Thursday, September 22, 2005

I was a 'Madman' !!....

One of the Madmen of Goguen Industries anyway....

First, what’s up with BlogSpot? For the past couple of days my email notifications for comments have been sporadic at best. Today it took me three tries to post a comment here myself! Has anyone else had problems like this?

On to the story…

It was 1989 and thing were pretty good in the IT/IS business. The small consulting company I’d ‘restarted’ after my departure from APA was doing fairly well and I was working out of my home full time.

I’d also recently hired a fellow by the name of Rich Jeran, a legitimate claimant to the title of guru when it came to things Unix and Xenix, especially if those products were from a company called SCO.

I don’t really remember exactly how Rich found ‘me’, but I do remember at the time he called I was in a cast, and busier than a ‘one armed paper hanger’ with my little consulting business.

Rich talked me into giving him a chance, and I wasn’t an easy sell as I really had no desire to have ‘employees’. No sir, I was quite happy that I was finally making a decent living again in the computer business and working almost exclusively from my home.

At the time, in my little corner of the world, I was the ‘GoTo’ guy for things Novell, dBase or FoxPro. Back then, Novell was king in the DOS based networking arena and the xBase languages were the ‘big deal’ in PC based data based development. I was picking up one or two new clients a month, and had just inked a deal with the local Sears Business Center (anyone else remember those?) to be their primary Novell consultant.

My karma being what it is, between the time Rich first called, and we had our first meeting, I actually signed new client, who wanted Xenix, and not Novell, as their network infrastructure platform. Of course I knew he and I were meeting, but the truth is, back then I’d have taken the project anyway, I wasn’t at all afraid of stepping ‘out of the box’ and into unknown territory.

Rich and I met at the Denny’s just North of Carrier circle in Syracuse, we had breakfast, talked a little and headed over to this client so Rich could scope it for himself. (Now, if you actually knew Rich, or me, you’d know that us having a short talk was a miracle in, and of, itself!).

As I recall, we got the gig, and after we’d installed the software there was some issue over ‘training’ and as we started looking into it, the company had ‘lost’ (as they had ‘let them go’) the two folks we had trained, and wanted us to train some additional folks, for free. (That wasn’t happening!)

So, here I am, with a guy on the ‘payroll’, in danger of losing the only Xenix client we have, when through the door (the phone actually) comes another… to make a long story short, we continued to grow both the Novell and Xenix/Unix portions of the business that summer.

After Rich and I had been working together for only a few months, The Sears Business Center, calls in one afternoon. They had a lead they wanted me to follow up, a place called “Goguen Industries” on “Goguen Drive” in Liverpool, NY… well at first I thought they were kidding, but I made the call and had a brief talk with Bruce Goguen, before setting up a meeting in his office the following day.

I closed out that day, feeling pretty good as I recall, we’d had a good week, the Xenix portion of the business is growing, slowly, but at a steady pace and the Novell and SBT (Accounting software) are growing as well, more quickly, but still at manageable levels.

The best thing is, I’m making payroll every week, and I’m still covering my business and personal expenses as well. All in all, I remember thinking, things are going pretty well, finally!

In the course of meeting with Bruce Goguen the next week, as I’m moving to close the deal, he says: “Why don’t you sell me your company, and come to work for me?”

I know I must have stuttered as I asked: “Excuse me? But are you saying you want to buy my company?” (I like to remember myself as being ‘cool’ at that moment, but I’m not so sure I was) A rather brief conversation followed where he explained he did indeed want to buy the company, hire Rich, and I, and then expand the customer base, etcetera, etcetera…. I held off giving him a ‘price’, I let him know I was interested, but I needed to think it over a bit.

I remember getting home that night and talking to my wife about it, saying how I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sell it, go back to having a ‘real job’, all that sort of thing…. When she told me that selling it was in the original business plan I’d written. She then proceeded to dig it out and show it to me, and sure enough, there in black and white were my words:

“grow it sufficiently to the point where it can be sold”

To make this story a bit shorter, I did sell it, and we packed the office up and moved it to Liverpool. Almost immediately Bruce wanted me to start hiring additional people.

This went against my ‘grain’ as a business man, as I’d always gotten the revenue first, hired later. Now, he was charging me with hiring first and then finding the business. In the consulting business, that’s a bit like a law firm hiring lawyers hoping to get clients, it’s just not done that way. I should have seen then, that he was trying to apply a manufacturing model to a service business… but it was the ‘Honeymoon’ period and all… and hey, this was *me… I could do anything!

Around the end of the second week, they started calling us the “Micro Applications Division” (MAD) of Goguen Industries. It was just a few days after that when Kathy Bovee, the controller, sent out a memo, welcoming the ‘Madmen”, to the company.

So, in the beginning, it was Rich and I, the original ‘Madmen’… interestingly enough, that moniker wasn’t far from the truth as we both were hard headed and had explosive personalities.

In short order we’d hired Sherry Shultz (who has since passed on), Ken Sheldon (who’ve I’ve written about before) and Mark Montgomery (who I went fishing with back in June) and we were now at full staff.

Sherry’s job was what I called phone triage… she’d answer all inbound calls and route them to the appropriate person:

Mark was hardware
Rich was Unix/Xenix
Ken was SBT and custom programming
I was Novell and programming as well

Things were actually storming along far better than I could have ever imagined when we got started. The ‘division’ was beginning to show a small profit, our new client count was up to 8, maybe even 10, a month and we were all working like crazy to keep up.

We were ‘stars’ in our little world. At the 1990 Syracuse Business and Computer Expo our booth won “Best of Show”. We made the papers, life was good. We were all working tons of hours, but having a pretty good time and enjoying a hard earned reputation as ‘the guys’ to call.

Then, January 16, 1991, as Rich, Mark and I were sitting in the Euclid (a bar) having our regular after work ‘post-mortem’ of the day’s occurrences, an announcement was made on CNN that the US led efforts to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait had begun.

I remember that announcement because of what happened the next day.

On a normal day, our phones would ring 15 to 20 times an hour, that next day; it was as though our phone service had been disconnected. We received maybe five calls all day. The world, as we had known it, had stopped spinning. No one was calling, and those who did call, were putting projects on indefinite hold. No one had anticipated this kind of effect on us.

The first casualty was Mark, as the hardware guy, when those orders stopped coming in, Bruce cut him loose, and fairly quickly. I remember feeling bad, as Mark had worked just as hard as anyone to build the entire thing, not ‘just’ the hardware piece.

This changed things, and not for the better, there was definitely a different feeling in the air after that. Goguen’s other businesses, including his core “recession proof” business were experiencing similar problems. It was about mid-February, or about a month later, when, as I sat down for a regular meeting with the owner and the controller that, he announced he was closing the division and we were all being ‘let go’. No severance, no kiss, just a ‘see ya’.

There was just one problem with his ‘plan’, he hadn’t finished paying me for the business (note to anyone thinking about selling a business, get as much as possible upfront and in cash!!). I informed him of this little fact, and that despite what he thought, division, or no division, he owed me that money.

After a bit of discussion, I told him I’d consider ‘taking back’ the equipment, and the client list for what he owed me, but, I’d have to think it over.

So that cold, mid-February day, the Madmen officially died. What’s interesting to me though, is that I’ve stayed in contact with these guys, and we all remember the days leading up to the end. The hopes, dreams and excitement we all shared, and of what might have been. It was definitely ‘Fab-times’ for all of us then.

I did take the company back, and that’s another story in and of itself, that I hope to share one day.

7 comments:

Firehawk said...

Bill,

I haven't been having any trouble with BlogSpot, myself. I don't ask that much of the programming, though. I just post and comment.

It's interesting that anything that really "booms" tends to also bust. I think that any entity that expands at the absolute rate of increase of intake (money, food, whatever) will end up falling in on itself. A steady, endless, high rate of growth just insn't sustainable. If you don't plan for some shortfalls, you're doomed from the start.

You're a blogging animal lately. Almost more posts than I can get around to reading. I'm impressed.

Bill said...

Firehawk - I'd take slow and steady grow, over exponential, any day given the choice.

I've always felt like I needed a 'cushion', several duckets in the bank to sustain any sort of 'blip' in the business. As I see blips, as inevitable.

I gues I found this whole event rather interesting as Bruce and I were very different in that regard. He was a full speed ahead type, believing he could overcome anything. For the most part *he* did, there were just a lot of casualties in the wake.

Thanks... I have been a bit 'wordy' I guess... It's almost time to get back in the garage too as Maryan isn't sleeping as much during the day anymore!

Trevor Record said...

I have been having some problems with getting blogger to load. It seems like it's been down a lot!

It does seem a little backwards to hire people before you have work.

Ilene said...

I think there must be a creative bug in the air. I have been wanting to write more lately and it flows --- so keep in blogging my friend.

Bill said...

Trevor- It does seem backwards doesn't it? However, as this guy was a self made millionaire.. I figured he must have had the 'plan'.. Blogger seems better today, I hope they've healed it up!

Ilene - I'm gonna keep on doing what I've been doing... although, visits have slacked off some, I hope it's just vacations and such!!

tweedledeetweedledum said...

This blog is awesome! If you get a chance you may want to visit this cad software site, it's pretty awesome too!

Bill said...

tweedledee - Aww... I bet you say that to all the bloggers!