Gary E. Hoover, AB'73, shares his vision in a new book about innovation
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."