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Larry Schmitz, Common Sense Solutions LLC

IB Wisconsin's Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet the state's professionals. This week features Larry Schmitz, president of Common Sense Solutions LLC.

Business Address: Box 311, Menasha, WI 54952
Phone: 920-428-7879
Birthplace: Plymouth, Wis.
Spouse/Partner’s Name: Nancy
Board Membership: Association of Information Technology Professionals, Region 5 President; AITP Region President's Council
Organizations: Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP)
Education: BBA, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Larry, how did you come to create Common Sense Solutions and what is your role with the company?

I retired as CIO and executive officer of technology consulting for Schenck SC in 2000. I continued to do some consulting work for them and their clients through 2007, but deciding I still had too much "gas in the tank" to fully retire, I negotiated an agreement with Schenck (a class organization) so that I could go into the consulting business again on my own. So I formed Common Sense Solutions, LLC so that I could pursue consulting opportunities on my own and still serve Schenck clients where my independent status would not interfere with Schenck's relationship as the client's accounting firm. We both won on that arrangement, and the clients were glad to see me "back in action."

Who would you credit as being a mentor to you?

Without a doubt, the most influential was my dad. He was a true American hero. When I was 1 year old, and Mom was pregnant with my only brother, Dad was a deputy sheriff with the Sheboygan Sheriff's Department. He was asked by the County Board to gather evidence against a crooked sheriff (the sheriff's misdeeds were common knowledge back then). Dad's testimony put the sheriff in prison. But the sheriff had political cronies on the draft board (this was during World War II) and Dad ended up getting drafted in retribution for putting the sheriff in prison – at age 33, a police officer, married with one kid and another on the way. When I was old enough to understand, I asked Dad why he let them do that to him. His response has made him my personal hero (and role model) all my life. He said, "I figured I had more to fight for than most guys." He served in combat in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy; captured a number of German soldiers, etc.; and returned home in one piece. God watched over him, and why not? He was one of the "good guys" for sure. Been my hero ever since I knew his story. My goal in life is to be as much like him as I can.

When you were in high school, and very influenced by Dad day to day, what were your career aspirations – and how have they changed?

When I was in high school, with my dad's background in law enforcement, yes, my heart was set on being part of the FBI. In those days, the only way into the FBI was with a law degree or an accounting degree. Later, when I was working, putting myself through college, I couldn't afford law school, so I opted to go for my degree in accounting.

By the time I was a sophomore in college, I changed my mind for several reasons. First, I had the opportunity that summer to work as an intern in the cost accounting department of Kohler Company. Great experience, but I found out that, for me, accounting was very boring. Secondly, I had a fraternity brother who had joined the FBI with an accounting degree. He came back to campus to visit and described his job duties. It was not the romantic, cops-and-robbers, Elliott Ness-type things I envisioned. He sat in a little office going over tax returns of suspected "bad guys." Not for me.

So I looked into this new area of computers, and working with people on using technology to solve business problems. Good choice for me, and I have been at it ever since.

What did you do with your first paycheck? How much was it? Where was it from, for what job?

How can I forget [big grin]? My back still hurts thinking about it. My first check was for $17.40. I opened a savings account for college and put $15 in it and spent the rest on movies, candy, etc. I was 12 – just got my work permit – and worked for Stokley Van Camp's local canning factory, weeding beets in the field, by hand. It was tough work. We were paid anywhere from 30 cents to 75 cents per row, depending on the density of the weeds. The rows were about 300 feet long. You earned every penny you made!

In the changing field of IT, Larry, how do you keep current in your field? For example, what trade associations or reading or training do you belong to that you would recommend?

I have relied on AITP to help me stay current on relevant IT topics, and I "Google" other business topics of interest to me via the Internet. AITP's Information Executive Online gives me access to a wealth of topics. I tend to read all Wisconsin business publications that come my way. For one thing, as long as I have been part of the Wisconsin business landscape, I see a lot of people I know featured in articles, and I get to silently applaud their success. I also read/scan other publications that are IT/business related.

Care to share a personal high point in your career?

I suppose, with a bit of vanity involved, being listed in Marquis's Who's Who in America is a yardstick of professional success. But to be honest, being a cancer survivor at age 48 (now 68), and hearing my grandchildren say, "I love you Grandpa" is what life is really all about.

What is the long-range goal that you’d like to achieve before closing or passing along your company to another person?

I am in a "give back" mode. I started in the information technology profession back in 1965 – its infancy – and had a lot of great opportunities come my way over the years, many because of my involvement in professional associations. Now it is time for me to "give back" to the next generation through my involvement as a leader and mentor in those same professional associations. To that end, I have served as president and/or a member of the board of directors of many of these associations.

My remaining goal is to see the day that information technology is considered a "profession" in much the same way as accounting, law, and other professions. When the state legislatures start to license CCPs (Certified Computing Professionals) in the same manner as CPAs, my goal will be accomplished.

Your feelings about living and/or working in Wisconsin?

I was born and raised in Plymouth, Wis., the most perfect place for a kid to grow up. Growing up in a smaller town back in the '40s and '50s was a totally different environment than today. In fact, when I relate the things we did as kids, the things available to us – like rivers, woods, neighbors’ horses to ride and such – to my kids and grandkids, they proclaim, "You grew up in paradise." And in many ways, they are right.

What do you do “beyond the office” that brings you happiness or relaxation?

Golf, gardening, and grandchildren, though not necessarily in that order. Golf is great; you compete against the golf course and yourself. "Your relaxation, versus frustration, depends on your expectation." – Lucky Larry (that’s me).

I like vegetable gardening because of the sense of accomplishment it brings when the crops grow and you harvest the results of your efforts. Growing vegetables, like mowing the lawn, is something where you can measure and observe your progress. Having spent my whole business career using my head instead of my hands, I know the frustration of not knowing if I made any progress on a day-to-day basis. Gardening gives me that sense of accomplishment on a measured basis.

My grandchildren are my greatest joy. Watching them grow up, as I watched their mothers (my daughters) grow up, is a source of wonderment and joy. I attend all of my grandsons' athletic events – thanks to my daughter and son-in-law, I have a lifetime pass to all Olympian Conference athletic events – and all my granddaughter's events as well. Nothing tops a hug from the prettiest, sweetest 7-year-old girl in the world. But then, I might be a tad biased ….

As you should be! Next question: What is your favorite place to travel to and why? What makes it special?

I don't really have a particular place that I would put ahead of others, as long as I can drive there. I enjoy driving. And my wife and I drive (versus fly) to Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Colorado for vacations. Driving is half the fun of going there. We explore as we drive, with no time restrictions on how fast we have to get there.

I put on over 1,250,000 air miles early in my career, before frequent flyer days, and flying was fun back then. Now it is a hassle, and an expensive hassle, to be avoided at all cost.

Along the “fun” line of thought, what character in any sport, book, movie, or play would you most like to be identified with, and why?

I would say Roy Campanella. Most people won't probably remember him. When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional baseball, Roy Campanella was the second black player to play in the majors. He was a standout catcher and great with the bat. He was in the shadows as far as recognition of his role in gaining acceptance among fans and teammates as the second black player in the league.

Later, his career was cut short by an auto accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. His autobiography, It's Good To Be Alive, is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. Growing up in a small, all-white town in Wisconsin, I had no clue of the struggles that race created for people back then. Roy's book documents what life was like for black players, and his positive attitude about his own plight was truly educational and inspirational for me.

His message of being happy with what you have, versus complaining about the bumps in the road, made a huge impression on me at a young age – and one I have tried to carry forward in my life.

Larry, is there anything you’d be willing to share about your family life?

Other than the fact I am the luckiest guy in the world? I have the greatest parents, who taught me about God, hard work, and being happy with what you have. Greatest wife in the world, who has been so supportive in letting me live my dream in terms of my career. Greatest daughters – so special, so much like their mother. And the most fantastic four grandchildren a grandpa could ever have.

Moving from family to community, what special career advice do you have for someone who is looking for meaningful work in this economic climate?

Look around and see what work skills and training are needed for the jobs available. Go get them. Don't sit on your behind waiting for the impossible to happen. You need to make yourself employable. You can't expect somebody to hire you if you are not qualified for the positions that are open. The world doesn't need any more lawyers or political science majors.

And our hardest question of all: Can you list three words you think best describe you?

“Observant,” because I see things others miss. “Demanding,” of myself and those who work for me. “Loyal” – I will "go to the wall" for my God, my family, my friends, my country, and those who placed their confidence in me.

Our thanks to Larry Schmitz for his candid answers this week! If you’d like to nominate someone (self nominations accepted) for an upcoming “Professional of the Week” profile, email!

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