How Mike Harris Jumped From No. 2 Job To Successful Entrepreneur

Apr 22, 2019

Mike Harris was a middle-class kid from Racine with no family history of entrepreneurship. He played it safe at UW-Parkside by studying accounting, then got a job as an auditor with Ernst & Young and became a Certified Public Accountant. However Mike’s appetite for risk grew when he got a job at Wind Point Partners, the venture capital fund led by the Johnson Wax family at the time.

Mike Harris
Credit Harris Advisors

At Wind Point, Mike took on the extra duty of part-time Chief Financial Officer for a built-from-scratch portfolio company called Alternative Resources. That job turned full-time, ARC grew like crazy and went public – and at 33-years-old Mike had caught the entrepreneurial bug.

After experiencing the exhilaration of taking a portfolio company all the way to an initial public offering as its Chief Financial Officer, Mike founded Jefferson Wells, a professional staffing company that provided internal audit, accounting, technology risk and tax services on-demand. Jefferson Wells grew organically to $132 million in sales and 1,600 employees.

In 2001, five years after Mike started it, Jefferson Wells was acquired by Manpower for $174 million.

Mike went on to start five more companies, including two he’s still involved with – Patina Solutions as CEO and the Novo Group as chairman. Patina has raised about $10 million over the last ten years. It has 65 employees and about $35 million of revenue.

Mike’s Tips For Other Entrepreneurs:

  • Be super prepared when you go in to ask people for money: The business plan should be perfect without typos and well put together.
  • Don’t make crazy projections: I see some plans that say in five years, the company will be at $500 million in sales. The wilder your projection is, the less realistic it is likely to be received. Find a balance between exciting and realistic.
  • Always have a board of directors or advisors: They can be a pain in the butt sometimes, but you don’t need to do it alone.
  • The pace of change in a successful startup and growth company is significant, you’ve got to be able to handle it.
  • A lot of entrepreneurs can’t get past $10 million in sales because they micromanage everything, you gotta let the horse run wild.