In his long career in tech and innovation, Paul Dali ’67 (Business Administration) has realized a number of factors that contribute to successful entrepreneurship, he said. The first is to make yourself stand out, beyond relying on your brains.
Dali — who discovered his love of computers while working in the 1960s for the Carnation Company, an ice cream and dairy product distributor — described being smart like “vanilla ice cream in an ice cream store”: All college students are smart, and that, on its own, won’t make students more likely to be hired by potential employers. Students and young alumni must also be willing to work with others, he said.Entrepreneurs, Dali explained, must learn how to speak up and shoot people down nicely. They must make personal connections to offer solutions that get to the heart of their needs.
“The digital age is really great, but business is personal,” Dali said. “You have to look at people in the eye. You’ve got to talk to them. You’ve got to take their pulse. You’ve got to see how well they’re organized. You have to learn all about them.”
The innovator and alumnus offered these insights to students, faculty and his fellow alumni March 11, as part of CSUN’s David Nazarian College of Business and Economics Distinguished Speaker Series — one of the last events on campus before activities paused to help slow the advance of the COVID-19 virus.
Among other leadership positions, Dali made his name working alongside Steve Jobs as general manager of Apple in the 1980s. There, he helped brainstorm, manufacture, engineer and distribute worldwide the Apple product lines of 1980-83.
In 1984 he went on to serve as CEO of Regis McKenna, Inc., a tech marketing firm, and later as strategic advisor on IBM Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligence (AI) platform.
During the speaking event in CSUN’s Northridge Center, he spoke about Apple’s unique campus, which encourages employees to walk to sort out their thoughts, and Jobs, whom he described as both smart and stubbornness — the Apple founder was hands-on with every part of a project, and had a tendency to change entire plans for Apple with his words, Dali said.
The son of Italian immigrants and the first in his family to go to college, Dali described how he started out — juggling school work, part-time work stocking shelves and checking groceries, marriage and raising a child during his time at CSUN, then known as San Fernando Valley State College. After graduation, he pursued an extensive career in technology, business and innovation, eventually joining Jobs at Apple in the early 1980s.
Currently, Dali is chairman of Holon Solutions, a healthcare IT company that enables collaboration among patients and providers by creating secure networks that manage, route and protect vital health data.
Dali imparted what he called his most important point to budding entrepreneurs: They must always be ready to innovate and grow, make interesting products and care about their products more than their profit, if they want to make a name for themselves, he said.
“This is your space, it’s your turn,” Dali said. “It’s how you innovate, it’s how you lead, it’s how you work with teams, it’s how you encourage others. It’s how you want to change the world — not me. My job is over, really. My job is only to give this [knowledge] to you, to drop it on your doorstep. I’ll let you pick it up and take it to the next step.”