Arnie Bellini, ConnectWise CEO and Endurance Swimmer, Next Up in Conversation With a CEO
By Keith Morelli
TAMPA (September 6, 2017) -- Arnie Bellini sees the connection between running a successful tech business – one that will top $200 million in total revenue this year – and swimming. And that doesn't mean swimming a couple of laps in a pool.
Bellini is the cofounder and CEO of ConnectWise and he's the guest at the Muma College of Business Conversation with a CEO, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 28 at the USF Center for Advance Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), 124 S. Franklin St., Tampa. To register for the event, click here.
Besides piloting a successful company in one of the most competitive fields on the planet, Bellini loves to jump into the water and swim. And swim. And swim.
It's no surprise he sees relevance between the two.
"They are interrelated in many ways," said Bellini who has crossed the English Channel, swum around Manhattan and crossed the 21 miles between Catalina Island and Los Angeles. "I like to do endurance swims because they require patience. They require control. They require you to keep exerting energy at an appropriate level for a very long period of time and that is exactly what business is.
"You always face adversity and really, you're facing your own will to continue," he said. "You'd be surprised how many people don't make it to the end."
Bellini swam the English Channel in 2013. He was the first person over 50 to do that.
"That was the most thrilling swim," he said. "Hey, it's the English Channel."
A year later, he swam around Manhattan, a 29-mile trip.
"That was really cool and it was the most scenic," he said." You are swimming through the city. You're in the East River and look, there's the Empire State Building. Two miles later, hey, there's Yankee Stadium and then Columbia University."
The most frightening: swimming the 21-mile stretch of Pacific Ocean between Catalina Island and the shore near Los Angeles.
"You get into the water at midnight and you're over the kelp beds, and they're reaching up touching you as you swim," he said. "It is pitch black, no lights and you are 21 miles from shore. There are known to be great whites there; it's a place where they hang out.
"For the first couple of hours, you can't help but think about that, even though it's never happened," he said. "The LA swim was the scariest."
Most of the time, he swims solo.
"The hardest one, believe it or not, was swimming Tampa Bay," he said. "It's a marathon group swim every year on Earth Day. You swim from the Sunshine Skyway to the Courtney Campbell. It's the toughest one."
When he's not kicking through the water, he runs ConnectWise, a tech business he and his brother started in 1982. It was a time when cordless telephones were more than a decade in the future and even the primitive beginnings of the Internet were non-existent.
Born in New York, Bellini moved with his family to Tampa when he was 12. He earned an MBA from the University of South Florida and with an accounting background, he interviewed with all the big firms. But he wanted something tech based, so he ended up with PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he convinced executives there to buy one of the very first personal computers.
"I remember spending all night long on the 29th floor of the Lykes Building in downtown Tampa, amazed at the fact we had total control over a computer," he said. "It was just magical."
The personal computer opened his eyes to the possibilities. At the time, only large corporations could afford main frames that ran primitive computers on desk tops, but these PCs, these microcomputers, they could be affordable for small- and medium-size businesses, Bellini thought.
Eventually, he and his brother, David, started a business with the aim to market PCs and software to those smaller businesses – just before the Internet was developed for common use. The timing was perfect, though his father, who worked for IBM, warned him against making such a leap.
"My father said 'No, no, no,'" Bellini said. "'This if for the hobbyist. You are going to sell 5,000, maybe 10,000 worldwide and that'll be it.' I looked at my father and said, 'You're totally wrong.' He thought I was taking the biggest chance in my life. But to me, the future was going to be the next day. I had to do this stuff now. It was happening now.
"This," Bellini said, "was just going to be awesome."
His company began selling and installing network PCs in small to midsize businesses in the Tampa Bay area and it just took off like a shot, he said. He and his brother worked around the clock. They missed family dinners and kids' baseball games.
Then, he devised software for his own company that streamlined the process and made the work less arduous and time consuming.
"We created it ourselves, that software solution," he said," and then we started having tremendous success."
It wasn't long before he was sharing his software with other companies, selling service agreements along the way.
"The vision we saw was the personal computer being a revolution happening," he said. "We saw that we could really contribute to this revolution, this new technology, by putting software out there and making it affordable and spreading it far and wide and deep. This has transformative capabilities, we thought, and we were going to transform business as we knew it. How cool would the world be when PCs are on every desk top? We have been dedicated to seeing that vision come true."
Looking over the tech landscape today, he now realizes his original vision was a bit short sighted.
"I never saw technology becoming so imbedded in the fabric of society, not to the level it is now," he said. "With the stuff they're coming out with these days, this party is never going to end. There are waves after waves of things being put out there – all at an affordable price."
ConnectWise's success belongs to its 900 or so employees, all of whom are team players, he said. That's a trait he looks for in new hires.
"We're looking for the humble, the hungry and the smart," he said. Personality means a lot. He shies away from students with 4.0 grade point averages in favor of those without perfect grades but who have certain emotional and social traits, such as putting egos aside to work as a team on projects.
It's a family-owned business, he said, and the employees are treated like family members.
"I'm the CEO, but my job really is a mentor," he said. "I want them to feel like it's a family. This is a family business. It has a family ethos, a family feel."
It's a family business that has struck cyber-gold.
"We're a fully mature company," Bellini said. "We're doing really well. We will break the top-line revenue of $200 million for first time this year. We're growing at 22 percent and that's awesome. We're also growing organically, there is no venture capital, no debt. And every single person who works there is an owner. We own the company, nobody else and that's a big difference. Not one of us doesn't have some stock."
Where will his company be in 10, 20 years?
"I see us with same exact vision," he said. "I believe technology holds hope for a better future, so our objective is to spread it far and wide and deep."
For those breaking into the field, he has this advice:
"Your passion is your energy source. Throughout life – in anything and everything you do – you want that passion to be connected to what you do for your vocation.
"And look for a vocation, not a career and not a job, but a vocation where you dedicate your work and life to something meaningful to you."