Gateway to Success: Open Access for Entrepreneurs
Master's Degree, Management Science and Engineering
"Being in the middle of the Silicon Valley, we had exposure to a lot of things that worked and a lot of things that failed right here. So we're in a huge laboratory."
Jeff Kleck jokingly refers to himself as a "serial entrepreneur." In the past two decades, he has built three companies from concepts to publicly traded enterprises.
Currently, he presides as CEO of Attainia, which provides solutions to manage the healthcare industry's capital equipment segment. In the late 1990s, Kleck co-founded Neoforma, a supply chain management solutions provider that merges information and services with technology for the healthcare industry. Neoforma boasts the sixteenth highest initial public offering in NASDAQ history and was the prototype for business-to-business eCommerce.
During Neoforma's formative years, Kleck played multiple roles: company founder, CEO, husband, father, and Stanford graduate student.
He chose to pursue a master's degree in Management Science and Engineering as an Honors Cooperative student through the Stanford Center for Professional Development because he wanted to gain an "appreciation for how a technology person such as myself should view business and make it something that naturally fits with how an engineer-scientist mind works."
"I can still remember individual professors and individual statements that were fundamental to some things that I did when I developed Neoforma, such as when to bring products to market. My professors were folks who had gotten out and really applied their knowledge the hard way, by doing it - building companies, making payrolls," says Kleck.
"Because you have so many real world folks that are teaching, who aren't just academicians but also people who are venture capitalists and industrialists in their own right, you end up coming away with knowledge that is very applicable to the real world immediately."
Aside from the advantage of working and learning in tandem, Kleck feels that his education as an Honors Cooperative student brought him into close proximity with the resources of Stanford and the unique culture it fosters.
"Being in the middle of the Silicon Valley, we had exposure to a lot of things that worked and a lot of things that failed right here. So we're in a huge laboratory. The professors we had were very much in tune with the companies that were succeeding and with the companies that were failing," explains Kleck.
The Stanford culture of open access for curious minds and motivated individuals is a philosophy that governs Kleck's approach to business. He incorporates this ethos into his corporate culture. In some sense, access to key resources informed his decision to become a Stanford master's student as well as his entrepreneurial beginnings. Considering a return to academia, Kleck scheduled an appointment with Mechanical Engineering Professor David Kelly, who is the founder of IDEO and co-director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. The exchange between Kelly and Kleck proved crucial in his entrepreneurial origins:
"I was sitting there while we were talking. It was just a small room and I was fumbling with some block of gelatin that was rubberized material sitting in the middle of his table and putzing around. I said 'what is this anyway?' and he says, 'that was the first mold for the first mouse for Apple.' I realized: having access, coming off the street, being nobody, just someone who's inquisitive, being able to walk into the office of someone like this who has done so much. That appreciation of getting access to the best people in the world, by just walking through the doors, how many places can say that? That was an amazing revelation for me that this was absolutely the right place."