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No Such Thing as Failure: Mark O'Donnell '07

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Mark O'Donnell '07 is a new brand of businessman – the kind who works 24-7, comes up with ingenious ideas while standing in line at Starbucks and quotes great thinkers in between sips of specialty coffee.

"Thomas Edison says he failed his way to success," O'Donnell says. "I always remember that."

O'Donnell would know. He had several ventures that did not pan out, including a furniture business and a construction business, and was working in a job that had become "boring and repetitive." Still, ready to branch out on his own again, he enrolled in Albright's two-year degree completion program in 2005.

Shortly after earning a degree in business administration, he, along with his brother, Thomas O'Donnell, who is now enrolled in the same program, started Validation Inc., a life science consulting firm based in Huntington Valley, Pa. Within six months, the company grew to 25 employees and merged with Cimquest-Vantage, a computer system and data management company, in 2010.

Renamed The Azzur Group, the company recently landed on Inc. magazine's list of America's 5,000 Fastest Growing Companies after the O'Donnells increased business 48 percent in two years. "Making the list motivated us to move higher on the list. We were like 3,000-something, and we want to be in the top 500," he says, pausing before adding, "No, we really want to be in the top 10."

O'Donnell credits Albright for his latest success. The accelerated degree program, he says, allowed him to gain valuable, real-world experience and boost his business acumen without interfering with his work or personal life.

"I was married. I had a baby and a full-time job, and this fit into my schedule," says O'Donnell, who lives in Wyomissing with his wife, Rachel, and three children, Ava, 9, Quinn, 6, and Nora, 1. "I liked being part of the cohort and interacting with the same people throughout the entire program. It was stable, and it gave me a good (learning) environment."

The cohort's capstone course, in which O'Donnell and his group members developed a restaurant delivery service, gave him the confidence needed to start a new business. "I thought, 'If I can do it in class, I can do in real life, too,'" he says.

"The intensity of Albright's degree completion program is much more true to life and much more demanding than other alternative programs," adds O'Donnell, who also has a degree in electronic engineering from Lincoln Tech. "As a result, you develop a work ethic that is significantly greater than other schools. You can apply (what you've learned) to your work life right away."

Give it a few years, and O'Donnell just might be working from Starbucks on a weekday afternoon and overhear a young professional quoting his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. "Don't ever give up," he says. "You cannot be afraid to take a risk. Failure is not a bad thing. It's just an opportunity to learn, correct your mistakes and keep going."

–Kristin Boyd

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