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Pitt's Dugan ready to pass entrepreneurial baton

| Saturday, March 15, 2014, 4:20 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Ann Dugan, founder of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, leads a staff meeting at the organization's office on campus on Monday, March 11, 2014 in Oakland.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Ann Dugan, founder of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, leads a staff meeting at the organization's office on campus on Monday, March 11, 2014 in Oakland.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Ann Dugan, founder of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, leads a staff meeting at the organization's office on campus on Monday, March 11, 2014 in Oakland.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Ann Dugan, founder of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, leads a staff meeting at the organization's office on campus on Monday, March 11, 2014 in Oakland.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Ann Dugan, founder of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, leads a staff meeting at the organization's office on campus on Monday, March 11, 2014 in Oakland.

Ann Dugan has a talent for reinventing herself.

At 60, she is preparing to step aside at the University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence. The institute Dugan founded in 1993 has nurtured hundreds of closely held companies, family businesses and business startups throughout the region.

“Everybody looks for the next Google or Gatorade,” Dugan said, referring to two famous enterprises that grew out of universities. “But a lot of other things can happen in a university when you bring that ivory tower together with the cards in the community. It's a question of what are the cards you've been dealt, and how do you build on those cards and leverage those cards.”

Along the way Dugan, assistant dean of Pitt's graduate school of business, penned two books, started two businesses, served on nonprofit and governmental boards, participated as the fourth generation in her mother's family business, traveled the country as a sought-after speaker on all things entrepreneurial, and mothered a blended family of six.

Although she planned her exit at Pitt and assisted in a national search for her successor, Dugan won't slip quietly into retirement.

The Pittsburgh woman who ran away to get married at 17 and returned five years later as a divorced mother with two toddlers, no child support and no job, never takes the road most traveled.

She wants to champion the model she helped build at Pitt. Dugan insists it has a lot to offer.

Chuck Turner Jr., president of Turner's Dairy, a third-generation, family-owned company in Penn Hills, said the institute helped his father and uncle transition business operations to his generation. It is helping the family prepare the next generation.

In the world of family businesses, where studies suggest that 70 percent fail before the second generation can take over, it's no small feat.

“Real people's businesses and jobs are benefitting,” Turner said.

John Bitzer Jr., was flying from Pittsburgh to California to teach a graduate course in family business operations at the University of Southern California in the 1990s when Dugan contacted him about her plan to establish a family business program at the institute. Bitzer's family business in O'Hara, ABARTA, is entering its fourth generation.

At the time, family business forums were a rarity. He agreed to advise her.

“Ann stuck with it, and she's got a superb program,” said Bitzer, who is retired.

His son serves on Dugan's board. He is among hundreds of business owners who became members of the institute, a self-sustaining organization with a $2.5 million annual budget. Paying it forward, mentoring entrepreneurs, and forging lasting relationships are part of the ethos Dugan fostered.

There were many grant and loan programs for small businesses and startups when Pitt established the institute, Dugan said. But she quickly learned there was little follow-up to ensure businesses progressed.

“We'd call to ask if they'd been meeting goals and hear, ‘No, but we got these incredible chairs or this great carpet,' ” Dugan recalled.

The institute focused on filling that gap.

“That's what we do with 23 people here,” Dugan said of her staff.

Dugan, who earned a bachelor's degree and master's in business administration from Pitt, said she learned what it's like to go it alone when she started two businesses in the 1980s — a pizza franchise and a packaging business that focused on hazardous materials.

Her oldest daughter, Maria Lamorey, 38, a market development specialist with Rob Roy Industries, remembers taking pizza orders on the phone at age 13 or 14.

“She taught me very early on that you'll never win an argument with a customer,” Lamorey said.

Dugan's passion for passing along real-world skills culminated in the institute's debut of the Entrepreneurial Fellows Center in 1999.

The center offers a year-long certificate program designed to give entrepreneurs businesses skills such as assembling a board of directors, seeking capital, networking and communicating with customers.

When homegrown businesses survive, they tend to give back to the communities where they're rooted, Dugan said.

Jim Wholey, whose family-owned seafood business has been a fixture in Pittsburgh for a century, said Dugan tried to involve him with the institute for five years.

“When we finally did join, we found the only mistake we made was that we didn't join five years earlier. There are things you learn that you didn't know you needed to know,” said Wholey, who mentors others.

Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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