s, and the badly battered economy was saturated with MBAs eager to make their way in the business world.
But Leech isn't telling all of the story. Founding CrossCom National began as a way for him to create his own path in business. But growing the national telecommunication and IT services company to encompass millions of dollars in annual revenues was no fluke – it took entrepreneurial leadership and talent.
Leech, has entrepreneurship in his blood and it's something he's been doing practically all his life. "Both my grandfathers had their own businesses, as did my father," says Leech. "My father often took me to his office and on sales calls during the summers when I was in high school and that was a great experience for me."
Growing up in Michigan, Leech learned early on what it meant to "make payroll" and the toll running a small business could take on a family. He decided not to go into the family business and instead went to Michigan State University.
A few facts about Bruce Leech:
- In 2010, Leech was inducted into the Chicago Area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame.
- Leech attended the Owner/President Management Program at Harvard Business School in 2004.
- In 2009, Leech was awarded the Catalyst Award from the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center.
- Leech is both a marathoner and a triathlete. He is also a private pilot.
But the small business bug didn't leave him. In college, he started a handyman services company called Executive Maintenance. Leech and friends offered services such as house painting, lawn mowing and general repair work to people living around the college and in Northern Michigan.
But upon graduation, Leech took the traditional career route, moving to Chicago in 1978 after being recruited by Harris Bank. After getting his MBA from DePaul, he started CrossCom, but didn't make any revenue the first year.
Leech seriously considered shuttering CrossCom's doors. "I remember my father told me to not give up, even when it gets rough," says Leech. "Soon I was awarded a $3 million contract to install more than 1,200 telephone systems into Walgreens stores. That was my big break."
Leech went on to run CrossCom for more than 25 years. A partial sale of his company freed up his time and he went looking for an opportunity to help other entrepreneurs. Having kept in touch with his DePaul professors and alumni over the years, he eventually landed at the doorstep of DePaul's Coleman Entrepreneurship Center, which links students and alumni with knowledge and resources for founding and growing entrepreneurial ventures.
He's been involved with the center and DePaul in various aspects for more than 12 years. And now, as the CEC's new executive director, he feels he has the right chemistry to lead the center into its future.
"I am looking to leverage my 30 years in business and my experience of starting, selling and building businesses to work with the CEC staff to help expand our world-class programs," Leech says. "I want to connect the entrepreneurial ecosystem within DePaul, within Chicago and across the country and the world."
Leech may have become an entrepreneur out of necessity, but his entrepreneurial success makes it clear he was born to lead businesses. And now he brings that leadership to an organization he's invested in for more than a decade.
"I am thrilled by this opportunity to really have an impact on the students at DePaul," Leech says. "The CEC is a bridge between our nationally-ranked entrepreneurship academic programs and the outside world. I look forward to helping our students cross that bridge and develop their full potential."