The Thompson Group’s Carol Thompson
On some of the Past, Present, and Future
FLASH–AUSTIN: BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD TO START A COMPANY. So says Carol Thompson, president of the Thompson Group here in Austin. And she should know, because she has started many. Carol’s early work as a nurse was good preparation for her entrepreneurial career. In other words, it was long hours and hard work. Carol worked a double shift from 8:00 to 5:00, and then from 5:30 to 11:00. Along the way to her current position as head of the Thompson group, Carol started a collectibles business, Computer Craft company, and then Computer Land, the first computer retail store in Austin. (Did I mention that Carol started working at a shoe store in the 7th grade?)
But what’s unique about Austin? It’s the people, Carol says. There is a collaborative spirit, You can go to experienced people and ask their advice–they are willing to give you their time and help you if they can. Carol herself is certainly an example of this. I went to Carol asking some advice so that I could help a friend here in Austin. The friend is a World-Class athlete who will be attending the 2000 Olympics in Women’s Weightlifting, and she needs some help in dealing with the federation that controls the sport. Carol was ready with some advice and pointed to some resources in the community that could be of help.
For entrepreneurial companies, Carol pointed to the great resources here in Austin: the Austin Technology Incubator, the Austin Software Council . . . and Carol stated that in her opinion the Chamber of Commerce is on of the top five chambers in the U.S. People need to get involved with the Chamber. Carol also pointed to a mostly untapped resource here in Austin–retired people. These people have a wealth of knowledge and would be ideal in a mentoring role. Carol says that she has received so much from Austin, it is hard to list everything, but she noted that there also comes a time to give back. More people need to get involved in mentoring.
But surely there were hard times too: Carol’s most difficult time was in the mid-eighties when the Austin economy was depressed. Receivables at Computer Land hit $700,000. Many of these people were Carol’s friends, and with the hard times, they were not able to pay. Carol’s last line in the job description says "whatever it takes to get the job done." And so Carol took about a month to start calling people and working through the problem.
Difficulties in starting a business in Austin: Until recently, there were no banking institutions in Austin that understood the technology business. When Silicon Valley bank came in, Carol was involved in the educational process of getting the parties to sit around a table and talk. The bank explained what they wanted to do. And business people in Austin explained what they were trying to do. Carol noted that three of the first ten deals came out of that process.
Carol’s ultimate vision for her company is that she expand the company to about eight different activities. A different entrepreneur would be in charge of each activity, and Carol’s role would be to provide guidance and mentoring. Carol’s daughter Maureen will also be entering the business world. She is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, and together with John Hegnauer, operates Hegnauer and Thompson, a stone carving and inscription studio in Rhode Island. I understand from talking to Carol that Maureen may also try to expand her business to Austin, and so potential clients could try to reach Maureen through Carol.
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Interview by: Michael Mastrangelo