Getting business rolling: Entrepreneurs hold retreats to forge unlikely bonds

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JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Justin and Cody Hyde have heard all the war stories from businessmen about having to contend with senseless federal regulations in tough economic times. The complaints crescendoed during the 2008 financial crisis and Great Recession, when many companies were driven out of business for lack of financing.

That was when the two brothers from Utah decided to do something about it. As entrepreneurs who had parlayed a local cleaning business in Wyoming and Utah into a multimillion-dollar enterprise with holdings in hotels, ranches, auto dealerships, sports teams and more, they knew that meeting the right people and developing good relationships — even with adversarial regulators — was part of the solution for businessmen like themselves.


PHOTOS: Entrepreneurs hold retreats to forge unlikely bonds


So they sponsored an economic retreat at their exclusive ranch in Star Valley, where they would put successful and up-and-coming businessmen together with their regulators, bankers and political leaders, with hopes of spurring greater understanding among all parties in an atmosphere conducive to finding solutions.

The events would be by invitation only, and participants would be free to talk frankly without the glaring lights and whirring cameras of the media or other public scrutiny. The first order of business would be having fun in a beautiful mountain setting — enjoying a round of golf together, fly-fishing, shooting or engaging in an array of other outdoor activities.

The Hyde brothers would secretly pair, for example, a businessman who has had no experience as a public servant with a regulator who has never worked in the private sector, putting them in a team where they would be forced to learn to talk and cooperate as they compete in tournaments together.

From left: Justin Hyde, Tyler Norton and Cody Hyde of the Hyde-Norton Group work to create companies that become major employers and contribute to their communities through support and engagement in churches, schools, charities and other local institutions. (Russ Dixon)

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From left: Justin Hyde, Tyler Norton and Cody Hyde of the Hyde-Norton ... more >

“It’s a little like Boy Scout camp,” said Justin Hyde, the managing partner in the Hyde-Norton group, a privately held enterprise that today is part business incubator and part conglomerate with corporate ties all over the country.

Opposites attract

“They don’t fish with their friends; they fish with people they don’t know,” and the result is an “acceleration” of relationships that often turn into friendships and help both sides do their jobs better, said Cody Hyde, an adept fly-fisherman who provides the helping hand and personal chemistry needed to make the retreats successful at their mission of creating bonds between unlikely pairs.

The retreats also feature presentations by such world-renowned economic gurus as Paul McCulley, former partner at Pimco, the world’s biggest bond fund, as well as presidents of regional Federal Reserve banks such as St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, and other top policymakers.

But those formal talks start only after everyone has spent several days getting to know one another in a beautiful recreational setting.

“It’s just really dynamic” and “creates a dialogue” that is helpful to both sides, making friends out of people who may have come into the retreat not even liking each other, Cody Hyde said.

The retreats, which the brothers dubbed their “Rocky Mountain Economic Summits” and are now in their fifth year, seemed a natural outgrowth of their business providing strategic advice and financing for up-and-coming entrepreneurs and small businesses. At any given time, Hyde-Norton is nurturing a half-dozen small companies such as Comply365 in Beloit, Wis., that may have compelling ideas in technology or other areas where they believe have a chance of major success.

The company also sponsors the “Bronze Buffalo Club,” an exclusive, invitation-only group for business moguls from around the world whose members participate in economic summits and outdoor sporting activities. Members include such eminent businessmen as David R. Kotok, co-founder of Cumberland Advisers, and Ron Ryan, founder of Ascend and one of the early pioneers of the Internet, among other big names in the business world.

Mr. Ryan, after a meteoric career in the 1990s, sold Ascend in 1999 to Lucent Technologies for $23 billion. Like the Hyde brothers, he now spends his time nurturing other technology entrepreneurs and being active in his community in Hamilton, Mont.

Business as superhero

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