Success and stability have Hardre staying put

Editor’s note: The Young Professional One on One is a new feature. Each week the Business Journal will interview an up-and-comer from the Springs business community. Know someone who should be featured? Send suggestions to editorial@csbj.com.

Etienne Hardre spent years working in several large accounting and finance businesses, where he honed his financial management and analysis skills. One of those firms was Springs-based accounting firm Biggs Kofford.

All that harvesting of information from older, more seasoned colleagues has paid off. He now runs his own accounting firm Next Exit Advisors.

When he’s not crunching numbers for dreaming up new business schemes, Etienne is spreading the message that Colorado Springs is great place for young professionals. And, since he himself is a family man, he’s big on attracting married — as well as single — young professionals.

Etienne took some time recently to talk to the business journal about business, personal success and the state of young professionals in Colorado Springs.

You were recently named Young Entrepreneur of the Year. To what do you credit your success?

First, I give credit to Jesus Christ, who resurrected me from a very different path in life. If you want to know more about it, just ask me! Second, I credit my employees and clients who are both products of a robust entrepreneurial culture here in Colorado Springs. I am constantly amazed to hear reports that Colorado Springs doesn’t innovate. We certainly could use more innovation (who couldn’t?) but we have a diverse sub-culture of intelligent, risk-inclined, passionate entrepreneurs who have been too fragmented and under-supported by our community to hit the radar of venture capitalists and the national media. These entrepreneurs are my clients, business partners, and source for like-minded employees and it is to them that I credit my success.

What’s new with young professionals in Colorado Springs?

The young professionals of Colorado Springs want to be involved. Several hundred of us recently made a big statement with the Springs Vision Forum and there are similar initiatives in various stages of planning all around the city. The theme I’m hearing is that young people want to know that their decisions will have an impact on their community and their job, and the young professionals who are most plugged in to these areas seem to be the most satisfied with life here. To our leaders: Get our ideas! Channel our energy toward innovative projects we can be proud to be part of. And don’t waste our time with inactive “discussion.” We want to make it happen.

There’s been a lot of talk in Colorado Springs about retaining young professionals. What kind of efforts have you seen? What would you like to see?

I think we need to retain young families, not just young professionals. When I was a college graduate, I was a self-interested, fickle, inexperienced kid with a technologically shortened attention span. I’d go wherever the best offer called me and changed jobs for relatively small perceived gains. For these reasons, we need to focus our efforts on a more stable group of young professionals: married, preferably with kids.

Married young people with kids have a vested interest in passing on a strong community to the next generation, they are less likely to change communities or jobs, will give time and money to initiatives they see improving their family’s quality of life, tend to build strong support networks around themselves, and have multiple connection points to the community: church, school, work, friends. Couples with two jobs and no kids are still relatively stable because they have at least two connections points to their community.

I’m convinced that single young professionals who want to party the night away will go to Silicon Valley, New York, or even Denver anyway. Why should we compete with those well-established communities?

What types of resources would you like to see available to young professionals to help them succeed?

I want to see three things that we’re not offering today: cash, authority, and mentorship. I met with an entrepreneur planning to start a new manufacturing facility and living here in Colorado Springs. When he met with our local EDC, he was offered the usual tax incentives and connections. When he met with Pueblo’s EDC, they offered him cash up front, based on the number of jobs he projected to provide. Where do you think he’s going to put his new manufacturing plant? We have to put our money where our mouth is and develop a system for vetting new ideas and directly investing in them.

We also need to provide a system to connect our young talent and give them real power to affect this community. For example, if all of the boards in town would reserve just one seat for an otherwise qualified person under 30, and if we communicate those opportunities and have the patience to work with their relative inexperience, I think we’d see more successful young entrepreneurs. The chance to regularly interact with people who’ve “been there, done that” helps them believe in what can be done.

What advice do you have for your peers about making Colorado Springs a better place?

Gandhi said it best: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Although I’ve mentioned that leadership could do a lot to focus the young professionals in Colorado Springs, in no way do I intend to pass the blame or remove any of our responsibility for taking action before anyone leads us. When we see something we think ought to change, try to change it. Investing our own resources into an initiative is a sure-fire way of attracting the attention of our community to join us. We can usually accomplish a lot more than we think we can.