The Good Fight

Will to Fight

Another disturbing question: Even if entrepreneurs have a role in the New Economy, are they willing? Maybe the harshest entrepreneurial enemy today is fear-the notion that forfeiting your entrepreneurial dreams and returning to the apparently safer fold of employment is the wise thing to do.

Are today's laid-off workers still too wary of the stench of dotcom failure and a cloudy economic future, or will many of them, like their predecessors in the layoffs of the early 1990s, start businesses? "I'd be shocked if they didn't," says Stevenson. "Once most people experience [entrepreneurship] and discover the allure of doing something they like, they can no longer be bribed by a high salary."

Fence-walkers can learn a lot from Ben Occhiogrosso. The 48-year-old entrepreneurial veteran co-founded DVI Communications, a New York City-based IT consulting business, more than 20 years ago. Before DVI, Occhiogrosso was an entrepreneur trapped in a telecommunications worker's body. He and two co-workers were "three workaholics, laboring under the yoke of administrative bric-a-brac," he recalls. "The reward for hard work was more hard work. And we sensed we could do this business ourselves better and faster."

Since then, he's survived a grueling first year, an almost crippling dry spell in the early 1980s, the stock market crash of 1987, the recession of the early '90s and the rise and fall of the dotcom economy. He admits to being envious of the financing falling into the laps of unworthy dotcoms and calls government handouts to large corporations "a sore spot." But of course, all that's minor compared to the trauma Occhiogrosso experienced on September 11. He never would have anticipated his entrepreneurial duties would include tracking down his 40 employees to make sure they were alive, and calling to find out whether his office, a block away from the World Trade Center, was still standing. He used to consider his view of the World Trade Center a perk; now he looks out the window every workday at an empty space. "So much happened in one day," he says. "I've never experienced in all my years in business an effect so sudden, so dramatic, so compressed."

Even with fresh emotional and financial scars, Occhiogrosso doesn't miss the easy life under a corporate ruler. "I'm more convinced than ever of the correctness of that decision I made a long time ago," he says. "I like to be in control of my destiny. I like to know what the real picture is. I don't like to be insulated. I'm convinced this is the right thing for me." General Nathanael Greene's assessment of the American revolutionaries holds true for Occhiogrosso, as well as any entrepreneur who has survived the past few years in business: "We fight, get beat, rise and fight again."

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This article was originally published in the March 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Good Fight.

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