New at Hillsdale College: Professional Sales Internship Program and Entrepreneurial Seminar Series

Bob Thomas
Author, Fail-Proof Enterprise: A Success Model for Entrepreneurs

Bob ThomasBob Thomas has co-founded and served as CEO of two high-tech companies: UNI-LOC, which is now a division of Emerson Process, and TBI, which was sold to Bailey Controls. He has also served four years as a governor’s appointee to the Nevada State Welfare Board, four years on the Carson City School Board and three terms in the Nevada Legislature. Mr. Thomas is the author of a new book, The Fail-Proof Enterprise: A Success Model for Entrepreneurs, which has been selected for use in Hillsdale’s Entrepreneurial Seminar Series.

The following is adapted from a presentation at Hillsdale College.

Exciting things are always happening at Hillsdale College. One of the latest is the Department of Economics and Business Administration’s creation of the Professional Sales Internship Program, which provides qualified students an introduction to actual work in the field of professional sales.

Professional salespersons are college graduates who sell goods and services to other professionals. They represent the most prestigious companies in the world, and their customers include doctors, lawyers, scientists, universities, libraries, research labs and hightech companies.

It’s a good bet that sales is one of the least talked about of possible careers on college campuses, despite how critical it is to the American economy—not to mention the fact that it is perhaps the fastest track into top management. When I talk to young people about sales, I’m invariably asked, “Besides car salesmen, telemarketers and retail clerks, who else is in sales?” I answer, “Just about everybody.” Some of the greatest salespeople I’ve known are college presidents and corporate CEOs. After all, what is sales but persuasion?

Whether we are aware of it or not, every day of our lives we are surrounded by people selling things, from gizmos all the way to ideas. And the most successful at the art of sales are those with a college education—especially those with liberal arts degrees. Why? Because selling at the professional level calls for dealing with the widest variety of well-educated customers.

That is why Hillsdale is the perfect setting for the Professional Sales Internship Program. It works like this: Each year, eight of the College’s top junior class business students are identified on the basis of aptitude and character. Six of the eight are then selected to be placed as interns, during the summer following their junior year, with top companies across the country. Their salaries and living expenses are paid for by the College. In return, the companies immerse them in sales activities and grade them at summer’s end.

Increasing numbers of companies are exploring participation in this program, which will grow with demand.

Another of Hillsdale’s notable new business programs is the Entrepreneurial Seminar Series. “Entrepreneurship” is a word often misused these days. Over the past 30 years, much has been written about the subject, and most of it comes up short. Colleges and universities typically know and care little about entrepreneurship, as a result of which students are rarely exposed to the character and way of thinking that is the driving force of the free-market system.

Misfits, mavericks, restless guns or whatever else you call them, those who are best suited to be entrepreneurs make bureaucrats uncomfortable. And because institutions of higher learning tend to be bureaucratic, they (like bureaucratic governments and big corporations) are not inclined either to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit or to respect entrepreneurs. It is one of the great distinctions of Hillsdale College that this is not the case here.

Well known as the home of the Ludwig von Mises library and as an institution devoted from its beginning to the principles of the American Constitution, Hillsdale College supports the system of free enterprise which alone is compatible with America’s founding principles of individual rights and limited government. As such, it has the highest regard for the character and work of the entrepreneurial businessman. The Entrepreneurial Seminar Series, which attempts to bridge the gap between entrepreneurial theory and entrepreneurial practice, reflects Hillsdales’s longstanding support of freedom.