Martin Cregg is president and CEO of ChaseDesign in Skaneateles. ChaseDesign is known for its consulting work in product design, packaging and experience design, but its broader aim is constant innovation to help make its client companies better.
"We help companies move into the future and grow their revenue," Cregg said.
Dave Chase founded the company in 1957. He ran the company with a partner until 1970 and then incorporated as David O. Chase Design. The company evolved with more staff and expanded beyond the original industrial design focus.
Cregg was a chemical engineer who joined the company after he and Chase met while riding horses and working together when the National Sports Festival came to Syracuse in 1981.
Cregg began buying the company in the early 1990s. About five years ago, he took on a venture partner to finance expansion. In July 2012, he sold the company toInterpublic Group, one of the world's big three advertising design and communication holding companies. It gave Chase access to a global network.
Were you in leadership positions growing up?
I have a book on leadership and one of the chapters has a subhead that says. "Show me a successful entrepreneur and I'll show you a former juvenile delinquent." I am not far from the inspiration behind that.
I was in a large family -- one of eight kids. I was in the middle. From about the time I was 6 to now, I was an independent thinker in the family. My parents tolerated that, which was a gift, because it let me go do things.
I don't know that I was making good decisions, but I did a lot of things.
I went to work when I was 12. When I went to college (Notre Dame), I had earned what seemed like a lot of money. I probably had $700 in my bank account in 1967.
In February, I called my mother, and I said, "Mom, I'm totally out of money."
She said, "What a coincidence. So am I."
"Mom, that's not what I was thinking the answer was."
She said, "There are five of you in college. Go figure it out."
The next morning, I went over to the Morrissey Student Loan office, and I borrowed $200. I went into South Bend, Ind., and bought an oven and a five-pound pot of chocolate chip cookie dough. At midnight, I would bake cookies in my dorm room and sell them to people who couldn't buy food anywhere. Of course, the aroma went down the hallway.
Then I started a stereo business out of my dorm room. I started my trucking business out of my dorm room. I started a tourism business out of my dorm room -- I chartered airplanes to bowl games -- so that, one, I could get where I wanted to go and secondly, I could make money off of it.
I don't know if that's leadership. I was always wanting to be self-sufficient.
You were entrepreneurial.
It's similar, in some ways, to the clients we have today. Companies are desperate to find a way to grow revenue. It's not easy. So whether you're a student in college or you're a large multinational company trying to please stockholders, it's still a requirement to grow your business and make it economically viable.
We're an intentional innovation firm. Every day, every project we get, nobody's ever done it before.
Give me the elevator speech for your company.
If you were a client looking for a particular service, I would answer you in the context of your service. So if you said, "I'm looking for a company that does product design," I would only talk to you about product design.
It's a problem-solving regimen. Which sounds kind of trite, but what makes it relevant is that the problems we're solving are not, "Do I need two screws or do I need three screws to hold that plate on the wall?"
The problems are more: "If I were to develop a go-to-market strategy for our company that will last me five years what would that be? And then how would I bring it to life?"
Anybody locally that's heard of our firm probably knows that we do something related to product design. Because we've done that since 1957.
Part of our company designs packages that go into retail stores for brands to compete against other brands on the shelf.
Another part of our company designs stores and retailing and merchandising.
Another part of our company does behavioral research and cultural and trend research.
Another part of our company is doing hospitality design.
Another part of our company is doing sports.
When you put that brew into a bucket, what comes out of it is an extremely good talent of understanding a client's business and figuring out how it lives in a contextual environment that defines how they compete. If they're trying to get something to happen -- whether it's a museum that's trying to get more people to walk through the front door or it's a company that's trying to sell more soap or it's a sports stadium that's trying to get more people to come to it -- the toolbox is the same. How you apply it and the kind of issues that relate to each business are different.
We're a firm that has a lot of traits that are understandable one-on-one, and when you put them together it's a little harder to figure out. We're an accelerator for our clients. We help do something that they couldn't do for themselves.
In effect, it's invention on demand. Whether it's physical products or services or intentional change in behavior to create something new.
You have clients all around the country?
All around the world.
Where do you have an especially large presence outside the U.S.?
We just opened an office in May in Tokyo.
We're opening an office in Manchester, England.
Next, we're going to open an office in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
We have a lot of clients that are American multinational companies who want us to take the skill set we're applying here and take it to markets where that same skill set would apply. The U.S. is a highly developed market. A lot of the retail work that we do applies to other highly developed markets -- Europe, Japan, Southeast Asia.
Second, we have clients who are not U.S.-based companies. We have a client in Seoul, Korea. It puts some pressure on us to figure out how to work with companies that don't have English as their primary language. We're doing work for this Korean company in 61 countries.
If you were going to list a few attributes that you think are required for business success, what would they be?
In no particular order, I think one of them has to be that you have to be willing to do what it takes to make it successful.
In our office, we have what I call a refuse-to-lose mindset. When you're trying to create the future, it's easy for ideas to get criticized. You have to have the courage to deal with that. You need to be committed enough that when the roadblock shows up you know how to drive around it, instead of bumping into it.
So if I said refuse to lose, it's courage.
You have to have a willingness to learn.
You have to have a sense of humor. Otherwise, the work will get to you, because it's hard work, and it's every day.
You have to be honest. You have to work as part of a team, and you have to be willing to work with other people to achieve a common goal.
The digital age seems to have disrupted everything.
The concept of the digital age has given everybody something that's tangible that they can see it's affected them. If you look at the last 100 years, you'd find there was just as much innovation going on, before there was a quote digital age. There was always something that was driving change.
One of the examples I use: If I build a 1960 Buick today and pulled it up in front of the building and ask, "What is that?" You wouldn't say it's a new car. Because your sense of what's new has totally changed.
It wasn't how recently it was made. That's not relevant to the context in which you live.
Because the context changes all the time, what you aspire to or what you believe or what you are having a preference for changes. Some of it's because you get older. More likely, it's because the whole environmental context or the whole circumstantial context -- from watching sports to purchasing a product for use in your home -- has changed.