Delta Airlines President Ed Bastian, left, speaks to students at Peachtree Ridge High School on Friday morning during a ceremony to open an entrepreneurship club called the Lighthouse project. Sean Murphy, right, a local businessman, helped launch the club. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
SUWANEE — Demetri Lyons wants to follow in his mother’s footsteps and start his own business.
The Peachtree Ridge High junior said he has dreams to open a retail clothing store. He’s not alone.
At least 100 Peachtree Ridge students have signed up to join the Lighthouse project, which has been organized by local businessman Sean Murphy. The club, which is expected to meet during school and after school beginning in August, will be student-driven and generate ideas to start and run small businesses. The profits from those businesses will be donated to the Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation, and to start future small businesses, Murphy said.
“So far, all my friends that I’ve talked to want to join,” Lyons said. “Because everybody has something that they want to do, and a lot of people want to jump at the opportunity to start their own business. Because if you have a talent, you can always profit off of it.”
The project was unveiled at a ceremony near the Peachtree Ridge baseball field on Friday morning. The featured speaker was Delta Air Lines President Ed Bastian, one of Murphy’s friends and neighbors. During a question and answer discussion with Peachtree Ridge students, Murphy and Bastian shared stories about how they got started in business and their keys to success.
“The world works for people who want to be successful,” Bastian said. “This is a great vehicle and introduction to that.”
Murphy was motivated to start in business after he was a sophomore in college and a tuition check from his father bounced, and he later learned his parents were behind on their mortgage. He said his success in business allowed him to pay off his parents’ mortgage, and he encouraged the students to make choices that makes themselves and their parents proud.
Bastian grew up in a home where his father had his own dental practice, and his mother was the assistant. His first two jobs were working road construction and in a rock quarry. While he respected the people in those jobs, he realized that wasn’t the kind of work he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
So he earned a degree in finance, and encouraged the students to pursue accounting degrees because accounting is the language of business. Bastian also said to surround yourself with the right people.
“I don’t know how to fly a plane, and I don’t know how to fix a plane,” he said. “I can serve Cokes on a plane, but there’s a limit to what I can do. I prefer to hire people that are smarter than me, because they make me look good.”
Murphy said the students will learn in reverse from what they’re used to, and he explained it with the acronym “DCBA,” which stands for Dream Calculate Believe and Act. The project is in two trailers outside the school building because Murphy wants the students to be creative, and not constrained by teacher requirements.
Murphy plans to spend two hours a day twice a week at the Lighthouse.
He also wants help from the Gwinnett businesses of all types and sizes.
“We have a top 10 school system in the country,” Murphy said. “The business community needs to step up. I really want to challenge the Gwinnett County business community to help.”
There are also plans to start a similar club at North Gwinnett High, and other Gwinnett high schools.
Lyons said the Lighthouse would help him start on his path to owning his own business earlier than his mother, who started her own catering business at 40.
“Now that everybody’s competitive, it’s always good to get a head start,” he said. “To start early, I feel like with the Lighthouse, I can get myself out there in the business world early, so I can get more competitive and accomplish my dreams.”