The good news: you don’t need a business degree to run your own business successfully. In fact, as we learned yesterday, Tony Pomonis (English ’02), former owner and manager of the local chain of Merry-Ann’s Diners, failed out of the business school before reviving his college career with courses at Parkland and re-enrolling at UIUC. Not only is a business degree unnecessary for small-business success, argues Pomonis–a humanities degree equips you more directly with the skills that lead to success: curiosity, a willingness to take risks, the ability to interact with people and learn from them, first-rate communication and problem-solving skills.
The bad news: Pomonis used the phrase “I worked my a** off” with alarming regularity in the hour that he spoke about his experiences. He recounted months of trading 12-hour shifts with his business partner, years of working without a vacation day. Hard work for Pomonis hasn’t just meant flipping pancakes with as much speed and finesse as the line cooks he hires (though that is key!), it has also involved
- actively seeking out mentors and advice
- taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong (and living with the emotional toll)
- memorizing balance sheets so as to impress investors
- curtailing his personal life to the demands of the job.
The bottom line: You can do it.
But: You might not want to. Small-business success comes at the cost of family life. Pomonis frankly owned up to the trade-offs: he made a lot more money running Merry-Ann’s than he does in his current position with LAS advancement at the University of Illinois, but his new job gives him time and energy to be with family. In his view, there is no contest: “I am infinitely richer” he says, for being able to spend his evenings and weekends at home with his wife and children, without the constant stress of a 24-hour business requiring his attention.
Pomonis maintains a stake in the business, however, and continues to cook at one of his diners the three busiest weekends of the year–one of which is coming up. You’ll find him on Sunday, Nov. 15, at the Merry-Ann’s in downtown Champaign from 8 to 2.