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Startup: Oxford Beach's Bill Hennessey markets to the masses

I'm driven by ambition, so the goal was to create a reputable national player in the marketing industry, says Bill Hennessey, president of Oxford Beach, a leading marketing and events company based in Toronto, Ontario. As a business student at the Richard Ivey School of Business, Hennessey started the company with debt to pay down. Several years later, he has over 30 employees and, through his companies, brings in $4 million in revenue each year.

Oxford Beach plans a variety of large-scale events, including a massive, countrywide St. Patrick's Day event called St. Party's Day. There are 100 events happening across the country on St. Patrick's Day, he says, mentioning the event reaches 100,000 people. It started two years ago based on the theory that there were no large-scale events on St. Patrick's Day, yet St. Patrick's Day is the day of largest consumption by 300 per cent. With the signature event in Toronto and other events in Halifax, Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver, among other cities, it's the crowning achievement of Hennessey's company.

Hennessey's love for events and marketing helped him jump into the industry, but not without his fair share of obstacles. I think the most obvious challenge we had in the early stages was that you start a business, he says, you have the drive and the passion to make it successful, but it's just that you're doing the operations; you're worrying about finance; you're doing the marketing and promotions; you're doing the customer service. You're kind of the jack of all trades'you're wearing five or six hats.

It was this multitasking that developed him into an effective leader and manager, allowing the business to prosper. One of my biggest takeaways over the past year or so is we've had some significant growth and have been able to add some top-notch talent. It really does get easier, and today I'm just steering the ship. He says because of the company's growth, he's been able to add people to his team who are significantly more talented in their specific aspects of the business than he could ever be.

When he first started his business, Hennessey listed one such top-notch businessperson as a key inspiration. The one on the top of my list'I actually interned with him for three or four months'is Anton Rabie, the CEO of Spin Master Toys. The energy that that guy sends to his team and to his employees is second-to-none. He's just an all-around fun individual. He mentions that due to this enthusiasm, Rabie has made Spin Master one of the top toy companies, with over $650 million in revenue and incredible growth.

With Oxford Beach thriving, Hennessey then looked to purchase another business. In May of last year, he bought RoyalPak, a cleaning products company. When asked for his reasons for the jump away from marketing, he has a clear, logical answer: The vast majority of smart business students, whom I went to school with, went into what I call ÔÇÿsexy businesses.' They want to work on Bay Street, expense $50 dinners, and wear a flashy suit all day. But if you look at the demographics, there are a tonne of baby boomers out there who are very under the radar and are extremely successful. For the most part, their kids don't want to take over these businesses, so there are all these businesses that are coming up for sale with nobody who wants to take over them. By playing smart, not flashy, Hennessey's managed to capitalize on a business that is stable and has the possibility for growth.

Hennessey says work ethic, perseverance, and the ability to inject positive energy into the people around you are important traits in a successful entrepreneur. And if someone if thinking of starting their own business, he says, encouragingly, just do it. Get off the sidelines and hop into the game. It doesn't matter how much you study; you're never going to really know what goes into being an entrepreneur until you get in and do it yourself. That's how you learn and grow as an entrepreneur.