EDITORIAL: Dodson, Durham take different approach to doing business

December 5, 2009

This week’s issue features stories about two local businessmen. Both are native Hoosiers in their late 40s who showed entrepreneurial instincts at a young age. But the similarities end there.

Jim Dodson is an unassuming man of 49. He runs a company that helps businesses get discounts on bulk purchases. He got the idea for it in college, where he organized a buying cooperative of fraternities and sororities. The profits went toward student scholarships.

Dodson has used the fruits of his success to help others. When he launched his business, he immediately started setting aside 10 percent of profits for charity.

“There aren’t many companies in the United States that set aside 10 percent of … profits,” said Eugene R. Tempel, president of the Indiana University Foundation. “I think the average is less than 1 percent.”

Dodson also launched the Indiana Achievement Awards, which for 10 years have honored the state’s most effective not-for-profits. The awards have raised the bar for management at not-for-profits and allowed organizations that quietly do excellent work to shine.

Dodson’s idea of a good time: hanging out on the wraparound porch of his home.

Then there’s Tim Durham, 47, a highflier who has made his living buying and selling companies.

Durham has given to charity, but primarily has used the fruits of his success to live lavishly. He owns a 30,000-square-foot home at Geist Reservoir, as well as private jets, dozens of classic cars, and several Picassos. He attends Hugh Hefner’s Playboy parties in Los Angeles and invited 1,000 people to a birthday party for himself.

Durham’s idea of a good time: hanging out on his 100-foot yacht.

In a 2008 Indianapolis Monthly article, Durham said, “They asked me if I consider myself a materialist. I said, ‘Without a doubt! Look around.’ Does anyone not consider himself a materialist? Who doesn’t want stuff? This country is founded on the idea of people wanting stuff.”

Last year, he estimated his net worth at $75 million. In 2004, he told IBJ, “On the day I die, I want to be the richest man in the world.”

Dodson, reflecting on various hardships he has endured, said, “When I look back on my life, I realize I’ve dealt with some very major problems. It’s how you handle them that determines whether you grow as an individual or shrink. I think I’ve managed to grow through problems.”

This month, as reported on page 3A, Dodson is receiving IBJ’s Michael A. Carroll Award for community service.

This month, as reported on page 4A, FBI agents raided the Durham-owned Fair Finance Co. in Ohio, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Indianapolis alleges the business was operating as a Ponzi scheme. Durham, his partners and related firms now owe the company more than $168 million. Investors worry they won’t get their money back.

Both Dodson and Durham are entrepreneurs who were motivated by profit. The difference lies in whether the profit was a means, or an end.•


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