What It Takes to Succeed

Alumnus Rich Niemiec on classes, companies, and character.

One of the creeds Niemiec follows teaches people that character has a lot to do with success. John Wooden, a Purdue basketball superstar and longtime UCLA coach, was given a seven-point creed to live life by his father that is often included in Niemiec’s lectures.

  1. Be true to yourself.
  2. Make each day your masterpiece.
  3. Help others.
  4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
  5. Make friendship a fine art.
  6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.
  7. Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

“Your character will be your destiny,” Niemiec asserts, “so never forget that! You’ll never be perfect, but if you change that person in the mirror for the better every day, you’ll always be one step closer to where your dreams are.”

The future is still bright for entrepreneurial guru Rich Niemiec, who has no intentions of slowing down. “I’ll always be in a place where things go fast and grow fast. It’s what I enjoy and it’s what I do well.”

Over the past two decades, alumnus Rich Niemiec’s (BSEE ’87) world has exploded with unsurpassed entrepreneurial innovation and exemplary leadership skills. The co-founder of TUSC, a leader in information technology solutions, author of three best-selling Oracle software performance-tuning books and 1998 Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame inductee personifies the best of the best in Purdue’s growing list of entrepreneurial alums.

Foundations for Entrepreneurism

Niemiec studied electrical engineering at Purdue before universities even offered classes on entrepreneurism. Most of what he learned about business and becoming an entrepreneur came from experiencing it first-hand, though the courses he took provided him with a strong foundation for his field. “Several classes really did matter for me in finding and working at early jobs in my career prior to becoming an entrepreneur,” he recalls. “I had a job designing microchips that I couldn’t have done without taking a class from Dr. Dave Meyer on chip logic. I also designed skyscrapers at Skidmore Owings and Merrill, the company that did the Sears Tower and the John Hancock buildings in Chicago. This job included mostly work related to power, thanks so much, Professor Paul Krause and Professor Chee-Mun Ong, for teaching me so much in this area.”

“I would suggest that any students with entrepreneurial intentions take some financial classes that teach marketing, economics, how to read a Profit and Loss statement and how to write a business plan,” he says. “I think it’s better to take risks early in life when you have a lot of energy, but you’re definitely never too old to be an entrepreneur,” he says.

Building Blocks for the Future

Early on-the-job exposure to database systems eventually led Niemiec toward the computer science field and a job with Oracle Corporation, a company that created an innovative leading-edge database. “When I went to Oracle, they were virtually unknown by most technologists; IBM ruled all of IT back then. I found out about Oracle from someone I met in the Marines and decided to go there because they moved at an incredibly fast pace.”

In December of 1988, just two years after he graduated from Purdue, Niemiec left Oracle to co-found a company with partners Joe Trezzo and Brad Brown. TUSC, “the Oracle Experts,” develops successful business solutions through its understanding and use of advancing technology. “There are more opportunities in a small growing company than in almost any large company that’s shrinking,” he points out. “I was lucky to marry a wonderful woman, Regina—who I met at the Sweet Shop in the Student Union. She helped with the company and was the most supportive person I could ever hope for... she is the secret of my success.”

Today, TUSC is one of the leaders in its field, with seven offices and an excellent reputation worldwide, but 20 years ago it began as just another shaky startup company. “It was a risk to focus on Oracle,” Niemiec remembers, “but I saw how valuable database technology was at my previous job and I believed that it would accelerate in importance in all major companies.”

And accelerate it did, thanks to character and excellence, two definitive traits of company employees. “I think that drove future growth,” Niemiec says. “Focusing on excellence would have given us some nice short-term gains, but adding character to the mix made our success long-lasting. Hiring employees who were not only great at what they did but were also great people to be around helped drive the company’s future.”

As an entrepreneur, Niemiec feels that providing jobs and an environment where people can grow and succeed is the most rewarding aspect of entrepreneurism. “Things that make work fun include the teamwork, unbelievable character of the company, and employees, building the Oracle market and helping them grow, and educating others on Oracle when the product is really frustrating to use.”

Recipe for Success

Niemiec has become so successful as an entrepreneur and author that he began lecturing across the country to hundreds of thousands of businesspeople on the benefits of character, common sense, and tenacity. “I believe you will succeed in life beyond your wildest dreams if you ensure that you are always working on your personal character and leadership traits. You don’t just need to work on technical skills, but the successful people are always working to make themselves better people as well. Valuable traits to develop include integrity, physical courage, knowledge, moral courage, tact, unselfishness, respect, humility, initiative, loyalty, self-control, and enthusiasm. Work on these most of all and you’ll have the fortitude to overcome and accomplish anything you can dream.”

–Rebecca Goldenberg