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Sredni entertains full house with tales of entrepreneurship, leadership during Penn State Smeal’s Executive Insights series

October 18, 2018

Salomon Sredni at Executive Insights
Salomon Sredni, co-founder, partner and managing director of Ocean Azul Partners and co-founder and president of Chronwell, Inc., engaged in a moderated discussion with Charles H. Whiteman, John and Becky Surma Dean of Smeal, during the college's signature speaker series, Executive Insights.
Salomon Sredni, co-founder, partner and managing director of Ocean Azul Partners and co-founder and president of Chronwell, Inc., entertained a full Struthers Auditorium on Oct. 12 in the Business Building with anecdotes of entrepreneurship and leadership. It was the second installment of three Executive Insights events this semester. 

Sredni graduated from Penn State with a degree in accounting in 1987 and then went to work for Arthur Andersen for eight years. From there he transitioned to the chief accounting officer of a smaller company and then on to a two-decade career in a series of leadership positions at TradeStation, which culminated with Sredni as board member, president and chief executive officer. 

He now helps run two smaller companies. Ocean Azul is a venture capital firm that invests in startups and early stage companies across various industries. Chronwell, Inc. is a startup that focuses on combining technology with innovative processes to reduce the cost of workers compensation while increasing the satisfaction of and improving the outcomes for injured workers. 

Sredni is a member of Smeal’s Board of Visitors. He delivered Smeal’s spring 2016 commencement address during the same year his twin daughters graduated from Smeal. 

Among a wide range of topics Sredni addressed were: 

Funding startups
“What we are looking for is great ideas. We want to fund the next Uber. We like big ideas. We want entrepreneurs that want help and that we can help. Can we open doors? Can we help with strategy? Can we help with sales?” 

Difference between large companies and startups
“A small company is one where there are no clearly defined roles. There’s no training. Startups are the equivalent of changing a tire while the truck is moving. As a company scales, you need to have specialization. When you get bigger, for better or worse, you need to implement rules and processes and training so that people know exactly what they do.”

Creating a positive work culture
“People will not remember what you said, people will not remember what you did, but people always remember how you made them feel. I feel that life is too short to just be transactional. I’ve always tried to create companies where there’s family, even for 600 people. The way you do it is to make sure people know what you value and follow through.”

How do you value a startup idea?
“The reality with a startup is it’s impossible to value it. How do you value an idea? How do you value something that’s going to change five times, particularly early on, before it goes to market? What we look at is, what is the potential and where is the startup in relation to making sure they know what the product is and what the market fit is? Although I really wish it was a science, it’s really an art.” 

Personal philosophy
“I think in life what I’ve learned is, to a large extent, you can determine whether you’re going to be happy or not happy. In general, what I try to do is have a positive influence and make sure I embrace every day and make the best of it. Negativity is like kryptonite to me.” 

Honor and integrity
“If there’s no honor and no integrity, there’s nothing. If you ask me the most important thing for you to protect, it’s your honor and integrity. You should never, ever compromise those. There may be a time in your career when you are asked to do something and your internal compass says ‘that’s not right.’ It’s scary to say no. It’s scary to say that’s not right. It’s a real thing that you will face in the real world.” 

Advice for students
“The most important thing is to be yourself. When I go to hire somebody, I want to hire a unique individual. And I want to know what I am getting. Ultimately, you want a well-rounded team. Everyone wants to hire somebody who knows what they want to do and why they want to be there.”

About Smeal’s Executive Insights
Executive Insights is designed to complement the Smeal educational experience by bringing high-profile business leaders to the college to connect with students, faculty, staff, and administrators. Past guests include leaders from organizations such as Amazon, Archer Daniels Midland, Barclays, BASF, Boeing, Credit Suisse, Dell, Deloitte, Dick’s Sporting Goods, EY, GE, Johnson & Johnson, Kohl’s, KPMG, Macy’s, National Retail Federation, Nestlé, Oracle, Procter & Gamble, PwC, Samsung, Siemens, Verizon, TradeStation, Tumi Holdings, Inc., and Urban Outfitters.

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