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Déjà Vu, All Over Again

An entrepreneur learns coming back as CEO requires thinking about business in a new way.

Don't say "You can't go home again" to Brett Shockley, co-founder of Minneapolis-based Spanlink Communications, whose early product, Webcall, let online shoppers click an icon to connect to a call center-a novel idea back in 1995. In 2000, Cisco Systems took a minority interest in the company, and Shockley, 46, got an offer he couldn't refuse: to become vice president and general manager of Cisco's customer contact business unit.

In January 2002, however, Shockley returned to Spanlink as CEO. Time away gave him confidence to make tough decisions, such as trimming Spanlink's staff, which had grown 60 percent in his absence.

The second time around required a new mind-set. "It was about building the company in a whole new direction," he says. Last year, Spanlink nearly doubled its number of employees and boasted sales over $40 million. Says Shockley, "I'm just focused on growing the business as fast as we possibly can."

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the March 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Déjà Vu, All Over Again.

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