Deb Morrin

August 17, 2006
Posted in interviews
August 17, 2006 Terkel

Deb knew from the beginning that she wanted to develop and run her own successful business. She spent much of her career building skills with a variety of organizations that would enable her to achieve that end goal. She investigated many entrepreneurial opportunities, but nothing seemed right…until recently. She is now pursuing a project in which she will bring together her education and experience. Hidden Orchard (, will be a five-star luxury health resort one hour out of Chicago, where guests are inspired to “live well, for life.” This idea is essentially her advice transformed into substantive evidence.

Deb grew up in a time where women were expected to become teachers, nurses, or housewives. Attending the tiny St. Mary’s-of-the-Woods College near Terre Haute, Indiana, she had the ambitious goal to be financially independent. To that end, she studied to be a registered dietitian because it paid well, was interesting, and offered plentiful opportunities. After graduation she completed an internship at Mayo Clinic and later became a registered dietitian.

She worked a few years as such, but sought out a more challenging and financially rewarding career path. She went back to school and obtained her master’s from the Kellogg School of Management. Soon after, she landed a job with Allegiance Health Care, where she built, what she called, a foundation for life. She was referring to the fact that AHC allowed her to work with all different types of people and take on many different interesting positions in her time there. She watched her income quadrupled over the next six years as she acquired key skills in business and developed healthy relationships that would serve her well.

What this job did was tie her love for health with business skills like marketing, business strategy development, acquisitions and sales. She also developed a theory called the “silo effect,” her own variation of the infamous “corporate ladder.” If you start off in one functional area such as accounting, you then work your way up this “functional area” ladder. But, according to the “silo” effect, if you go too far up this ladder, you will have become a specialist, making it difficult for you to “jump” down from such a height. Being specialized, in the traditional sense, is usually something sought after because it gives you a vast body of knowledge in a particular field, making you an expert of sorts. Deb combats this idea of “expertise” by saying that as a specialist, you have merely sacrificed your capability in and understanding of the departments or sides of a business which you have avoided. This is sometimes referred to as the doom loop, meaning that at some point you are “doomed” to stay in that specialty. You either have to acquire these different skills early on to avoid this “doom loop effect,” or you have to make your end goal reaching the pinnacle of that particular area of specialization; like a partner in an accounting firm, or a judge in the Supreme Court.

After her time at AHC, Deb worked at various other successful companies, most of which were leaders in their industry. For example, Kraft Foods. She was successful in her career, which included stints as a CFO, but eventually realized her end goal. Her newly refined end goal was to bring a luxury health resort to the Chicago area. Even though she has conducted a year’s worth of research, at resorts like Canyon Ranch, her project is still in the developmental stage. While the Morrin Group is still two years away from operation, the fact is, her “end goal” would not be possible had it not been for the learning and ladder jumping she had done early in her career.

Here is some more invaluable advice that Deb offers students:

1. Do small favors for others whenever you can, without expecting anything in return. You will be amazed at the benefits this reaps (be careful to use good judgment and pull back from “users” politely). This is sometimes referred to as the ‘Rule of Good Returns.’ Examples would be introducing people to each other to which a relationship would be mutually beneficial,, sending someone an article that is particularly pertinent to something they are interested in, etc. Think more about what the other guy needs out of your relationship than about your own needs. Your rewards will come.

2. Make as many friends as you can and keep good relationships with acquaintances. For toxic people, who are unavoidable, try to avoid engaging in a negative way but instead be polite and steer clear diplomatically.

3. Seek opportunities to learn from others (particularly older or more experienced people) and from situations. Mentors are great and often will be very generous with their thoughts and interest in helping you. Use them with discretion, as they can be worn out if overworked.

4. Build your skills by working in what you love for the best. An example is my cousin, Amy Kehoe, who worked with the Starwood Group, an interior design department for the Hotel W brand. The Starwood Group proved to be a great learning ground and credibility builder for her as she embarks on her own business of a similar nature. She spent about 3-4 years there, built relationships, and left to form a partnership alongside an older mentor.

5. Work hard and aim high! Life is not always easy, and doing what you love can be very hard work and lonely too! Hard work makes up for a lot of mistakes, flaws and problems. Everyone makes mistakes, and you will too! Just keep your aim high, your relationships good, your confidence strong, and work hard and you will be amazed at how much you can accomplish.

6. Spend as little money as possible on depreciating assets (such as cars, or disappearing assets such as expensive vacations.) Instead, put your money to work for you in appreciating investments (such as real estate, etc.) Even a graduate degree is one of the best investments you can make. On the other hand, have balance in your life and do make time for a pastime you love, be it sailing, skiing, tennis or golf. Build friendships based on your leisure activities and there again you will be amazed at the long-term benefits.

“Always place yourself in the company of people who are smart, hard working, kind and fun whenever you can: at home, work, or in your free time! But, also seek out diversity and learn from people with different value systems than yours. Just be careful not to assume that everyone will be kind, nice or helpful.”