It’s inevitable that there’ll be things in our lives we wish we’d have done differently. Regret has value if, instead of dwelling on lost opportunity, it brings about change.
Last month, at the Dr. Edward B. Shils Entrepreneurial Fund Awards reception in Philadelphia (see details on page 42), I came face to face with one of those moments of regret: I knew Dr. Shils but I never made it a point to really know him.
I was 35 when I first met him. He was twice that. Shils was the Executive Director of the Dental Manufacturers of America (DMA) and the Dental Dealers of America (DDA). I didn’t know his background, his brilliance, his energy, his grace. I only saw the age gap, his formal demeanor and the old-school manner in which he ran the DMA Preview Show for dental dealers and visitors from overseas that took place the day before LMT LAB DAY in Chicago.
Even though I had numerous occasions to speak with him in the ensuing years it was almost always industry-specific sharing of information. I got a glimpse of his passion for Philadephia about 13 years ago when Norm Weinstock, Zahn CEO, and I took the train to Philadelphia to talk about charities with him.
In 2004, I told him my son was also in love with “Philly” and was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania. His face lit up. He told me he’d love to give Eric the grand Center City tour. It never happened. That Halloween, Ed had a car accident. He passed away a few weeks later.
At this year’s Entrepreneurial Fund event, listening to the way both Award presenters and recipients spoke about Shils, I felt like I was hit with a ton of bricks. I became acutely aware of just how very loved, admired and respected he was by those who knew him well. It makes me sad to realize what I’ve missed and how I neglected the opportunity to embrace his friendship and learn from him.
Ed didn’t work only with the DMA/DDA. He was involved with many, many things. He even has his own Wikipedia page.
He had an incredible amount of energy and steam; he held six degrees—one was a law degree attained at the age of 68!—from the University of Pennsylvania, where he also taught for over five decades.
In 1973, he founded the Wharton Entrepreneurial Center—the first of its kind—at Penn’s Wharton School of Business. He served as the Center’s director until 1986. He said: “You have to allow people the latitude to fail. You have to hire people with a tolerance for ambiguity. You don’t just have rules. You have people who interpret the rules for success.”
A couple of decades ago, the Chicago Dental Society changed the opening day of the Mid-Winter Meeting from Sunday to Wednesday. The DMA Preview Show was held on Friday. He called to ask me what I was going to do with LAB DAY’s show date. I told him it would always be on Saturday regardless.
He called me “a real entrepreneur.” I didn’t understand the depth of such a compliment.