Outer limits: Entrepreneur uses spirit of adventure to create meaningful life and IT work


 By Debra Talcott

Legal News
The world-class athlete enjoys the thrill of training and pushing himself to new limits.  The charismatic leader thrives on facing the risks and challenges that intimidate the rest of us.   Metro-Detroiters are fortunate to see these personality traits alive and well in one of its native sons, Steve Barone, adventure seeker and successful business entrepreneur.
Growing up as the youngest of six children in a blue-collar family from Detroit, Barone says he spent his days playing outdoors with his siblings and friends looking for adventures and getting into his fair share of mostly harmless trouble. He now is the head of Creative Breakthroughs Inc., a Troy firm which provides IT advisory and network security services.
“That hunger for new experiences is something you carry with you forever,” says Barone, who has been skydiving in Spain and bungee jumping from the Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa.  “That’s one of the coolest things I’ve done; it’s the world’s tallest bungee jump from more than 700 feet above the Bloukrans River.  Prince Harry and his friends had been there about two weeks before my group, and the guys running the bungee jump were showing us pictures of the prince and his friends that they had taken on their phones.  It was a great time.”
Another interest Barone shares with the prince is a love of piloting his own plane, although their destinations may differ.
“I have a small, single-engine Archer II that I take up to Traverse City and around Michigan when I have the chance.  When I have more time, I’m going to secure my Instrument Rating qualification so I can fly bigger, faster planes.  It takes a lot of practice because you’re basically flying with blinders on and just relying on your instrumentation to land the plane, but it’s definitely something I want to do.
While scientists debate the existence of an adventure gene or a leadership gene, there is no denying that Barone is not one to sit back and watch others have all the fun.
“I’ve been a leader for as long as I can remember.  In high school I was captain of the football team, student council president, and on the homecoming court.  It’s one of those things that can be both a blessing and a curse.  Leaders aren’t always well liked, but they have the opportunity to excel and to effect change.  A lot of people shy away from leadership roles, but I feel comfortable in that seat and thrive when I can take the ball and run with it.”
Barone’s love of football from his days at Lutheran High School East in Harper Woods has not waned.  He is a self-professed “huge Spartan fan,” in support of his daughter Alyssa, who will be a junior at Michigan State next year.  Barone also has enjoyed coaching the game.
“If money were no object, hands down, I would be coaching football.  Not only am I passionate about the game—and winning—but it’s great to be in that type of leadership position and have such a positive impact on the lives of students.  That’s why I hope to get back to coaching someday soon.”
Barone’s passion for the game is further reflected in his love of animals.   
“I have three dogs—Coach, Barry Sanders, and Calvin Johnson.  Calvin is my newest addition, a six-month-old yellow lab with a huge personality.  He drives Coach and Barry crazy with all his energy.”
It is with a touch of irony that Barone made his way from the football field to the IT world.  Sidelined by a sports injury in high school, he began spending time in the school computer lab and quickly turned his energies to seeing where computers could take him.
“When I was 18, I used my graduation money to buy an Atari 400 computer, but I was unimpressed with the store and sales staff that I bought it from. I knew that I could do it better, so I asked my brother Joe for a $10,000 loan to open my own store. With that money, I opened Just Software in 1982.  It ended up being an informal family venture, with my mom and sister-in-law working part time at the store while I was in class.”
Barone was working on majors in English and political science at Wayne State University and living with three of his buddies in downtown Detroit while overseeing the business.
Through the sales end of the business, which included mostly Atari computers and hardware, Barone learned about distributors and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) during what was a quickly evolving time for computer and technology development.
“In the back, however, was where the real action happened,” says Barone. “I was a big adventure gamer and realized that there was a huge market for other gamers looking for tips.  Some of these games, like Zork, create massive universes that players can explore with tasks to accomplish.  My friends and I would spend a month cracking clues, then we would share and sell tips to other players over Bulletin Boards, which were an early version of web forums.  You’d be surprised what someone is willing to do when they have been stuck for three weeks on the same task with no idea how to advance.  We had an old manual credit card machine that we used for people calling in for tips, and we had to look through big books manually to make sure cards weren’t stolen.”
That first business venture lasted until 1986, when Barone sold it for $40,000 to a man who turned it into a video/computer store. It was a professional stepping stone to his current position as CEO of Creative Breakthroughs Inc. (CBI).
“The idea for CBI came from a compensation change at an old job. I was working for an IT company called ITT Courier and doing really well for myself, but the company was eventually bought out.  The new organization quickly implemented new compensation plans—three in fact—over a short period of time.”
When Barone realized that the employees would actually be losing money with the latest plan, he went into his manager’s office and submitted his resignation.
“Of course, I woke up the next morning and asked myself, ‘What did you do?’ but I also realized that I didn’t want to go back to work for another company. I was done working for other people.  So I started calling old customers about their IT needs.  At that point, I basically hung a shingle and CBI was born.” 
Barone is forever appreciative that the meat producer, Thorn Apple Valley, provided many opportunities as CBI’s first customer back when he was working out of his garage.
“At that point, CBI was really a think-tank operation on the forefront of how to push information out on the Internet.  We dealt more with connectivity and modems for speed and efficiency.  Around the time of Y2K, we began to see a shift from that model to companies being more cautious and mindful of how to keep information secure.  So I began to redirect CBI’s strategies and services to meet the growing demand for IT security.  Now our services are more about how to keep information in rather than push it out.”
CBI offers a simplified approach to IT security and shows clients where their vulnerabilities lie and how to protect their critical information and maintain information security.
“We offer our customers a unique ‘5 Pillars’ approach that allows us to serve as a strategic and trusted advisor long after a project is complete.  While many service providers rely on corporations like Symantec to drive business to them, we go out there and offer additional services to clients to stay engaged and to ensure they have the necessary tools to protect their information,” explains Barone.
Barone takes pride in the culture his team has created at CBI.
“We have some of the most talented individuals in the business, and everyone is driven and willing to work hard and get their hands dirty.  I believe that culture begins with leadership, so when I began creating my leadership team to strategically guide the direction of the company, I made an effort to find people who exemplified these traits.  I am thrilled with the team we have, and I fully believe that we have a rock-solid foundation on which to continue our growth trajectory.”
Creative Breakthroughs Inc. helps clients in the legal professions through its certified electronic discovery (eDiscovery) specialists.  
“As law firms face increasing demands for timely, more accurate resolutions from clients and local and federal courts, they are exposed to more risk and elevated costs.  Our specialists help our clients manage legal and regulatory matters across the entire eDiscovery lifecycle from legal hold and collections through analysis, review, and production.  We understand budgetary concerns and work with our clients to implement effective technology that can cull down data by up to 90 percent and reduce review costs by up to 98 percent.  Quite often, these techniques can produce a return on investment almost immediately.
There is no question that Barone has a passion for life that is infectious.  However, he also has compassion for those who’ve not been afforded the same opportunities.  One of his favorite ways to serve the community is through the Detroit Area Rescue Team (DART), a grassroots nonprofit organization that provides clothing, food, and shelter to metro Detroit’s homeless population.
Since many of his CBI employees are fellow dog lovers, the company’s next DART event will be in partnership with Detroit Dog Rescue (DDR), a nonprofit dedicated to saving stray dogs in Detroit by creating the city’s first no-kill shelter.
“DART is hosting a weeklong dog supply drive to collect the necessary supplies to care for homeless dogs while they wait to be adopted.  The event will run from August 19-24, and we’re hoping to fill a semi-truck with food, treats, leashes, houses, beds, crates, toys, and flea and tick preventatives.”
Donations may be delivered to 2075 West Big Beaver Road in Troy.  On August 24, the final day of the event, CBI will host an adoption and barbecue in its parking lot.
“It should be a great event that goes a long way to save defenseless animals,” says Barone.
Like other adventure seekers and entrepreneurs, Barone is rarely caught without the next goal in mind.  His focus right now is on growing Creative Breakthroughs and making it the premier firm in the nation for its IT niche.
“We have been experiencing rapid growth over the past couple years, and, with growth, comes a lot of change—mostly very positive.  Like any growing company, however, we’ve experienced a few bumps in the road.  In the past 6 to 12 months, we’ve really nailed down a business model and long-term strategy that is sustainable and effective, and our goal is now to grow the company to 20 times its current size by the year 2020.  It’s an audacious goal, but we have the services, expertise, unique approach, and, most importantly, the best team to make it happen.”


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