A Lesson in Business and a Tribute to a Friend

By Beacon Staff

Long before Jeff Hodgson moved to Eureka and became one of the top business turnaround consultants in the nation, he found himself in a conundrum: How could he, as a highly ambitious finance student at the University of Chicago, pay for college while staying true to his propensity for thinking outside the box?

Not quite ready to spend all of his time in an office, he arrived at a conclusion: He joined the rodeo circuit. As it came to be, riding bucking broncos paid the bills.

“He was really good at it and he made a lot of money,” said long-time friend and fellow consultant David Sanders. “He put himself through college riding broncs. He was quite a character.”

Hodgson died of an aneurysm in September at the age of 64, leaving behind a long list of loyal clients, many in the Flathead. Recognizing this, Sanders began organizing a business workshop for Hodgson’s clients in Northwest Montana immediately following his death. After months of preparation, including face-to-face interviews with many of the clients in December, Sanders is ready to go.

The workshop, titled “Think Big – Make It Happen in 2009,” will be held at the Hilton Garden Inn on Jan. 28 and 29 throughout the day. Though the workshop is reserved for Hodgson’s clients, Sanders is also putting on a seminar on Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. that is open to the public at no charge. Before the 90-minute seminar, there will be a half-hour of networking, which is also held at the Hilton.

“When Jeff passed away I felt that I should do something for his clients that he left behind,” Sanders said.

The Jan. 28 public seminar is titled “Recession-Proof Your Business: How to Survive and Prosper in Today’s Economy.” Sanders invites businesspeople of all kinds to attend the seminar, which he said is less “rah-rah” and more practical than many similar presentations. He recently gave this seminar in Riverside, Calif., but said he is adapting it to be more specific to the Flathead.

The seminar will analyze a diverse sampling of topics related to the recession, ranging from the increase in popularity of the canned meat SPAM to the ramifications of a large drop in building permits in Northwest Montana. His slide show presentation will also discuss the precipitous decline in recycling throughout the nation and, in the Flathead, the upsurge in second-hand clothing sales, among other economic issues.

“We’ve got a lot of material that will help people understand what’s causing (the recession) and why it’s happening,” Sanders said.

Sanders has made a name for himself through both his financial consulting and presentations, holding workshops and seminars across the nation. He lives in Los Angeles and is the CEO of multiple firms. In his 30 years of consulting, he said Hodgson had the best track record of any turnaround consultant he’s ever seen. A turnaround consultant is generally a financial expert who helps a business either get back on its feet or prepares it for future expansion.

“He was one of the best turnaround consultants in the country,” Sanders said. “He was amazing.”

Hodgson is considered a prodigy. As a freshman in high school, he concocted a plan to bring in tens of thousands of dollars to the private school, Sanders said. In return, Hodgson received free tuition. Later he received his Master of Business Administration degree in finance and statistics from the University of Chicago. He served as the National Chairman of Junior Achievement and advisor to the board chairman for a $23-billion corporation, all by his mid-20s.

One of his clients, Ry Keller, said Hodgson combined practical business advice with deep “insight into human behavior.” Keller is the owner of Valley Maintenance, a home-watching and repair business based out of Bigfork. He said he contacted Hodgson last February for advice on how to properly manage his growing business. Hodgson had Keller fill out two long questionnaires: one about business and one about family.

Keller said Hodgson taught him a business philosophy, among many, called “hatting,” where businesspeople are asked to remember that each role in life requires wearing a different hat. For Keller, there’s the business hat, the husband hat and dad hat. Forgetting what hat you’re wearing can confuse the issue at hand. Hodgson’s consulting was always helpful, Keller said.

“Personally I think he was a genius,” Keller said. “He was one of the smartest people I ever knew.”