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.
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.
"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.
"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
Hyde-Norton's goal is to create "hero companies" that become major employers within their regions and contribute to their communities through support and engagement in churches, schools, charities and other local institutions.
The Hydes serve as role models in that respect. Justin sits on the boards of local charities in the Salt Lake City area as well on the Global Interdependence Center, an economic group based at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia that promotes economic ties and understanding among nations. Since the second summit, the center has co-sponsored the yearly economic retreats.
Justin Hyde also is active in politics, serving on the finance team last year of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Cody Hyde has focused his energies more locally as a Boy Scout leader and fundraiser for charities.
Nurturing entrepreneurship and community activism is an important part of the guiding philosophy of the brothers and their company.
"They're anti-entitlement. They believe that entrepreneurship is how we're going to solve our problems," said Tyler Norton, a finance and risk-management specialist who joined the brothers in founding the Hyde-Norton firm.
The company profits by helping businesses in their infancy achieve success and mature into world-renowned entities that also are known for their good works. "We have a bias for early-stage entrepreneurs" who have the most impact creating jobs and transforming their communities, Mr. Norton said.
It wasn't always easy.
Hyde-Norton, like many other businesses, "got overextended and didn't even know it" in the years leading up to the 2008 crisis, Justin Hyde said. "The bank called us and said the payments are due."
Although the company eventually was able to resolve its debt problems, the partners came to realize through their many contacts that "a lot of businessmen were having the same issues" and were struggling to stay afloat.
The massive credit crunch following the financial crisis is what spawned the first retreat. Entrepreneurs used the occasion to warn their bankers and regulators that they would pick up and move to some other country to do business if they continued to be spurned by U.S. lenders. The frank exchange appeared to do some good and helped some businesses weather the crisis, participants said.
Now, the brothers plan to try to build bridges on other testy issues with a round of summits and retreats addressing the top concerns of entrepreneurs, such as the regulatory impasses over coal mining and drilling for shale oil and gas in the West. Who knows, they may even tackle that biggest boogeyman of all for American business owners these days: the health care reform law.
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