The Godfather of Entrepreneurship
Talk to Rudy Lamone for even a few minutes, and you’ll immediately be struck
by one thing: Rudy knows everybody. Everybody. But not everybody who knows Rudy
knows how he got to be one of the most respected entrepreneurship leaders in the
country and one of the most loved leaders in Smith School history.
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Rudy Lamone’s family immigrated to the U.S. from the province of Abruzzi,
Italy, in the early 1900s. They were a family with a knack for business and a
bent toward new ventures. His aunt and cousin ran corner grocery stores, his
brother ran restaurants, and his cousin opened up a women’s sportswear business.
That’s where Rudy cut his teeth. “I would go to New York to buy women’s
clothes,” he relates with a chuckle.
Their combination of hard work and moxie paid for all the children in Rudy’s
extended family to go to college. “That was the fire that lit my interest in
entrepreneurship,” he says.
But when Rudy was teenager, anything business-related took a back seat to
anything music-related. Rudy was a gifted saxophone player determined to make
music his career. He lied about his age to play in Pittsburgh clubs, burning the
end of a cork to create fake beard stubble on his face, and made sure to always
enter clubs through the poorly-lit back entrances.
He spent the next four years on tour with a succession of big bands and
eventually the Rudy Lamone Band, which provided backup for major acts on tour.
In due course he landed in North Carolina, spent three years in the Army at Fort
Bragg (and in the 440th Army Band), and then finally settled down to an
undergraduate education at the ripe old age of 26 at the University of North
When Rudy came to the University of Maryland as a newly-minted PhD, he found
a tiny but surprisingly impressive group of young professors and a mentor in
then-dean Charles Taff, who was determined to make the business department
great. “Coming here turned out to be a great decision on my part,” says Lamone.
“It changed my life.”
|Best and Worst
|Smith students get firsthand experience with
entrepreneurship, and J. Robert Baum, associate professor of
entrepreneurship, has taught many of them. As a result he’s seen a lot
of student business ideas come and go.
Worst idea ever? The fork with a pen in it. Great idea: board game “Wits
and Wagers,” available at a Target or chain bookstore near you.
Unexpectedly successful idea: the Super Bowl, a toilet that raises and
swivels, with a heated seat. It turned out to be a great luxury item, as
well as something useful for nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and
homes with a wheelchair-bound resident. “It started out as a funny
idea,” says Baum, “but it really got traction.”
“There have been hundreds of ideas for nail shops, restaurants, dating
services,” says Baum. “They don’t get much traction, but they’re
businesses. So try it. Get out and do something. If it doesn’t work, you
can try something else.”
At the time, the business department lived in the School of Business and
Public Administration, a conglomeration of academic disciplines that included
business, economics, journalism, political science and geography.
“We couldn’t become well-known unless we were really a school,” says Rudy. He
and a few other faculty argued their case to the administration of the
university, and in 1972 the business department became its own school for the
first time. And when it came time to look for a dean for the new school, Rudy’s
name rose to the top of the list.
Money was the biggest challenge Rudy faced—a problem successive Smith School
deans have continued to address. But Rudy also had to contend with the fact that
the university had maintained little to no contact with business alumni over the
years. “Without alumni support, we’re nothing,” he says. “It took us a long time
to realize that! That became part of my mission. One of the first things I did
was to hire an alumni director.”
When Rudy went to a university administrator to ask for a list of prominent
alumni, the administrator came back with a red box filled with index cards. Rudy
took it, and his little red box became legend. Rudy worked his red box to drum
up recruiting partners as well as financial support for the school and its
Rudy has always taken a personal interest in Smith School students. One of
the things he enjoyed most during his tenure as dean was helping create and
support student clubs and organizations, including a number of fraternities. He
also spent a great deal of time coaching and mentoring students. “My kids,” Rudy
remembers them fondly. Many of Rudy’s students have gone on to extraordinarily
successful careers (and you can be sure their contact information has found its
way into the modern equivalent of Rudy’s little red box!).
Over the years, Rudy has witnessed the realization of a number of his dreams.
The Dingman Center is nationally recognized as a leading incubator of
opportunities for nascent businesses, not just in the state of Maryland, but
around the world. Rudy cofounded, with colleagues from the University of Indiana
and the University of Southern California, an organization of academic
entrepreneurship centers that allows faculty to share ideas and best practices.
That organization, the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers, today
includes more than 200 universities and colleges in the U.S. and abroad and
hosts an annual conference.
And Rudy recently realized a long-time dream as the Smith School opened a
campus in the heart of downtown Baltimore. But what he has always loved best is
the opportunity to meet and work with student entrepreneurs.
“The biggest pleasure in my life has been being around high-energy students
who want to be entrepreneurs,” says Rudy. “I love all my students, but the
entrepreneurship students are very special to me. They’re a very different
breed, and every year I get a whole new crop. Even now that I’m retired, somehow
they find me. That’s my real joy, seeing some kids that I’ve mentored, create
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