Cooking up a good business deal is ‘art' to this entrepreneur.
Kendall College President Howard Tullman moves so fast he makes the typical "driven" CEO look like he's standing still. Driven implies someone else steering. That's not Tullman. He's his own force of nature.
Consider the legendary Tullman art fair sprint. Take one art buyer, a pair of well-worn running shoes, and a couple of round-trip tickets to Miami . Combine these with six art fairs in four days, and Tullman's a UBO - unidentified buying object - as he flies down the packed corridors, pointing at paintings, the hapless art buyer closing the deals behind him.
The new purchases join the Tullman Collection of Contemporary Art, 800-plus pieces of figurative and realist artwork acquired by Tullman and wife, Judy, during the past 20 years. Much of the collection is displayed in museums nationwide, Tullman's art loft and throughout the halls of Kendall in Chicago .
The epicenter is Tullman's Kendall office. It's an eye-candy feast of canvasses large and small, and statuary, built pieces and sculpture. Each piece shouts: "Pay attention."
Those two words direct everything that Tullman does, and everything his staff does in turn. In the creative stew that is a Tullman enterprise, events might appear serendipitous. But they're not. Everything feeds into the whole. Like a successful art installation, Tullman's work and life synthesize several complementary pieces to create a unified experience. "My work and the companies that I and my people ‘build” is my art," Tullman says. "It's my creative _expression."
Tullman spent 10 years as a federal trial lawyer before becoming an entrepreneur 20 years ago. He has founded nine successful companies, while helping to birth another eight and hoisting 14 public offerings. As a chief executive officer, he has masterminded two corporate turnarounds and navigated a dozen merger-acquisitions. He also teaches entrepreneurship at Northwestern University 's Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Evanston .
Having sold three businesses for $100 million plus each, money's not the McGuffin for Tullman. Instead it's his love of the tightrope. "The Flying Wallendas say: “Being on the tightrope is living É everything else is waiting,'" Tullman says. "I'm not a good waiter, for sure."
So what's a guy like Tullman doing running a cooking school?
Kendall College had been offering specialized fields of study since 1934. By September 2002, Kendall , known mostly for its culinary program, was failing. Shutting down its campus in suburban Evanston , Ill. , appeared inevitable. The Board of Trustees took a radical step. They hired Tullman.
"Kendall was a safety school in the sense that if your kid had some emotional problems or maybe some drug issues or some discipline issues, you'd send him to Kendall ," Tullman says. "The culinary curriculum turned out to be useful because the discipline in the kitchen is like sending a kid straight into the army. The chefs don't take any guff. There aren't two ways to do a lot of stuff in the kitchen. You do it right or you get out."
By June 2003, Tullman had put Kendall on the map by moving the campus to downtown Chicago , providing students direct access to its vast array of hotels and restaurants, and providing chefs with a world-class outlet for teaching.
Tullman set out to reinvent the idea of culinary education. He brought in Baltimore-based Laureate Education, whose Les Roches hospitality management division has programs worldwide. He repositioned the idea of culinary school for students. He developed a schematic showing 25 lucrative career paths possible with a Kendall education. He labeled it: Where can I go from here?
One answer is four-star restaurants - as manager, founder or chef.
"Students should be learning from examples like Richard Melman (Lettuce Entertain You Industries) or Marc Schulman (Eli's Cheesecake) or Larry Levy (Levy Restaurants) instead of saying Ô
“I'm going to work at a fast food restaurant,'" Tullman says.
Housing the new Kendall is a historic Sara Lee building. Its $50 million renovation includes a showcase front-end of classrooms, and fully loaded kitchens for every conceivable culinary purpose including pastry, research and development, and meat and fish cutting. Kendall 's dining room is a Zagat-rated restaurant that seats 90 while also serving as an experiential "classroom."
With Tullman, every asset of the facility is used fully, some of it for R&D and invention.
"We know someone who has invented a process that makes skinless Canadian bacon," Tullman says. "A big problem for McDonald's is that the rind from the slice of Canadian bacon pulls their breakfast sandwich apart." Tullman hopes to bring inventor, invention and McDonald's together. And the students learn from all of these worlds, Tullman says.
Today 900 students are studying at Kendall compared to 550 in 2002. Gross revenue reportedly rose to $20 million last year from $8 million in 1995, and it now supports a faculty of 125, up from 76 last year.
Not one to be idle, Tullman concurrently is creating his next venture, Experiencia World, which will give fifth and sixth graders the experience of running a city.
Tullman says his prom-queen mother and all-American athlete father were sweethearts at Washington University in St. Louis , Mo. His was an exceptionally healthy childhood, burdened only by being the eldest of six kids. Christened the family leader, his responsibility was to set standards for his siblings.
He credits his mother with inspiring the success of them all. A homemaker, she was also an artist and a musician. "She was great-looking and unbelievably funny," Tullman says. "And probably more than anything, we knew that she was unconditionally and always in our corner."
That's probably where Tullman learned that holding his ground would enable others to hold theirs and, together, they could create something outstanding.
"The art has been important, the attitude of success has been important," Tullman says. "Part of the transformation was to get everybody to shoot for the skies. My creative work is creating these businesses, but more importantly trying to create an environment where all kinds of different people can be successful."
Freelance writer, editor and writing coach Sally Duros covers Chicago business for the Chicago Sun-Times, the Wall Street Journal Online and Time Magazine, among others.