Monday, March 13, 2006

Omnifax Days (Part #2). . .

Omnifax Days (Part #2). . .

So, things were changing, yet again, and this time I wasn’t moving forward in a design or development way, but getting a chance to stretch my management ‘chops’.

The first thing I did was start reviewing the financial state of the company. Up until this point, I had no access to, nor interest in, Omnifax’s financial state of affairs. I’d been very happy, coming to work, doing what I loved to do, and, getting paid, what I felt was, well, to do so.

Imagine my surprise, when on ‘running the numbers’ I discovered that all the accepted financial ratios, things like:

current ratio = current assets / current liabilities
Quick ratio = (Current Assets - Inventory) / Current Liabilities
NWC = Current Assets - Current Liabilities
Debt Ratio = Total Liabilities / Total Assets
GPM = ( Sales - Cost of Goods Sold )/ Sales

Were each far below, or even inverted in some cases, from what you’d expect from a healthy company. (go here if you want to lean more about these ratios).

I asked Rick to go to lunch with me so we could “discuss some things”. Over lunch I explained that I was very concerned about the financial state of affairs, and that I believed if we didn’t do something, and quickly, we’d be unable to meet payroll in less than 60 days.

He tried to play it off, but I hung to my beliefs and in the end he agreed to let me do what I felt needed to be done. He also informed me, at that same lunch meeting, that he’d like to sell the company and if I helped him get it back on stable financial footing so he could, he’d “take care” of me, for doing so.

There was a lot that needed doing, and I was not very popular for the next several months. There were two things in particular that would be crucial to our success, or failure.

First, I secured the inventory room and installed a person in the ‘cage’ and made it his sole purpose in life to make sure that every single item that left that room, had an invoice already issued for it. You se, we had an inventory “mysterious disappearance” issue, inventory would come in, and go out, but, in some cases it was gone and there was no record of what had happened.

I truly believe it was more a ‘screw-up’ issue than theft. These were very busy times, many days the sales reps would actually load PC’s into their car or truck to drop off while they made a sales call. It was deliver, or die. If you could get that PC, on the desk first, you were most likely to get the sale. Unfortunately, in their haste to be on time, be first, they would often plan on invoicing everything at the end of the day… and humans, being human, would sometimes forget to do so.

The second item required me to get on the phone with our bank, and our major creditors (like IBM) and secure arrangements to not get our inventory supplies cut off, or our credit line halted while we worked to get out of this situation.

The bank was fairly easy, IBM however was a bit of a stretch even for a ‘talker’, ex-salesman like me. I remembered though some things my Dad had taught me during the “tight money” times at National Auto, and that was, that all suppliers simply want to sell their products, and, get paid. If you appeal to these two basic facts, and present a plan that’s feasible, you’ve got a shot.

In the end, I proposed to send IBM a check, every week, which would chip away at any existing debt, and, also pay toward any additional shipments. The goal being, that at the end of six months, we’d be 100% current with them again. In short, they bought in. Our ability to order product was restored, and we had a chance.

Things were moving forward, each week our financial numbers improved and our ‘draw down’ on the credit line got a little smaller.

About 60 days into all of this, the bank demanded a meeting with us. Rick and I headed out to Rochester and took that meeting. In short, the bank demanded we hire a ‘controller’ and that they would let that person know what they wanted to see each week. We agreed, what else could we do? If we hadn’t agreed, the bank would have called the credit line, and the game would have been over.

The controller we hired was competent, very much so in fact. She made short work of compiling not only the numbers for the bank, but also the numbers I wanted to see, and handling the payment agreements with our suppliers. I was happy with our choice as it freed me up to go “make some money” and finally spend less time crunching numbers.

Things were looking up, and I really felt like I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The whole Omnifax period went from late 1984 through mid 1987 (I believe), some additional points of interest…

I developed applications for The Carrier Corporation, Mutual of New York, The Pillsbury Corporation and a large HairCrafter’s franchise (Sevco)

I was also appointed to the Ashton-Tate (dBASE) dealer advisory board in 1987. I recall that being a huge, personal, event for me. That this company, who’s product I used to make a living, would appoint me to their advisory board, was, in a word, well, flattering!

It was also a nice feather for the cap, and a bullet I could pull out when asked “why” a company should think I was the best for the job, “Is my competitor on Ashton-Tate’s dealer Advisory board?” ended a lot of “who is better” types of discussions.

I’d also begun to incorporate both FoxBASE and a product called ‘Clipper’ into my xBASE tool box. The product ‘dBASE’ was beginning to show its age; Fox and Clipper were taking direct aim at developers looking for 100% compatibility and additional speed. Fox had great speed and the advantage of working in DOS, Unix/Xenix and on Mac’s, Clipper had the added advantage of the blazing speed and source code protection of a compiled application.

The toolkit and client base were growing, as were the troubles within Omnifax.

One evening, while my wife and I were hosting a little ‘get together’ at our house, the phone rang.

It was Rick, calling from “Hutchings Psychiatric Center” in Syracuse. He started explaining how his wife, and Chris (remember Chris from earlier in the story?) were having an affair and had conspired to have him committed. He was asking me to come and sign him out. I told him I’d be there as soon as possible and we hung up.

Now this was way before ‘portable phones’ and our phone was smack dab in the middle of the living room… There was no playing this off as everyone there had seen the look of concern, bewilderment and shock on my face.

As I started to explain what was going on, the phone rang again. This time it was Rick’s wife, who explained that Rick had a long history of paranoid schizophrenia, that he’d stopped taking his medications and this short hospital stay was needed, and ordered by his Doctor. She also gave me the doc’s name and number so I could call and check out her story.

I did that. In addition, some other events of the past 10 days began to become clear. Rick had said some extremely strange things in conversation, and one of two of the employees had asked if he was ok as he’d had strange talks with them as well.

So, Monday morning is coming and we’ll have to tell the employees something. Rick’s wife and I agreed to just say he was in the hospital. However, when she came in to address the troops, she told them all, the entire story, in great detail… so much for the ‘plan’ we’d discussed on Sunday.

Things happened more quickly after that (if you can believe it). Rick found a buyer; they dropped in a fairly large cash injection and ended our financial woes, at least short term, and began making plans for the transition.

I was offered, and accepted a management role going forward with the new company, so I felt secure and even a little bit optimistic as these folks sure talked a good game.

The sale went through, but Rick never came up with the “take care of Bill” package he’d promised, stating that he hadn’t been able to get as much for the company as he’d hoped. (Note to myself, get it all in writing in the future!!)

Then, about 4 or 6 weeks after the sake was complete, a local development house started calling me and “courting me” to come to work for them as their application development director. I kept turning them down, they kept up the talk. In the process I actually came to like the two brothers, Chuck and Clark Gronsbell, we had a number of lunches and dinners together. They’d explain their vision, how they intended to achieve it and why they felt I was a big piece of their plan, in the end I promised them that if I changed my mind I’d let them know.

Two weeks later something happened to change my mind for me.

My paycheck arrived, and when I checked the totals, I was shocked. My commission earnings were “zero”! I knew I’d booked at least enough to have close to a grand due me, and, I figured it was some sort of oversight. Imagine my surprise when I called the front office (they were in Buffalo, NY about 6 hours from Syracuse) and the president informed me that they’d decided that my ‘package’ was too generous, and were eliminating my commission structure.

A rather heated discussion followed, where I informed them that they could not, change the contract terms of my employment, without my agreeing to the new terms. In short, I got the money they owed me, but, the commission piece of my compensation package was history.

I picked up the phone, called Chuck at APA and made arrangements to make the move to his company. We agreed on money, and a start date a little over two weeks in the future.

When I went back to work, I took Rick aside and explained my decision to him. He told me he fully understood, and that he was surprised I’d waited this long. Rick called the front office to give them the news.

That afternoon, the big guy himself called to tell me he’d be at our place in the morning as he didn’t want me to make a hasty decision. I told him it hadn’t been hasty, but well thought out, and to save himself a trip as my mind was made up.

I can remember his response like it happened today. “Bill, my friend, nothing is irrevocable.” I also remember mine… “First, you and I are not friends, second, if we were, you’d know that when I make up my mind, it *is* irrevocable!”

He made the drive anyway, he didn’t change my mind, he discovered that some things are irrevocable and further, that when you run your mouth too much, a two week notice turns into 2 minutes!

As I bring the Omnifax story to a close, I should also note that it was this same turmoil, the seeming chaos I lived in then, that also helped me understand the ‘hole’ I mentioned earlier.

That hole, was the place my Dad used to ‘fill up’, when he died I remember feeling that hole open up but sort of forgot about the source until it began to nag at me. Once I identified it, I spent a long time ‘soul’ searching for the reason I felt so empty inside, along with this ‘directionless’ feeling that seemed to go everywhere I went.

I know some of you are thinking, damn, he sure got a lot done, was blessed, or finding some other adjective to describe what was going on in my career… the stone truth is, I had no clue, no plan, I felt like a leaf in the wind most days.

As I prepared to leave Omnifax, and had one of those “I should call Dad” kind of thoughts, when it all hit me like a brick. I’d been living my life, up to and including that very instant, with but one purpose, to hear my Dad say, to me, just once, that he was proud of something, anything, I’d accomplished.

He died before he ever did, that he never did still causes me to get emotional, even when just typing it as I am now my eyes will blur up with tears. The sad truth is, I do know he was proud of me. At his funeral his friends all told me how he used to ‘brag on me’ to them, and they all knew most every detail of my “accomplishments”. Later, in discussions with my siblings, we’ve all shared that Dad would tell us, individually, about the accomplishments of the others, but never tell us directly.

I’m glad I figured that out, and that it didn’t take years of therapy… But, I’d give up virtually everything I’ve done, to have just heard those words “I’m proud of you son” just once, from his lips.

The realization however, really changed my views on many things. Most importantly, now I had an even tougher audience, myself. Instead of working towards some elusive, unobtainable target, I now had immediate feedback from “me”… Trust me, being proud of myself (pride being one of the seven deadly sins and all) was (and is) a much tougher goal than ‘hoping’ someone else would be proud of me,

The lesson here, if there is one, is that, if you’re proud of a loved one, tell them. Tell them sooner, rather than later, you may not get a later. They however will get to live a lifetime with, or without, the memory of your sweet words.

APA-land is next!!

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Jada's Gigi said...

Wow, the journeys we take and the decisions we make...we never know how they are all going to play out, do we? :) Enjoying the read...

jenbeauty said...

very good sentiments Bill, thank you.

Firehawk said...


A heck of a story. I think it's hard to hit a balance of being too satisfied, and impossible to satisfy. If you're too easily impressed, you tend to get very lax and don't accomplish anything of note. If you're so attached to the idea of things being "perfect" before you're happy with them, then you end up causing yourself a great deal of misery. You end up taking a lot of "good times" and nitpicking them to death.

My dad always said that you can't trust anyone when it comes to money or (women). Friends will screw you over, family might let you down, so it's always better to get it in writing.

I've seen enough times when "handshake deals" fell through that I don't really trust them, myself. Sad, but true. I guess you have to get bitten a few times before you get that cynical, though.

Again, good story, and I look forward to reading the rest.

Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...

GREAT read, Bill!

Looking forward to future chapters . . . :-)


Bill said...

Cheryl - No we don't, we roll the dice and take our chances I think!

Jen - Thanks, I'm glad they rang true to you.

Firehawk - I don't know what triggered me writing all of this up... but my career theme is "what a long strange trip it's been"

Happiness, I've found, is fleeting if you focus on perfect, or yesterday.

I feel fortunate that far more of my "handshake" deals have worked out, than not... the ones that crashed though were pretty painful financially!!

Liz - Thanks!!

Thank you all for the comments, and for letting me know you're enjoying this trip through my career path... the road ahead remains twisty, and uncertain... but it's been fun too!!

Lorna said...

I'm a handshake person too, and a few times I've been taken, but I still like the idea of being a trusting person. Most of the time it pays off double.

How lucky you were to come to the knowledge about your dad on your own. Sometimes we have to listen in unusual ways to hear what people are trying to tell us.

Bill said...

Lorna - I agree, when a handshake deal works out, usually the rewards are much higher!

I'm glad I figured that out as well.. It helped me frame things in conversation with a couple of my siblings years later... and helped us all heal a little I think.

One thing I didn't mention was that none of us felt that this was something he did intentionally... but rather that it was easier for him, emotionally, to talk about the kid(s) he wasn't talking to.

Karyn Lyndon said...

I really enjoyed your story...and parent stories always make me teary-eyed.

Bill said...

Karyn - Thanks, I'm glad you're enjoying it...and...writing parent segments always makes me teary-eyed as well!!

Comfort Addict said...

Great story, Bill (parts 1 and 2). You should write a book on your days in the business. You've done more in your professional life than 5 IT people combined.

I definitely know what you mean when you talk about having a hole. I often get into stretches where I work very hard. At the end, I've accomplished a lot but come up with an empty feeling. Sometimes, I think that this is because I have my life out of proportion; other times, I just feel overworked; still other times, I don't feel appreciated. As I near 50, I've begun to realize that the job isn't so important that I have to kill myself over it. This is a hard lesson for me, one I battle with nearly every day, but I think that I will learn it.

Bill said...

CA - Your the second person, today, to suggest that... I have to admit, just writing up these highlights of the first 5 or 6 years has been a lot of fun... I may take your advice... might even pick your brain a bit if I do!

My ex-wife, mentioned once that she thought I was unable to enjoy my achievements... I argued that there was just so much more to do...

In the end (especially as I get into my mid-50's) I think she was right... and that you've got a handle on the real problem... balance.

The job, as important as it seems at times, is after all, just a job... the other aspects of our lives are equally important!