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Risk and Reward Goes a Long Way

One thing every entrepreneur understands is that businesses face risks every day. Success comes to those who act when opportunity presents itself. Leo Helzel is one who sees those opportunities. Members of RINA, past and present, are beneficiaries of his actions.

Leo celebrated 100 years of an incredible life last November. His story is one of an entrepreneur, teacher, attorney, author, philanthropist, World War II Naval pilot, and CPA. The results of his multiple careers produced a book titled “A Goal is a Dream with a Deadline: Extraordinary Wisdom for Entrepreneurs, Managers and Other Smart People”, a personal guide to getting more out of business and life. This entertaining, wonderfully written book parallels the actual process of starting and running a business from the first burst of inspiration through going public and beyond.

Leo was an Oakland attorney and CPA when he started the predecessor of RINA in 1946. While teaching intermediate accounting at Golden Gate College, he hired Bob Nolt, who was his best student at the time, and soon after, recruited Paul Ida. Both Bob and Paul became attorneys by attending law school at night. Henry Rooney and Jack Ahern joined the firm in the early 1950’s. In 1957, Leo decided he wanted to concentrate on law full time and left the firm as a partner, but remained as a client. He eventually took a risk on new technology for drilling oil wells and has been successful in that arena too.

Leo was instrumental in developing and teaching the first entrepreneurism course at U.C. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business in 1970. Interest in the early Silicon Valley was so intense that the course had to be moved to an auditorium. In the 1980s, Leo established the Leo B. and Florence Helzel Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Then, he worked with Dean Dick Holton on courting Howard Lester, founder of Williams-Sonoma, and Jerry Engel, then head of entrepreneurship at Ernst & Young to create the business school’s Lester Center for Entrepreneurship in 1991. Leo was honored by Haas with an “adjunct professor emeritus” title upon retirement in recognition of many years of service.

Through the years Leo has nurtured and counseled many businesses – from start-ups to successful ones looking to move to another level. He has worked with countless individuals to help them advance in their careers and would often match them up with opportunities he heard that would be a great fit for their talents.

Some 72 years later, Leo’s spirit of entrepreneurism lives in all of us at RINA. We are grateful he took a risk in 1946.