Founder of BD’s Mongolian Barbeque and Grill and CC Alumnus Billy Downs III ‘84 spoke to students interested in entrepreneurship on April 5 as a part of CC’s Career Conferences series.
After graduating from Catholic Central, Downs continued on to Michigan State University, graduating in 1988 with a BA in Hospitality Business. In 1991, Downs co-founded BD’s Mongolian Barbeque and Grill, where he served as president and CEO. Downs grew the restaurant to approximately 35 restaurants across 12 states, in addition to a non-profit restaurant in Mongolia. In addition to ongoing consulting work, Downs is the owner of Ford’s Garage, which just announced its plan to expand to a new Novi location.
“I just started working, and what I gained was experience, '' said Downs. “I got very, very lucky. Put yourself in a position to be lucky sometimes. Work hard, give yourself good college choices.”
Downs encouraged students to begin entrepreneurship early. For Downs,this looked like paper routes, yard work, and odd jobs starting at the young age of 11, followed soon after by working within the restaurant industry at age 14.
“The world is a big world; imagine it as a big pizza. If you can eat half that pizza and say ‘ok, I don’t want to do those things’, it leaves a little more focus on where you can go with your life and your career.”
Downs coached students on the three basic building blocks to starting a business: good concept, good location, and good operations. He touched on the myriad of moving parts involved, including real estate, site plan, exterior and interior design, layout, financial plan and practices, human resources plan, training, purchasing, safety, and IT.
“Do entrepreneurs need to know everything? It’s hard to be an expert in everything. Sometimes you need to look to people to help you,” he explained to students. Find something you’re passionate about. If you’re going to spend a lot of time working, which you likely will, make sure it’s something you like.”
Downs also touched on the importance of goal setting to stay forward thinking in entrepreneurship.
“If you don’t have a plan, you don’t have a plan. It’s better to have a bad plan than no plan,” he told students. “I’m 56 years old, and I still do goal setting. I just went through a goal setting exercise on Saturday morning, fine tuning my plan. It was kind of flung at me, I wasn’t expecting it, but I took the opportunity, and it may change the course of how I spend my next five or six years.”
Downs stressed the importance of the Catholic Central Brotherhood to students.
“Brotherhood. We’ve got it plastered on the building these days. Brotherhood is real.” Downs told students his story of finding family at Catholic Central.
“As a sophomore, I was trying to figure out my way at CC. My dad went here, and he had not only brotherhood, but the brothers he had from CC became our extended family. That was the vision I had when I came here. It took me a couple years to find, but by my junior year homeroom, I connected with some people who became my life-long brothers. If you’re not connected with a good friend group right now, reach out and start meeting some people. You can do it.”
As students look towards their future paths, Downs encourages them to reflect on their mindset.
“Stay positive. You’ll meet three types of people in the world: energy givers, energy suckers, and people who are just neutral. I like to surround myself with the energy givers. I feed off of that”.
Downs ended in prayer, thanking God the Father for his time with students and calling on Mary Alma Mater to watch over the students and clear a path for them to follow and excel.
The Catholic Central Career Conference series brings alumni to campus to speak to sophomore and junior students interested in particular career paths. The alumni share valuable insights about their profession, their story, and recommendations to students seeking a career in a similar field. There are career conferences on medicine, business/entrepreneurship, finance, engineering, law/law enforcement, marketing, and journalism. If you are a student interested in attending a career conference, please contact your guidance counselor.