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Perspectives: Lawyer backs entrepreneurs

Sunday, March 19, 2000

By Linda Dickerson

When virtually no one saw Pittsburgh as an entrepreneurial hotbed, Marlee Myers was a believer. In the late '70s as she launched her legal career, Pittsburgh was at the bottom of the list of best places to start a new company. Dominated by Fortune 1000 companies, the business community of the '70s was relatively uninviting to individuals with grand ideas for start-up ventures. Although Myers' determination to focus her practice on meeting the specialized needs of entrepreneurs was unorthodox, ultimately, it led to her noteworthy success.


Linda A. Dickerson is a principal in Dickerson & Mangus Ink., an issues consulting firm.


Best known as the person who took FreeMarkets public, Myers has clearly established herself as one of Pittsburgh's foremost champions of entrepreneurs. "I fell in love," she said. "Creating something where nothing existed before truly excites me."

Risk-taking is an inherent and inextricable part of the entrepreneurial culture in which she grew her now thriving practice. Another core value of all successful entrepreneurs, customer responsiveness, also is a priority for Myers.

A simple statement, "It's Glen [Meakem, the founder of FreeMarkets] on the phone for me," ended our discussion. Although it was an abrupt conclusion, it was obvious that the customer comes first at the Pittsburgh office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, where Myers serves as managing partner.

Cutting her entrepreneurial teeth on Fore Systems, now Marconi Communications, Myers amassed a long and impressive list of start-up success stories with which she is and was affiliated. "Fore actually started in my office," she said proudly.

Her client list reads like a "Who's Who in High Tech" and includes firms such as the Carnegie Group and Transarc. Based on her extensive experience with the region's most prominent entrepreneurs, Myers noted that "intelligence, drive and high energy" are common to all entrepreneurs. She said, "They have a willingness to do all kinds of things," which she said they balance with "an extreme practicality."

In addition, she maintained: "Entrepreneurs are extremely focused. They know what their objectives are," And, they are generally able to articulate these objectives. "Their ability to tell a story distinguishes them from others."

"Most have a tremendous attention to detail," she said, but "They don't get lost in it." In fact, she feels that the entrepreneur's ability to avoid being mired in detail "separates the merely good from the excellent."

According to Myers, the excellent entrepreneurs also "recognize that they have to surround themselves with people who are better than they are. For the kinds of businesses I work with, quality of life is a big factor," said Myers. To her, the parks serve as an important dimension of the region's quality of life.

"We have magnificent green space here, which we need to restore." Myers should know, since she works with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, a nonprofit created to enhance Frick, Schenley, Highland and Riverview parks.

To Myers, parks are particularly valuable because, "They are a place where people come together. We need to be more of a community."

She cites as public enemy No. 1 "the warring jurisdictions between government entities. To advance our standing, we need to get rid of the balkanization of this region." However, the region's myriad taxing jurisdictions aren't the sole cause of this area's lack of togetherness. "I'm distressed at the gulf between rich and poor and black and white."

She called for "the right combination of community and capitalism" to remedy this. "There is a balance that can be accomplished. Success will breed success."

The universities throughout the region will ultimately determine whether this region realizes Myers' vision of a community where capitalism fuels growth.

"We need to respect the universities' mission of education and publication, which is sometimes at odds with commercialization." If area universities can create a more nurturing environment within their campuses, commercialization can stimulate rather than impede a new economy community. The characteristics that help entrepreneurs build successful ventures also will help them build successful communities.

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