From Musician to Leader! CEO of CVEP, Joe Wallace, Now a Powerful Voice in The Coachella Valley!
Tell us about who you are and a little bit about your background?
Answer: I was born and raised in rural Kentucky. Most of my fundamental views on life emanate from growing up in a small and rural town. I never even heard the word entrepreneur until college. My passions at a young age were dreaming of being a big-time rock and roll star which meant I had to learn to play guitar. I did not become a big rock star but I did play lots of gigs and some had large crowds. The experience of being on stage has been quite valuable in my professional life.
My education started at Hazard Community College (yes that is the Hazard that the Dukes of Hazard made popular) where I earned a degree in forestry. After working a few years I decided to study engineering and eventually earned a Master’s Degree from Stanford University in Silicon Valley. My father was a school principal and instilled a love for learning in me. He was the first college graduate in the Wallace family. That Stanford degree has been instrumental in my success as a business person but more importantly in providing me the confidence to compete globally during the explosion of technology that has happened since the late 70s.
As an adult, I have taken on many challenges big and small and I rely on the fundamentals of middle-America and the academic rigor from Stanford to guide my actions. I guess this is an odd combination as my childhood friends now consider me to be a coastal elite, but my coastal friends tease me about being a rural hayseed. I choose to believe that I bring the best of both worlds to the problem-solving process.
My current job as CEO and Chief Innovation Officer of CVEP indulges my need to serve, my curiosities about innovation, and my desire to be seen as an agent for positive change. I have been in the Coachella Valley for 9 years now and have no intention to leave. This is now my home, but I will always be a Kentucky kid at heart.
What services do does your business offer?
Answer: CVEP manages innovation hubs in Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and Indio. The purpose of the iHubs is to foster innovation in business clusters that are essential, pay high wages, and diversify the economy of the Coachella Valley. We also assist local businesses with business advice that is designed to enhance their prospects for prosperity. One of our most important roles is to chart the course to a future of diversified prosperity for the Coachella Valley. Our efforts in that space have led to specific actions to seek a comprehensive four-year university, to have the state-of-the-art digital infrastructure, to attract high-value people to the local workforce, and to promote local investment in local entrepreneurial efforts.
What are the key roles you hold in your business? What are your responsibilities?
Answer: As the CEO of a small economic development entity, I do not have the luxury of being hands-off. The performance of CVEP is my responsibility but our success depends on the output of the team that we have carefully built. CVEP’s success is a team effort but any shortcomings or failures are on me.
At what point did you decide a career in business was right for you?
Answer: It was about 7 years into my career as an engineer working on designing state of the art computer memory systems. One day it dawned on me after having 4 jobs in seven years that my prospects for prosperity and the capacity to provide a good life for my family would be elevated by taking that first step toward being my own boss. In April of 1989, I left a very good job as Principal Engineer of a public company to start a small engineering consulting firm called ALP Engineering. ALP (America, Lithuania, and Palestine) was for the nationalities of the founders.
Since that time, I have been involved in the founding stages of six businesses that grew to over a million dollars of annual revenue. I have tasted success and experienced failure. One learns more from failure but only benefits from the lessons of failure if changes are made to correct the issues that caused the failure.
It is important to recognize that failures are not personal. Some failures are certainly due to the actions of the founders but others like many of the businesses struggling with the COVID19 crisis are driven by outside forces. Both are valuable learning opportunities.
What would you say is the secret to a successful business?
Answer: First, I will say that there is no single secret or magic bullet to creating a successful business. There are a number of attributes that successful business leaders have. Among those are the ability to use cognitive thought processes to make decisions, hire good people who can be trusted to perform without supervision, be willing to do things that add value to other people’s lives, be kind and respectful of others while maintaining the strength not to be run over, stay in a good physical condition so that when push comes to shove you are able to put in those endless days that will be needed, be brutally honest about everything, being a lifetime learner, and never ever let emotion drive important decisions.
Have you ever felt like you wanted to give up?
Answer: I have always been willing to take on difficult tasks and many times these tasks are done in less than supportive atmospheres so naturally my answer to your question is yes. Sometimes I want to give up several times a day. I avoid giving in to the negative emotion by reflecting on a lifetime of refusing to back down when the wind is at my back or in my face and I have experienced many years of both.
What was the biggest challenge that you have experienced in your career?
Answer: It is important to recognize that some challenges are self-made and others are imposed by external forces. During my first startup, one of my children was diagnosed with leukemia. That diverted my attention to place her care and my family as the #1 priority. The good news is that she was cured and is now a successful adult with her in the family. The bad news is that my inability to serve my daughter’s needs and the company's needs made it necessary to sell the company.
In the late 90s, one of my startups achieved a very high level of success and eventually was listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. That brought the freedom that financial resources bring and it also gave me the false assurance that retirement at the age of 42 would be possible. I left the workforce and moved back to rural America. Between the stock market crash of Y2K and the housing crisis, I was put into a place where earning a living was necessary. My skills had diminished so it was a challenge to re-establish my ability to add value. Looking back, I am glad to have learned this lesson and it has formed many of my thought processes including pushing retirement off as far as possible. I learned that I really enjoyed having a job that helps other entrepreneurs. Without this self-created challenge, I would have never been invited to run the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership and the iHubs. There have been other challenges but these are the most challenging.
What are your future goals regarding your business career?
Answer: I came to the Coachella Valley 9 years ago to start the iHub program. It has been quite successful and was instrumental in my promotion to CEO of CVEP. At 64 years of age, I can assure you that this will be my last job. I am still young at heart and in good health with a solid mind. As long as that remains true, and the funding doesn’t dry up, I will continue to serve in this capacity.
I wrote a book called “Living Outside the Box” and saw it published in 2019. It was #1 on Amazon’s bestseller list in the Green Business category for a while. The book has enabled me to be invited to speak on the topic of innovation and the personal attributes of successful innovators all over the United States. My future goals outside of CVEP include continuing to write, speak, and promote entrepreneurship and elevating the innovation process.
What advice would you give new business owners or those seeking a career in business?
Answer: Never fall in love with any idea to the point of refusing to roll with the changes. Maintain an awareness of the world around you based on observations of reality. Keep an opportunistic view of the world and always be poised to take advantage of opportunities for growth, profit, or personal improvement. Do not live your life in a vacuum. Prepare for the worst but strive for the best. Evaluate every day’s performance with a goal of constant improvement.
Answer: I actually have some quotes that came from my own mind that I use to remind myself and others of living an impactful life. Here are some:
1. What good is it to think outside of the box if you do not have the courage to live outside of the box.
2. Moderation is the key to mediocrity
3. The transition from poverty to wealth requires abandoning the habits that assure the perpetuation of poverty.
4. All work is worthy of respect and dignity.
5. We all represent every person or institution that ever loved us or lifted us up. We must honor them by never representing them in a negative light.
REACH OUT TO JOE WALLACE & CVEP
3111 E Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs, CA 92262
CVEP WEBSITE: https://cvep.com/
The Coachella Valley Economic Partnership - CVEP - is devoted to attracting, retaining, and expanding business in the Greater Palm Springs area.