Ivy Leaf - Spring 2010
The busiest person you know
By Shari R. Routch
When Mike Rethage quips that he is "the busiest person you know," one might be a bit skeptical. Having graduated just three years ago, Rethage finds time to play in a summer softball league as well as enter local running races in Pittsburgh. But spend some time talking with Rethage and you will soon find yourself exhausted just thinking about all he manages to do in a single day, week, or month. Spend a little more time with him and you'll then find yourself amazed with this young man's business savvy, work ethic, community commitment, and passion for life.
Ivy Leaf readers were first introduced to Mike Rethage in 2007, when he was included in a feature story about student entrepreneurs (see www.altoona.psu.edu/ivyleaf/sp07/features3.htm). At the time, Rethage was embarking on a new business venture — Wider Image LLC, a collage poster undertaking based out of his student apartment — while continuing to run the DJ business he started when he was just 14 years old. Graduating from Penn State Altoona with a Business degree in spring 2007, Rethage turned down job offers in his field to work for himself.
At first, he ran his businesses out of his parent's basement until he was able to purchase his own home in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, just a few months after graduation. But money was tight.
"When you're starting a business and buying a house, you don't have a whole lot of money," notes Rethage. "I was eating rice and chicken and doing whatever I could just to get by. I think everyone should go through a period of life when they have no money and they have to say to themselves 'I can't go out tonight; I have to stay home. And when I stay home, I am going to use that time to work and to make myself better.' I think that really helps. It's very humbling."
Added to the difficulty of a tight budget, Rethage found it challenging to bring his relatively young business to a new location where he had neither community nor business connections. But one moment changed all that. Recalls Rethage, "I was driving down the road and saw a sign for 'Celebrate Monroeville,' an expo presented by the Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce to exhibit area businesses. I called the number right from my car and told them I wanted to be a part of it."
According to Rethage, that phone call was probably the best business decision he ever made. "I immediately was involved with a network of 700 businesses and I made it a point, since I work from home, to get out to almost every Chamber event and meet people. It not only changed me personally, but changed my business."
Professional networking was something that Rethage didn't think about much while in college, but has since learned its value. "I looked at successful business people, and they were getting out there, shaking hands, talking to people, making connections. So that's what I did," states Rethage. He also has taken this lesson and made it a part of his third business venture — MTR Creativity.
The "MTR" not only stands for his initials, but also for the major tenets of the company: marketing, training, and resources. "I began by hosting seminars for business professionals about social media and internet resources, using my experience of running an e-commerce business for a few years," said Rethage. "But the seminars now are taking on a motivational component. I am trying to teach people how to be a 'guru' in their field. It's an important concept because so many people don't know how to market themselves, or even shake someone's hand and feel comfortable telling them what they do."
The business has taken off and Rethage finds himself giving seminars to companies on a regular basis. He is hoping to give back to his alma mater as well, by speaking to students about networking and getting involved in their community after graduation — the very things he never thought of as a student but realizes are vitally important for them to know.
Some might aptly wonder what credibility this 25-year-old professional has in teaching others how to make a name for themselves and become a guru. However, if you are a member of the Monroeville Area Chamber and business community, you probably do not need to ask. Rethage already has made a name for himself, being recognized by the Monroeville Area Chamber with the 2009 Young Business Leader of the Year Award. That same year, he founded the Young Professionals of the Monroeville Chamber group. Most recently, Rethage was honored as one of the recipients of the 2010 Fast Track Community Leader Award by Baker Leadership, for his involvement with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh.
"Honestly, I was surprised," Rethage states of his receipt of this latest accolade. "I like to be involved and feel it's important to give back to my community. I didn't expect to be recognized for it." Rethage credits his parents with this attribute.
"My parents have always given back. They taught me that, if you do well, you should always give back, and I've never shied away from helping others."
Rethage also recognizes his parents for giving him a strong foundation and helping him realize his goals, from a young age. "While my parents always supported me, nothing was ever handed to me," states Rethage. When he started his DJ business, he rented equipment. His parents then lent him money but also laid out a payment plan for him. We had a three-to-five year repayment plan, but I had it all paid off within a year. That was pretty phenomenal because I was only 15 years old. But no matter what age, you need to have that sense of responsibility and ownership for what you are doing."
Rethage's role as a young professional outreach board member for Big Brothers/Big Sisters has lead him to another undertaking — chairing and coordinating a major fundraising and awareness effort for the agency: The 2010 Pittsburgh Tailgate Tournament. "This is one of the most exciting things I have going on right now," notes Rethage with enthusiasm.
How did Rethage come up with the idea for this event? "I have brainstorming sessions with myself a lot. I've been known to just lie in bed, pick up my phone in the middle of the night to e-mail an idea to someone. The basic idea for this event came to me at one of our board meetings, but then I just kept thinking about it and elaborating on it in my mind. So I moved on it. I pitched it to my good friend at BB/BS and the rest is history."
Rethage hopes that the event, to take place July 31 at the Pittsburgh South Side Works (see www.pittsburghtailgate.com), will become a "premiere" event for Pittsburgh. A lofty goal for sure, but with Rethage at the helm, it seems possible.
And, if running three businesses weren't enough, Rethage began a new career working full-time for Bechtel Plant Machinery, a government contractor. "I felt there was a need for me to move on and build a new skill-set. Working for a larger organization can bring new challenges and aspirations that I don't see working for myself," states Rethage. "And, I needed to get out of the house. I am just too young and social to work at home right now."
With attending graduate school on his radar for 2011, Rethage recognizes that he will need to sell his DJ and printing business to find the time. "I would really like to find somebody young who is interested and I'd make it financially appealing to them. I'd rather see it progress than just sell it for a buck. It's never been solely about the money; if it were, I'd never have started my own businesses in the first place."
Adding to Rethage's credibility as the busiest person you know is his role as the assistant marching band director for Fox Chapel High School. "This will be my eighth season with the band," states Rethage. While at Penn State Altoona, Rethage served as a consultant, going home on weekends during the season to work with the band. Now as the assistant director, Rethage runs the rehearsals. "It's a passion of mine to work with kids; these programs are so important to teach them dedication as well as contribute to their development. And I think my outgoing personality helps to motivate them."
Does he ever get tired, juggling so many professional and community responsibilities? "No," responds Rethage. "It's a funny thing, but I never do. When you're doing what you love, you just never feel like you're working. Some people think I'm crazy, but at this point in my life I have the time, so I'm going to do it all."
When interviewing for his job with Bechtel, Rethage often was asked where he saw himself in five to ten years. His response? "Who knows? But, I can tell you that wherever I am, I will be enjoying what I am doing and staying just as involved as I am now."