An entrepreneur must lead: Somers

Sean J. Somers will be honored at the 2nd Annual Small Business-Big Impact Awards in Boston on Friday.

By Peter McDermott


That what Boston’s Sean J. Somers believes is top of the list of qualities that makes the entrepreneur.

That might seem strange from a businessman who stresses “winning” and a management style that “motivates winners.”

And Somers, someone always on the technological cutting edge, espouses what seems another counterintuitive view: dialing back on the digital helps create the ideal pub.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

But first, why empathy?

Well, that’s the way in to discovering what the customer thinks, whatever his or her circumstances in life.

It helps one to understand, too, the concerns of one’s employees.

“You must really listen to a problem they’re having – not give an answer just to give an answer,” said Somers who is involved with Somers Pubs of Boston, Keel Premium Vodka, U-Out Inc. and Canary Inc.

“[The entrepreneur] must put themselves in the other person’s shoes,” he added. “They have to understand what the market is going for.”

Some people might suggest today that an entrepreneur is not a team-orientated person.

“‘Entrepreneur’ is a trendy word these days,” said Somers, an honoree at Friday’s 2nd Annual Small Business Big Impact Awards. “You hear people say ‘I’m a one-man show, I’ve no employees, I’ve no office,’ blah, blah, blah.’”

Whereas in fact, he said, “an entrepreneur is someone who can lead – who can lead from behind – someone who doesn’t need to be always in the limelight.”

He or she is also a team builder.

And, if Somers himself is any measure, the entrepreneur is constantly working and on the move.

“A lot of people can’t comprehend my schedule,” he said, adding with a laugh an old piece of wisdom, “If want to get something done, ask a busy person.”

As for attracting winners, Somers said, first of all stay clear of established senior-level executives. They have a “been-there, done-that” mindset.

“You need people who are hungry,” he said.

“My goals are high. My morale is high. My standards are high. My ethics are high. If you keep all those high, in the end you’ve got a winning scorecard,” Somers added.

People who don’t agree will fall by the wayside, while those who do will stay to help the company grow exponentially.

Often, for this native Bostonian, “team” means family.

He learned the business from his late father, John Joe Somers. “He was the only one of his family to emigrate,” said Sean J. Somers, who with his wife Katherine recently brought back their 11-month-old son, J.R., for baptism in Listowel, Co. Kerry.

His mom Ann and siblings Noelle and Kristine are centrally involved in the family enterprise (he also has a third sister, Jillian).

Technology is an important key to success; indeed, one could say the family was always ahead of the curve in that regard. Somers’s grandfather had the only telephone in his village in Ireland.

“That was during my adolescence,” he remembered.

At 41, he said, he’s from a generation that could submit a hand-written college paper. And he couldn’t even attach a document to an email until seven or eight years ago.

But things move on. FaceTime is the norm rather than the village phone.

“Technology is moving at a fast pace,” Somers said. The businessman in the hospitality industry “has got to pay attention to data analytics and all the different forms of technology.”

He said, “I knew that if I wanted to grow my brand I would have to grow my mind. I would have put my ego aside and learn from the beginning.”

So, he did.

Still, technology in its proper place is the Somers view; that’s especially the case when it comes to his personal choice in pubs.

“If you can hear a nice hum of conversation, you’ll usually feel at home or welcome,” Somers said.

A good pub has few or no TVs. “There’s no texting. There’s no WiFi,” he added. “The news and media aren’t in your face.

“You can sit down to talk to someone who might be a stranger or a friend,” Somers said.