Friday, April 14, 2006

A Surprising Phone Call. . .

Yesterday afternoon as I was wrapping up my coding efforts for the day my cell phone rang, actually it vibrated as I don’t answer it when I’m on the clock.

So, as is normal for me, I started checking the voicemail as I headed for the car and the commute home.

Mostly, as usual, the voicemail(s) were either Headhunters, Investment sales calls etc., but one stood out. It was from Liz Goguen, she was calling, after having done a little research, to see if I’d at sometime, known her husband.

Two things struck me about the call. First, her name was Liz, Liz was not the name of the woman Bruce had been married to when I’d known him. Second, she was Bruce’s wife, calling me, and I’d, only a day or two previous been wondering how he was doing.

I called her back immediately.

We had a nice chat. She and Bruce are living in Michigan, he’s got a video production business, and is having a birthday on Sunday.. his 60th!

It turns out; she was hoping to get some statements, from folks from his past to share with him during the party she’s planning.

I’ve mentioned Bruce, mostly in passing, in previous posts (which is how she found me).

I don’t recall ever talking about Bruce in particular.

Bruce was (is) a very interesting guy. Incredibly smart, with a lot of vision, good entrepreneurial skills, and maybe most of all he’s a man with boundless energy for anything he’s passionate about. That’s how I remember him, and his wife confirmed he really hasn’t changed that much.

Take the way we met for instance. I’d gone to see Bruce, I thought, to spec a project, in less than 20 minutes, he’d decided I was someone he felt had skills and he told me he wanted to buy my company.

No long ‘discovery’ period, just his gut instinct and his belief in his judgment.

He did buy my company, and for a couple of years things went well, the business was growing. Bruce did everything he’d promised, within any reasonable measure. He funded our growth, encouraged me to hire people before we had the cash flow to support them, confident in both my, and his, ability to find the work.

We found the work, and things were just rolling along, improving day by day. Until that day in January of 1991 when the first Gulf war started, that event spelled the end of our ‘merged’ relationship, but not the end of our relationship.

Bruce was a self made man. His core business was making ‘Air Wound RF Coils’. The way I understood it, prior to Bruce starting his business to automate the process, the coils were made primarily by hand. He purchased some machines that were originally designed to make springs, and along with some folks he hired, converted them to make these coils.

They were tiny, and sold for fractions of a penny each, but Bruce was making, and selling, millions of them, a month!

Originally, when you purchased cable TV, they ‘filtered’ the signal, at the pole, using these RF coils. The company (or one of them) that made the filtering devices, was Eagle Comtronics in Syracuse. Bruce met the folks from Eagle when he was a salesman for TecTronics. In meeting with, and getting to know those folks, he discovered their need for the coils, and their problems with supply.

Now most folks would have been content to sell them equipment. Not Bruce, he saw an opportunity (the vision thing) and set about to find a way to fill it, and make a little money along the way.

Initially he had a small ‘cottage industry’, where, like others in the business, he had folks winding the coils by hand. Eagle’s needs though, were far behind his ability to find people to meet it. So he began looking for a more automated solution (vision again). That no one had done it before didn’t stop him from believing he could do it.

He did, and became a prime supplier, to not only Eagle, but to may other firms with similar needs. Goguen Industries was born, it started to make money, and along the way, he became fairly ‘well to do’.

The money never impressed Bruce though. He was a very down to earth kind of guy. He enjoyed the money, don’t get me wrong, but he enjoyed it not because of the ‘money’ but because of what it made possible. He had regular company outings… taking everyone for a dinner cruises, picnics and so on, there was a real sense of family within the business.

Bruce also recognized that the RF coil needs of the industry had a limited life span that eventually digital electronics would replace those little coils (and they did).

So he attempted to diversify the business. He bought, or started up several divisions, a mill shop, custom hose division, an electronics assembly division, a Mexican operation, as well as my company the “Micro Applications” division. Some of these operations had anything to do with his ‘core’ business, unlike may folks who would stay close to their initial success, he chose a different path, planning that through diversity he’d find stability and continued growth. The electronic assembly operations, built specialty components that involved the RF coils though, and as such were a natural vertical integration.

I recall his unfailing confidence in his ability to make each and everyone of these ventures succeed. He never got discouraged, just kept at it. Unfortunately for Bruce the three unrelated ventures I’ve mentioned were all closed. It wasn’t for a lack of effort or talents, for most, like my division, it was simply a matter of timing. When the market slowed in the coil division and the cash flow dried up, like any other good businessman, he had to make hard choices. He chose to save the core operation, and cut each of the unrelated divisions loose.

I think it hurt him, at least as much as it did us. Bruce hated to lose, at anything, and he sincerely liked all the people who worked with him, letting any of us go was like letting go of a part of his family.

I lost touch with Bruce after I moved to North Carolina and he’d moved to Arizona. In talking with his wife yesterday I discovered that this second Gulf war had a similar effect on his business, and this time the effect was too much and they had to close and sell off the entire operation, buildings and all.

I was saddened to hear that, but, she followed right up by saying he’d started a video production company and while it wasn’t making the “kind of profits he’d like to see” it was doing well and growing.

Her statement made me smile as Bruce was also never satisfied with the ‘business’, he worked hard, every single day, to make each and every area of the business better than it had been the day before.

So my friends, Bruce is another one of those people in my life who had a very positive impact on me. He showed me that hard work and determination does work. That any setbacks do not take away from what you’ve achieved, they’re simply new challenges. I saw through him that it’s not simply reaching the dream that’s important, that, the path there, and what you with it once you’re there, are at least equally, if not more, important!

So Bruce, I’m very glad Liz called me! I’m pleased to know that you haven’t changed, that life is something you continue to enjoy each day. I’m happy for you that you have a woman, like Liz, in your life that loves you and is looking for ways to make you smile.

It would make me even happier to hear from you after all these years, and to catch up with one another again.

Happy Birthday Bruce!! Remember, it’s not the calendar age that’s important… it’s the age of that little kid in you that’s important!!

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8 comments:

Comfort Addict said...

Great story, Bill. We always have to remember that hard work and seeing the possibilities can do wonders.

Bill said...

CA - Thanks man... every time one of these folks from the past resurfaces, I find myself reminded of how knowing them did change my life... it's all good, even the times I thought were tough!!

Lorna said...

that's what I love about the internet; catching up with people is easier. I know there's a downside to that, but like Scarlett O'Hara, I'm going to think aobut that tomorrow

Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...

Wonderful story, Bill, as always. I hope you and your old friend can start up conversations and get caught up!

Internet has helped a lot of people get in touch with long-lost friends. I helped my Dad get in touch with an old air force buddy that he had not had contact with for over 40 years, and was able to help my Mom's cousin track down her best friend from high school after losing touch with her for 50 years.

Yes, Internet has a down side, but it all depends on how it's used.

Bill said...

Lorna and Liz - The internet is a wild, yet wonderful place, isn't it?

I've not had as much luck locating old friends, as they've had finding me... regardless, it's the internet that made many of those contacts possible.

Everything can be good, or bad, it's the nature of things. It is indeed the application, or use, that determines how it's seen.

For all its bad press, I still think we're far better off with the internet, than without it!!

Firehawk said...

Bill,

Another good post. I've been on vacation, and so I'm a bit behind. I'll come back and try to comment on all of them, if the time hasn't already passed me by.

Sounds like Bruce was, and is, quite a go-getter. There's a lesson in his ability to keep trying new things, even though he's had downturns in the past and had to try a different course.

jodi said...

Hi Bill - I used to work with you at Goguen's. Just browsing the net and came across your "Madmen" stories - brought back a lot of memories about that place. It sounds like things are going well for you.

Bill said...

Hi Jodi! It's great to hear from you! How are things with you? Do you ever see any of the old 'crew' from Goguen?

Drop me an email if you get a chance I'd love to hear how you're doing!

Remember Ken Sheldon? He's here in NC and I see him pretty often, Mark Montgomery is in NC too but about 3 hours or so from me... we did go offshore fishing together last summer though!

Thanks for letting me know you stopped by!!