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image: Class Notes headlineAlumni Newsmaker
Entrepreneur Gary E. Hoover, AB'73, shares his vision in a new book about innovation

PHOTO:  Gary Hoover on successGary Hoover grew up in Anderson, Indiana, a General Motors factory town, with one goal in mind: "All my friends wanted to be president or a firefighter or something. But I wanted to run a retail chain." Hoover's determination to reach that goal never wavered, not even during his days on the quads amidst the 1970s anti-war protests. "The University publicity department put out press releases about me," he recalls, "as the first student in memory to come to the University and say he wants to be a businessperson."

This fall Hoover was back on campus, combining a meeting of the College Visiting Committee with a visit to Hoover House, part of the new Max Palevsky Residential Commons named in recognition of his recent $1.5 million gift to support undergraduate residential life, the University of Chicago Paris Center, and summer study fellowships for undergraduates to attend intensive, second-language training programs around the world.

Hoover's trip to Chicago was also the second stop on a tour promoting his new book. Hoover's Vision: Original Thinking for Business Success (Texere, 2001) distills the principles that he believes are essential for successful entrepreneurship. Those principles, he says, were at play when he founded his first post-College company, Bookstop in 1982. Seven years later he sold it to Barnes & Noble for $41.5 million. The next year he started The Reference Press, to make information about businesses more available and affordable. Renamed Hoover's in 1996 and run by Hoover's College classmate, Patrick Spain, AB'74, the firm operates Hoovers.com, a Web site devoted to information on public and private enterprises.

Then he started TravelFest Superstores, which sold travel books, luggage, maps, guides, and tickets. "Customers loved us," writes Hoover, "but the airlines didn't-they dramatically reduced the commission on airline tickets just as we were struggling toward profitability." It was, he continues, "a fantastic-and painful-learning experience."

Many of his book's principles have a U of C flavor. "There's almost an earthiness to Chicago compared to some of its peers," he says, a tradition of researchers "who went out to the field and looked at things." He remembers taking courses with Nobel laureates Milton Friedman and George Stigler. "Every day they would hold up the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal," outline an article's arguments, and ask the class to prove or disprove the author's point.

"Being curious is the core of the whole place," Hoover says of Chicago, "and to me, it is also the core of success." In his search for new knowledge, he reads 20 or more books a week-mostly nonfiction, including reference works and atlases. To keep up the pace, when reading he eschews a linear approach. Instead, he scans, goes to the index, and looks for topics that already interest him, to see how they connect and to see what new information he can glean. In the past ten years or so he's bought, on average, six books a day and has a collection of about 40,000 books-almost all of it nonfiction-in his Austin, Texas, home.

In addition to books, he collects maps. "For me, atlases take the place of fiction," he says. "I open one and dream about the places I see. My first book was an atlas." A few years ago at an American Booksellers Association convention at Chicago's McCormick Place, he trawled the maps aisle, made friends with a mapmaker, and now regularly sends him suggestions for new maps. In coming up with ideas, he says, he tries "to think about what people really need," new ways of showing information. "I'm a believer in thematic maps," maps that track social and cultural movements-say, a map showing the flow of music from Latin America to Miami to New York and then the rest of America.

A person of many passions, Hoover believes that the best way to succeed (or to have an interesting failure) is to develop a business style that matches your own dreams and interests. It's a pattern he followed as a Shoreyite in Pierce Tower, when he matched his typical student desire with atypical innovation. His first College business began when several students from New York invited a group of friends to take a road trip to Manhattan over Thanksgiving. Hoover saw an opportunity: why not charter a bus and sell tickets to other students to finance the trip? "T. W. Bus was born-we figured there was already a TWA, so we were TWB." The business, which lasted a few years beyond his years at Chicago, kept growing "as we solicited beyond the University community to Hyde Parkers and later added service to and from Northwestern."

These days Gary Hoover is on the boards of Hoovers.com and Whole Foods, and he consults and lectures regularly. True to Hoover's Vision, he expects to start another business: "Every business I've started," he says, "has been in the education business"-whether selling books, business information, or travel-and it will stay that way: "Education is going to be the next growth industry."
-M.R.Y.



  DECEMBER 2001

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