Table of Contents
Table of Contents
It is a long read. Take a break at any time. Remember chapter number. Return later, clicking on the appropriate link above to get back to where you stopped reading previously.
1. In the beginning
My mother’s advice to me while growing up was to get a job, stay with the company until retirement, and enjoy the benefits of a pension. It was my father’s course of action. He spent 40 years with Mobil Oil and retired with a pension and medical aid policy. Dad continued to receive this benefit after Mobil withdrew from South Africa due to its apartheid policies and sold its assets to mining giant Gencor in 1989. Today Mobil petrol/gas outlets in South Africa are branded as Engen. Mom and Dad soon realized that they could not live on his pension and started a knitting business from home using their fancy electrically operated machines.
2. Moving from place to place
Linda, my wife, has said multiple times that I should have listened to my mother. Linda’s brother spent his life in one city, living in three homes, with a brief 4-month stay in Florida, USA. Her sister lived in two towns and two houses. My oldest sister lived in 2 cities and three places, while my youngest sister in business with her husband lived in two cities, with three houses, and lived on two different farms. At the other end of the spectrum, over time, we lived in Cape Town on two separate occasions, Johannesburg twice, Pietersburg/(Polokwane) once, and Waukesha County, Wisconsin, in 5 locations. We lived in two countries, owned six homes, and resided in eight rental apartments. It entailed relocating fourteen times!
3. Bottom Line
The net result Linda believes is that in retirement, we might be destitute. Linda will quickly add that during 48 years of marriage, we purchased and leased at least thirty off-the-showroom floor vehicles. During my youth in South Africa, I read in an Automobile Association Magazine that you never buy your spouse a clunker to drive your precious children around. Linda got to enjoy that new car smell multiple times. These days Linda chauffeurs our four granddaughters, two at a time. The reality is that we are not destitute, just looking forward to lots of fun times in retirement.
4. Language Options
As you read, you will see that I duplicate some terms, sometimes separated with a slash (/), and other times bracketed, one for an American audience, the other for a South African or international reader.
5. Summary of Work History
I have worked for five decades. During that time, 11 companies employed me, and I had three businesses—one in South Africa and two in America. Of the eleven companies as an employee, I served for four months at one and eight months at each of two others. Here I share the lessons and anecdotes of those experiences. For 29 years, I ran my business, the balance, 21 years working for different bosses.
6. Competent and Incompetent
In summary, by reviewing companies I worked for and those I consulted with I have been disappointed where the greed for money has led owners or management to compromise ethics, in contrast to situations where integrity reigned supreme. I have been alarmed by weak executive management leadership based on incompetence versus extraordinarily successful companies with enthusiastically motivated, goal-oriented senior management, driving a team with well-defined goals, direction, and purpose. Family-run businesses can pose unique challenges. Sometimes the owner is insecure and refuses to appoint capable people to critical positions, resulting in less-than-optimal operating performance and financial results. Then too, working with or consulting with companies large and small with poorly defined measurement and reward systems results in the worst possible outcome for the organization.
7. Breadth of Experience
To put my assertions in perspective. I have been fortunate to engage with more than 300 client companies in North America, Southern Africa, and Western Europe while running my business. I had close business relationships with two Indian software companies, including visiting Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), India. Where I found the culture and ethics untenable or found complete management incompetence, I moved on. That includes situations where the owners broke written agreements and found no problem with blatant lies. My consulting fee will never motivate me to keep invoicing a company for services rendered if I cannot ensure a successful implementation. Similarly, I do not want to earn a salary if I see my employer acting immorally or dishonestly. This situation has occurred with companies that I worked for, software companies that I represented, or consulting assignments that I knew would not have a successful conclusion.
8. Trial by Fire
To amplify a positive development: I have exposed myself repeatedly to many diverse situations that allowed me to grow as a person. Naturally, I will not list every failure or that may take a long time to document and read. But let me illustrate one situation. I studied engineering at UCT (University of Cape Town). The coursework excluded studies in the humanities or finance. During my first business in South Africa, I presented material to a broad audience, all employees from the same government-run organization. At question time, they asked about the finer points of how the software application would cater to and support information relating to Work in Process/Progress (WIP), including materials, labor, and overhead costs at various stages of production. Picture me standing in front of a hundred people and not sure how to respond with a credible response that I felt comfortable expanding on. Within days I enrolled in a business management course where I studied finance and management accounting, business law, human relations, etc. I never tripped up again. In my career, I have taken many courses covering computer technical and personal development.
I will not name individuals or companies unless I wish to honor colleagues and clients to protect the guilty. I will recount information in employment chronological order, beginning with my first position with Mobil Oil (now ExxonMobil) in Cape Town. I should hasten to add that I do not believe I was easy to manage. I set exceedingly high ethical and professional standards for myself and expected the same from people I worked for or with. That became a key motivation to start my business. I have a lifelong drive where I wake up in the morning, motivated to get to work. Suppose I did not feel that passion for a work situation I was involved in, I moved on. Life is too short to be miserable in a job. I never believed that I alone could change politics in government or any organization, but I could control my destiny.
10. Gig Economy
The current thinking in the US is that the number of people in the “gig economy” will grow to 40% by 2020. Corporations save on benefits, office space, and training in this environment and get qualified skilled resources to perform clearly defined tasks from their own, usually home, location. We called it consulting in the “good old days,” but we must create innovative marketing terminology like everything else in life. Essential to the gig economy are people with specialized skills who work from home backed up with a computer, cell phone, and internet, and travel anywhere worldwide. A qualified skillset is required to support a corporate client’s needs. Networking with others with complementary skills is an advantage. I am an example of a gig economy and have been working for half my career. It is especially great for experienced Baby Boomers looking for part-time work or the desire to dress casually every day with a truly short commute to their home office from the bedroom.
What have I experienced over five decades? I acquired detailed workings of retail, wholesale, distribution, and manufacturing businesses. My expertise covered supply chain management. It embraced customers, suppliers, marketing, sales, and company operations. In recent years, retailers, wholesalers, or distributors could be brick and mortar, mail orders in earlier times, or internet sales. I can advise on planning and managing all aspects of omnichannel, where and how to control the replenishment of merchandise, especially regarding inventory management (stock control), emphasizing ensuring available inventory with extremely high stock turns and improved profitability for the organization.
I focus on inventory forecasting and replenishment, with a very watchful eye to ensure maximum customer service through on-time delivery, matching promised delivery dates, top-line sales increases, and bottom-line profitability. It is critically important to clarify that these productivity improvements required practical software tools, always after re-engineering the business process with automation. It could only be successful with prerequisite executive and middle management education, training, project management, and consulting services.
The critical challenge is to optimize a plan focusing on bottleneck work centers or operations to minimize work-in-process (WIP) and maximize flow to increase on-time delivery to customers in the shortest lead time possible. With manufacturing enterprises, I worked with make-to-stock (MTS), make-to-order (MTO), assemble-to-order (ATO), engineer-to-order (ETO), and other product variations or combinations of strategies. The production enterprises covered all pharmaceutical, medical devices, chemical, automotive, automotive components, capital equipment, and about any batch, process, or flow production that you can imagine.
My role included education, training, consulting, process re-engineering, project management, and all duties to help a company improve its overall operating performance. Collaboration with a client’s sales personnel, management from all the operational disciplines, customers and suppliers, and subcontractors, where applicable, is critical. Many companies’ structures are in silos and never appear to communicate with one another.
To illustrate, allow me to share an experience with a pharmaceutical company. One product line was highly seasonal flu medication. When marketing looked back at the previous year’s sales, they saw dismal results, so they increased the advertising budget. Sales saw the same history and set out a BOGO (buy one, get one) 50% off promotion. These campaigns were successful. Nobody thought to tell operations that could not meet demand. They had not ratcheted up production while planning for the necessary increase in ingredients and packaging demand, nor did they have the required capacity already allocated to produce other products. The company wasted money, including lost opportunities for sales, and unnecessary promotional costs, and annoyed their customers in the process with missed deliveries.
12. High School
In my time at high school and university, I worked for Mobil during holiday time. The work, at times, was strenuous. The small pack depot in Woodstock (a suburb of Cape Town) held bulk tanks carrying thousands of gallons/liters of fuel, used to fill 55 (200 liters) and ten gallons (20 liters) drums and buckets. In the unlikely event of a tank rupture, they were built inside a bund wall, about 10 feet (3 meters) high, with the belief that if a tank sprang a leak, fuel would be dammed within the perimeter. The walls were whitewashed, and management decided to re-paint them with acrylic. My job was to scrape the whitewash off the walls. It defines difficult challenging work in the heat of the summer sun.
In succeeding years, I was sent to Mossel Bay (a coastal town 4-hour drive west of Cape Town) to work as a clerk to relieve a staff member taking a vacation. I worked at the Epping (a suburb of Cape Town) facility, where they managed LPG—Liquefied Petroleum Gas products. I worked at the bulk fuel depot in Cape Town harbor. Here a team went to the dockside to couple up hoses from ships carrying petroleum products to distribution pipes that transferred fuel to the bulk tanks in Mobil’s storage yard. Mobil supplied bunker fuel to fishing, cargo, and passenger ships from these same tanks and pipes. This facility is where trucks were filled to transport fuel to the service (petrol/gas) stations.
At times I would drive vehicles to transport pipes and personnel within the harbor area. I drove the large fuel rigs a short distance. A manager asked me if I had a heavy-duty driver’s license. The answer was no, and I quickly obtained the permit needed.
We had an extraordinary experience one day, my last working day before university while working at the Mobil harbor facility. That day was the opening of parliament in Cape Town, and some of the workers decided they would make this a very memorable day. The Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), formerly known as Poqo, was the military wing of the Pan Africanist Congress. A terrorist group, an African nationalist movement in South Africa. Members of Poqo, working for Mobil, chose to have a fireworks display. Fortunately, even with the experience of working at Mobil, they were unbelievably stupid.
The bulk storage tank, holding thousands of gallons of petroleum products, has a flange attached to it. An open and shut butterfly valve is attached to the flange, and a distribution pipe is attached to the valve. When not used to send or receive fuel, the valve is tightly closed and secured with a chain and padlock. During the night of mid-January 1964, the Poqo members removed the nuts on the flange to the distribution pipe side. To be effective, they should have taken the nuts off the flange against the tank. The net result is that a few gallons, 100 or so, spilled out of the distribution pipe. They set this alight, and the fire quickly fizzled out with no real damage but for blackened earth. A security guard saw the fire and called the police. We arrived at work in the morning with the place crawling with cops and a few frightened workers in handcuffs.
During my university years, I took a break from Mobil. I spent one vacation working for the South African Railways at their production and maintenance facility to learn how trains were built and maintained. There too, I learned the importance of taking salt pills and drinking gallons of water to survive the extreme heat inside the workshop.
After a four-year stint studying engineering at the University of Cape Town (UCT), I joined Mobil Oil at a branch office in the southern suburbs (Rondebosch) of Cape Town. One of my first duties in the transportation department was to transpose data from a monthly computer printout onto Kardex Cards. This report tracked maintenance expenses for each vehicle, especially the petroleum bulk trucks. While the petroleum delivery vehicles are in motion, the acceleration and braking cause the petroleum product in the tanks to swirl back and forth, resulting in stress on the trailer and mechanical horse. Tracking repair expenses is critical to ascertain the actual cost of transportation and determining a replacement date when maintenance costs predict the end of a vehicle’s useful operating life.
The computer printout listed the current month’s expenses, year-to-date, and life-to-date information. I was required to find the appropriate transportation equipment card in the Kardex Card tray, sort by the vehicle Equipment Number, and transcribe the data from the computer printout. It did not take long before I went to my boss to ask why this was needed. He explained that there might be an inquiry from the head office to find out what a particular vehicle was costing the company to operate. We would come across professionally by having the data at our fingertips with information written on those Kardex Cards. Then again, this is the way they always did it.
I told my manager that this activity was ridiculous. All he needed to do was save the most recent computer printout, and when that call came, find the pertinent details on the computer report. I refused to complete this task. The computer printouts became the new SOP—Standard Operating Procedure.
16. Mobil—Loaned Equipment Services
Without a helpful job in transportation, I was transferred to the Loaned Equipment Services department within the same branch office for a dream job. Mobil provided capital equipment, petrol/gas pump dispensers, and underground tanks to facilitate sales of Mobil products. My task was to create site drawings for the service stations reflecting where new underground storage tanks were to get installed, and where the fuel dispensers were to be located, submit plans to the city for approval, and secure a contractor to perform the task and supervise a successful project completion. It allowed me to be out of the office most days—what fun.
17. Ronald Cohen
A wealthy family lived in a prestigious suburb of Constantia in Cape Town with a mansion set well below the street level. They had a swimming pool with a sliding roof and required an underground tank to heat the pool and house during the short winter season. The challenge was that the pipe leading from the road where the truck had to park for decanting to the underground tank was long. How could we ensure that the tank would not overfill? We solved the problem. The details are not pertinent. I attended Rondebosch Boy’s High School. A few years later, the owner of this mansion, Ronald Cohen, 41 at the time, a property development millionaire and a Rondebosch Boy’s graduate gained notoriety when he murdered his wife Susan, 25, in their home with a statue after she admitted to an affair on April 5, 1970. Ronald was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, escaped the death sentence because of mitigating circumstances, was released on parole in September 1975, moved to London, and died at age 73 in January 2002 after a lengthy illness.
My dad worked at Mobil for 40 years. He joined when I was born and retired at 65. He ran into a corporate buzzsaw. The gas/petrol service stations have underground tanks storing petroleum products, including diesel and different grades of gasoline. To gain access to the refueling pipe, the bulk truck drivers had to open utility hole covers (manhole covers) on the driveway court and couple up the hoses before decanting them into the tanks from the delivery truck. My dad worked in operations and got frequent calls to replace the square or rectangular utility covers. On inspection, my dad noticed that when cars or trucks drove over these covers, the corners would break off, and the entire utility hole cover needed replacing. My dad spoke to the foundry suppliers and requested them to manufacture round covers.
The head office stipulated that all utility covers had to be square or rectangular, and no engineering drawings existed that permitted round covers. After a detailed review, the engineering department drew new plans for round utility hole covers. Over time the square and rectangular covers were replaced by these new round utility holes. For the record, circular utility hole covers cannot fall down the hole; rectangular covers can. Dad made this engineering change that saved the company a fortune in repair and replacement bills. My dad never received thanks for the savings generated or the initiative he took.
19. Dad’s Accident
One day my dad was called to a service station where a driver had dropped the dipstick, used to determine the fuel level in the tanks, down the pipe operated from the utility cover. A motorist driving a Land Rover came to see what dad was doing with his arm down the filler pipe, trying to retrieve the dipstick. The motorist returned to his vehicle and drove over dad. The car twisted my dad’s body, injured his arm still in the pipe, and caused a back injury that required many years of chiropractic treatment.
20. Mobil—Computer Department
During my studies at UCT, we learned computer programming. The bug bit. Understanding that this was the mid-sixties, programs had to be written on preformatted pages, punched onto eighty columns (and twelve rows) cards, and fed into the computer via its card reader. I was in no position to know that we had to make do since UCT did not have state-of-the-art technology. During my first year at Mobil in the branch office, I made a solid case to be transferred to the corporate office in downtown Cape Town to become a programmer in the computer department. I would be remiss if I did not admit that I was paid R160 (one hundred and sixty rands) per month in my branch office job and heard that all programmers earned R500 per month. My first increase in the computer department totaled R175/month. In fairness, over time, I made more than my dad, and eventually, more than my mom and dad combined. So it was an excellent transition for me.
21. February 15, 1969
I entered the computer industry on February 15, 1969, one year after joining Mobil. Most of Mobil’s software developers were still programming in Autocoder, a low-level assembler-type language for the older generation IBM 1401 computer. It was a punch card-based system that required sophisticated card sorting along with data processing. I was fortunate that my initial training was to learn the latest programming language, COBOL, for the newly installed IBM 360 model 30. (360 representing the third-generation computer for the 60s, providing a 360-degree perspective). COBOL is an acronym for “common business-oriented language,” a compiled English-like computer programming language designed for business use.
Before coding, the prerequisite requirement was to design and lay out the processing logic on sheets using a Program Flowchart Template. It created an assembly or executable program, which ran on the computer to perform the logical operating instructions. With clearly defined and precise sequenced logical steps, write the program on the preformatted document with each block to accommodate one character per square, ready to be key punched. Not to get too technical, the applications are compiled by the computer. It is necessary to stress that I was very accomplished in this application development role.
More than that, I enjoyed writing large and complex programs for sophisticated applications. My creative logic ability allowed me to develop large-scale programs that tested well before release, therefore not requiring many rewrites to resolve poor programming issues and stood up well to the test of time. Little did I know at the time that this interest and experience in data processing would stand me in good stead for five decades. During that fifty-year journey, the applications needed to be redeveloped frequently as the computer hardware and software became more sophisticated. It opened many opportunities to support management, requiring a rethink of utilizing automation to a higher degree and determining how to exploit the latest technology.
22. Fixed Asset Register
There was an incident that helped me earn praise. The 360 was primarily a tape-based computer where you had an input tape; the computer would do the required calculations and send results to the output tape drive. Later, DASD (Direct Access Storage Devices), a multilayer set of disks the size of long-playing records, could access data far quicker with its moving read-write heads and store calculated data significantly faster than a sequential tape system used for processing. Late one afternoon, the computer operators, yes, we had those back then, approached me to say the input tape for the Fixed Asset Register got overwritten. My challenge was to recreate that tape. Long story short, I worked through the night, writing programs, testing, and executing programs, and the application ran correctly by morning. It was that dedication that helped me to get the more challenging assignments at Mobil.
The first significant application I helped program was as a team member for PVS—Product Valuation and Stock Control. It was a sophisticated inventory control application where we processed data for Mobil operations in what was then South Africa, Mozambique, Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), Southwest Africa (Namibia), and Bechuanaland (Botswana). As products moved around the country and across international borders, inventory control tracking, currency calculations, and General Ledger entries were created, generated, documented, and precise. Ironically, that was the beginning of my career-long specialization in inventory (or stock) control systems.
Our 360 computer was so impressive that we held an annual open house. Here families could ogle at the magnificent machine requiring false floors and false ceilings to help circulate the air conditioning to keep the computer running at the ideal operating temperature. To think that I have more power today on my iPhone or iPad than we had with that computer. Isn’t the evolution of technology fascinating? Moore’s Law comes into play.
24. Moore’s Law
Moore’s law observes that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. The statement is named after Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel. His 1965 paper described a doubling every year in the number of components per integrated circuit and projected that this growth rate would continue for at least another decade. In 1975, looking forward to the next decade, he revised the forecast to double every 18 months because Intel executive David House predicted that chip performance would increase every 18 months (being a combination of the effect of more transistors and the transistors being faster).
I used the restroom one day. Eric Eales watched me as I stood at the urinal, washed my hands, and was ready to return to work. He said that he was puzzled. He wanted to know if my penis was dirty. I said no. Then he asked me why I did not wash my hands before using the urinal since my hands were dirty, and I did not want to infect my private parts. He opined that there was little reason to wash up after completion. My ritual today is to wash up before and after. I think of all those signs in restaurant bathrooms that remind personnel to wash before leaving the facility. It would be essential advice if you needed to be seated to answer a call of nature.
26. Wedding Present
Linda and I got married during my time at Mobil while working in the computer department. Naturally, we invited several colleagues to the wedding ceremony and reception. An accountant and his wife were among the attendees. We were delighted that they presented us with a tablecloth and serviette (napkin) set. Imagine our surprise when we unwrapped it to see that this was, in fact, a re-gifted present where they forgot to remove the card that wished them well for their wedding.
27. Robin Ormond
Robin Ormond and his wife Bev were good friends of ours. We invited them for dinner one weekend. When Robin arrived, he had to decline our meal because they had eaten before visiting us. He said that he did not realize that this was a dinner invitation. Robin was in his thirties when on the way to work by train from the southern suburbs. After arrival at the station in Cape Town, he had a heart attack and died instantly. He left behind a bereaved wife, young children, and very shocked colleagues.
Helen taught me a life lesson. Helen was responsible for processing the payroll system on IBM’s old 1401 and working as the multicycle card sorter. When Helen was not attending the payroll, she was a member of a contingent of about fifty keypunch card operators in the data recording pool. Helen did not appreciate seeing what everyone at Mobil earned, including executive management, as an entry-level clerk, a minimum-level income person. When people are responsible for performing confidential work, they need careful counseling to stay motivated and coached to understand that not every job or position earns the same salary as a keypunch operator.
29. Mohawk Data Recorder
A Mohawk Data Sciences Corporation salesperson presented their Data Recorder, a tape-based data capture unit, to the Mobil computer executives. The goal was to replace the card punch machines with this latest technology. A Mobil computer supervisor was assigned the task of performing a cost-benefit analysis. The result of his study was that it was impossible to justify replacing card punch machines with this new data recorder equipment. It was cost prohibitive. The computer executive manager instructed the supervisor to redo his study and prove that moving to the latest technology will significantly benefit Mobil. Mobil replaced those card punch machines. If you are smart, you can always make numbers do what is required. I have performed numerous cost justifications in my career, still being savvy about the end goal and preparing indisputable facts.
30. Manager Bill
I reported to a manager, Bill, who took a surprising liking to me and gave me the more challenging assignments. I learned later that he was a disillusioned dad. Bill had a son my age, who did not do well at school, lived life with a bad attitude, could not hold down a meaningful job, and was a big disappointment to his dad. Bill was a great boss to me and taught me so much. I worked for a time with another manager, a younger guy who was not interested in work. He had married a woman whose father was extremely wealthy, and he just had to hang around long enough for the father to die and have his wife provide him with a comfortable life from their inheritance. I cannot imagine what life must be like where you see no purpose but to wait for a presence of luxury sometime down the road. I know, too, that circumstances change. What if the father’s business went bankrupt and he lost his fortune?
When I was a young kid, about 5 or 6 years of age, a person in the neighborhood drove a motorcycle. He would see me on the road and ask if I wanted to ride with him. I never took that ride. My mother had near apoplexy when I told her, read me the riot act, and warned me about pedophiles.
While working at Mobil, and after Linda and I were married, Neville invited us to go for drives, including Linda and his mother. He drove a Valiant. But the rules were strict. Linda and his mother had to sit in the back seat. I had to be upfront with Neville. The experience was as freaky as it came, with Neville commenting on how beautiful my hands were and how gorgeous my eyes were, etc.
Back then, I had no understanding or knowledge of homosexuals. I was brought up in a very sheltered environment. That car ride took place once. The problem, however, is working with that type of creepy person in the office environment. And it is no different from a guy hitting on a female co-worker who is not seeking attention. For the record, I do have any problems with the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) community. My attitude is that the mother cannot control what she created in her uterus, straight or gay, so live and let live. Everyone gets my full support and love. We have a gay person within our family circle. Neville was too much.
32. Conference Leadership
It is hard to believe today, but I was an introverted person growing up due to my sheltered environment. Mobil provided me with a fantastic opportunity to help me break out of my shell. I attended a Conference Leadership training course. It was an intensive 5-day class where we learned how to guide a group discussion and how to present information. The presentations were videotaped and played back so that we could see where we needed to improve. For my final presentation, I discussed the death penalty and why I was against this form of cruelty.
Now living in the US, and seeing how many people are incarcerated for years, even decades, and often wrongly sentenced, sometimes because the police or public prosecutor had to find a scapegoat for a high-profile crime. It is more challenging when putting someone to death only to find that was a mistake. How do you get a “do-over” in that situation? I am quite comfortable addressing large audiences and have done so on numerous occasions at conferences.
33. Computer Bureau
My motivation for looking for another career opportunity outside of Mobil was to develop my understanding of how different computers functioned. What was specific to IBM versus ICL, Honeywell, Burroughs, or any other brand of computer hardware?
I joined a dozen-person computer bureau in Cape Town using a Burroughs B500 computer. They served client companies with their data processing needs. The B500 could stop working because of an application crash due to programming logic errors. The programmers could study their code, decide where their logic was faulty, and change the instructions on the computer console; press continues, so the task is completed correctly.
The bureau owners were two Charted Accountants (CPAs). They had both previously worked for IBM. While at IBM, they convinced one of the largest retail chains in South Africa to invest in IBM services explaining that IBM could take their information, load it into the computer, have the invoices processed seamlessly, and the checks (cheques) would come rolling in. Long story short, a few months after signing this deal with IBM, the retailer had to send out a letter of appeal to all their customers to say, “We have no idea what you owe us, please pay something.”
I got called one Friday morning by my boss and was introduced to a new client who needed an inventory control system. The owner of the manufacturing company explained his requirements. My boss announced with much fanfare that we would have the new system designed, written, tested, and operational by Monday morning. I spent the entire weekend at work and delivered the goods as promised. My boss was thrilled to death. After that, I walked out.
I only stayed at that company for eight months. This concept of over-promising and under-delivering was and still is foreign to me. Recall I was newly married with responsibilities and did not see why everything was so incredibly urgent.
34. Job Search and Cars
My next task was to find a job. An employment agency in Cape Town was advertising a software developer for a retail company in Johannesburg (or Joburg as is known to locals). This position requires extensive retail experience. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe the person I applied through was Mr. Worthington. As I sat across from him, he asked about my retail experience. I told him that I had none, but this was an industry that I wanted to serve. He was offended that I would even waste his time applying. I got the position.
Linda and I moved into a high-rise apartment on Juno Ridge in Kensington on the eastern outskirts of Joburg. As an aside, while employed at the retailer, I decided to purchase a new car. We bought a Triumph Chicane from a dealer on Eloff Street in the center of Joburg. It was located about four miles from the apartment. We drove home happy to have such a flashy car. By the time we reached our apartment, we called the dealer to send a tow truck to collect the vehicle because it was overheating.
That vehicle spent more time at the dealer in repairs than we had it on the road to drive. That said, we drove to my in-laws in Pietersburg, now Polokwane, about a 3-hour drive north of Joburg. Linda called home before our departure. When we arrived, my father-in-law wanted to know how we could get there so quickly.
In those days, there were no interstates or highways. We only had two-way, single-carriage lanes all the way north. The reality is that we were cruising at 100 mph (160 kph), slowing down for the small towns we passed through on the road. That Triumph could move when it was in excellent running order. We eventually traded the Triumph for a green BMW 518, purchased from a dealer in Pietersburg, by a friend of my father-in-law. The reality is that we tried to source a BMW from a dealer in the Joburg area and could not locate a vehicle. BMWs were assembled in South Africa and should not have been in such short supply, but they were in high demand.
I took a position with the Greatermans’ Group, a publicly traded company, a retailer consisting of department stores, and the Checkers grocery chain. My immediate boss was Alan Turkington, one of the best people managers. The computer manager’s first name was George. He was American and provided consulting services to the group. Executive Management was so impressed with George that they offered him the position to run the IT department. Greatermans used a British-based ICL computer. That did not matter to me since I was now more involved with designing systems, rather than programming them.
After a brief period, Alan was impressed enough with the work that I delivered that he assigned me to take on a project to install DataPoint mini-computers at each of the five regional offices for the Checkers chain. Each countrywide grocery store had provisions delivered directly to the store with a delivery note, while the invoice was sent to the regional offices. After manual verification of the transactions tying the delivery note to the invoice, the invoice went to the corporate office. Statements were sent directly to the corporation where confidential discounts were applied. Reports were cross-checked to the invoices.
Due to the problematic manual system in place, Checkers had to write off about a million rand each year, more than US$ 1 million, where they could not reconcile the numbers. Did the supplier deliver the merchandise or produce? If they did, was it the correct quantity and at the approved price? Was the information provided by the regional office valid? Back in those days, the rand was significantly more valuable than the US dollar due to very favorable exchange rates. Sadly today, it costs about R15.00 to purchase US$ 1.00. For that failure, credit goes to a corrupt South African government that funds its select cohorts from the state-run enterprises, including the revenue office.
The DataPoint computers used a programming language and database called Sunbelt. The database consisted of a series of flat files. These files had to be re-indexed and reorganized daily to restore the corrupted files. Putting this technology into perspective, data communication was achieved via a dial-up telephone call. Each regional office had to check that the head office was ready to receive data and send it via the telephone line by each party pressing send and receive buttons on the specialized data transmission telephones simultaneously. I was honored to develop one of the first distributed data processing systems in South Africa. Each regional office and corporation had DataPoint computer terminals and keyboards.
Data got keyed into the application that I developed. At the day’s end, data got transmitted to the head office. DataPoint computers were not used by American banks due to a lack of data integrity. Each string of data should have a redundant cyclical check digit to verify that what was sent is the same as what was received through a verification process. That was not part of Sunbelt’s system. Of greater importance, the new system for Checkers was significantly faster than the old manual paper system, errors got resolved faster, and the company was able to make significant cost savings. Ivan Sachar was an exceptionally smooth and competent salesman who sold the DataPoint system to Checkers. He wanted to hire me, but I declined.
38. Charge Cards and Whitey
Greatermans opened a new flagship department store in Joburg’s city center. As employees, we used charge cards that provided discounts reflected on the bill that arrived in the mail. Linda and I did our best to help make the store an opening success. To this day, we have not received the invoice. Did I say that working for the company I was not impressed with their systems? That is what George was hired to do—fix the mess.
I am not too sure how many times my father-in-law took my advice. His banker recommended that he buy shares in Greatermans. I pleaded with him to find a different investment avenue. You know that Greatermans is no longer in business. They closed in 1967 after 40 years of business. Checkers, a fast-moving consumer goods store, is a member of publicly traded Shoprite Holdings in South Africa, the largest food retailer in Africa. I was at high school with Dr. James Wellwood (Whitey) Basson, who was CEO of Shoprite Holdings from 1979 to 2016 and is now a non-executive Vice-Chairman.
39. IBM—Data Center
While working for Mobil, the one company I wanted to work for was IBM. There was a policy in place that disallowed people to move from an IBM customer directly to IBM. Once I decided that I had contributed what I could to Greatermans, I applied for a position with IBM with their South African corporate office in Joburg.
During my first year, I worked in the IBM data center, where IBM developed systems for clients, much like the work I did for that small bureau in Cape Town. I worked on a project for a magazine group. We got to a point where we needed to do extensive testing, and I had a representative from the magazine support me. We started the testing process early in the morning and worked late into the night. The gentleman I was working with was much older than me. At some point during the late evening, he appealed to me to stop. He was unbelievably tired and needed to go home. It stands out as a memory because it was the first, I received a request like that, and I did not have sufficient empathy to realize that he could not work at my youthful and enthusiastic pace or duration.
We had an IBM salesman attempt to sell bureau services to a prospect. The prospect paid a site visit to see our setup. The client was curious to know what would happen should our computers go down due to a power failure, and then he would not be able to get his job done on time. That will never happen, said the salesman, and took him into a room to see where the power backup was. A year or so later, there was a power failure, and the new client wanted to know why his job could not run. It was explained to him that we did not have a backup system and would have to wait until the power was back on. Rubbish, he said. I saw the backup equipment. The cunning salesman had shown the gullible prospect the air conditioning room — anything to close a sale. Buyer beware.
IBM was a company that had reveled in folk law. One legend was about Tom Watson, the CEO of IBM in the US-based Armonk, New York. Tom was going up the escalator with some of his senior managers when a salesperson was coming down on the other side. The managers wanted to know from Tom if he was going to fire the guy because he messed up a significant sale. Tom said he would not do it. That salesperson, said Tom, was the most experienced and valuable salesperson they had on the team. The mistake the salesperson made could not be addressed through education.
I had a bitter experience that taught me so much about the evils of apartheid and racism in South Africa, and how the education for blacks was substandard. I was asked to train a black man to write programs. Norbert held a bachelor’s degree in commerce from a prestigious university in South Africa. After months of struggle, we both agreed that my training was not working. It was a cultural situation in that Norbert was incapable of thinking in theoretical or intangible terms. If a condition were black and white (no pun intended), and something that he could see or touch, he was as smart as the next person. However, if it was in the abstract, as computer programming is, it was beyond his comprehension.
To amplify this story, a few years later, I met a university professor in Pietersburg, my in-laws’ town. He taught geography at a black-majority university—The University of the North (today the University of Limpopo). Knowing that most people, including blacks, do not have the opportunity to travel, I questioned him about how his students coped. He told me a story to emphasize a point.
He told of a final-year student who had to author a dissertation about the continental shelf. The professor said it was a fantastic paper laying out data about the available nutrients and how they could be used to harvest crops. He said the ending spoiled the entire work because the student wrote that the challenge was that the continental shelf was so steep (the continental slope) that the tractors could not manage to navigate the steep slopes. Here was a student who had never seen the sea and had no concept about the size of oceans.
As my wife tells the story, when her baby brother first saw the sea, he was concerned that someone would pull the (bath) plug and let all the water out!
After a year in the data center at IBM, I transferred to the Finance Department. This department supported the financial sector clients, including banks, building societies, and the stock exchange. I will not disclose my boss, George’s surname. I was now part of a team supporting the most significant banking organization in South Africa. (I still have a bank account with them today). Their offices are located a short walk from IBM’s corporate office. At some point, I was asked to meet with Jack Clark, the Managing Director of IBM South Africa. I asked my manager, how do I address Mr. Clark? He told me to call him Jack with a capital “J.” In other words, speak to him with respect for his stature in the company. It was not required at IBM to call anyone using Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Miss. Everyone was on first-name terms.
42. British Status
I consulted with a British-based company in South Africa. I had the audacity to address the manager by his first name. He responded, “Do we know you?” With this corporate culture, the size of your office, carpet, and desk identified the status within the company. The correct etiquette was to use the appropriate mister title!
43. IBM Training
IBM had a liberal policy. If you did not receive at least three weeks of training per year, your manager had to explain why this situation occurred. The training was a mix of personal development and technical training. I recall how we were instructed to make detailed plans in preparation for every meeting, especially with prospects or clients. We had to take time to write down the goal of the meeting, and what we would consider to be a successful outcome. It was supported by written questions that would be asked of our client to help ensure the result of our goal. In other words, think through what essential points need discussion. Work off your list at the meeting.
With all this helpful insight, I met with a manager at the bank. My goal was to assess the possibility of the bank moving toward distributed processing in their regional offices. In effect, this would call for IBM to install mini-computers in these remote centers. I recall my experience at Checkers, where I achieved success with similar technology. By the time I returned to the office, my boss called me in to say that this manager had called him to say that I wasted his time with a meeting in which he had no interest. So much for my training.
To make matters worse, the manager I met with at the bank was a pastor who needed to take a full-time position because his church had failed to provide the income, he needed to support his family. I was not impressed that he saw fit to report me to my boss, while at the meeting he said nothing to me about his lack of interest in the topic, even if he had accountability for the regional offices. Some people taught me how not to manage interpersonal relationships. What an idiot, what an appalling example of humanity.
44. IBM 3800 Printing Subsystem
My boss George had a goal. I was to undertake a detailed study to help him achieve his objective. IBM had announced the IBM 3800 Printing Subsystem. At that time, most companies used IBM 1403-line printers capable of printing 600 lines per minute. The 3800 was a significantly faster laser printer able to produce between 10,000 and 20,000 lines per inch depending on density. IBM provided significant supporting sales literature to help justify a sale. The first requirement was that the client company had to use at least ten 1403 printers to justify an upgrade. The second possible justification could be the result of a printing bottleneck at some point during the day.
So ever-enthusiastic John decided to camp out in the bank’s computer room for 24 hours and take 1403-meter readings every 15 minutes to understand the utilization of the impact printers. There were two significant developments related to this project. The computer center manager told me that the bank would never replace all the impact printers with a single laser printer. Plus, the fact that they did not have ten impact printers. What if that laser printer failed at a critical time? The bank would need justification for at least two laser printers. The second fact is that after 24 hours in the computer room, I did not witness a bottleneck having chosen to perform my study at month-end when printing would be at a peak. My boss was not happy. I could not justify a single 3800, never mind two of them. I pleaded with him to change his goal and push to sell several of the IBM minicomputers but to no avail.
45. IBM Sales Plan
IBM did have one wise policy. If, as a salesperson, you did not have a particular device identified in your sales plan, and you closed a sale for this item, the salesperson could not earn a commission for the order. The thinking was that if operations could not plan to produce a product, identified in the sales plan, getting a “bluebird” sale would mess up the production build plan. On the other hand, if you had something like the IBM 3800 Printing Subsystem in your sales plan, and did not get the sale, you were not a popular person. IBM was great at sending successful sales personnel to a 100% club, a sales recognition vacation spot to enjoy the comradery with other high achievers.
46. IBM Confidentiality
There was an event at IBM that had me bursting with enthusiasm. We had an informational session at the 5-star Carlton Hotel at a breakfast meeting. Jack Clark addressed the group and explained that IBM South Africa was experiencing a cash flow shortage. He pleaded with everyone to go out and sell the product for cash, versus closing sales on leasing terms. They were after a cash injection. Working in finance, we had the option to meet this requirement. It was the first time in my short working career that I had been privileged to hear confidential information. To that date, no confidential company information was shared with minions like me. I felt so proud to be part of the organization that day and pledged to do my bit to help the company.
There was a shocking surprise that I experienced while doing my due diligence in the bank’s basement, looking at printers, and taking readings. I saw a lady with large breasts. That would not have been so surprising, but I then saw another, and another, and another. Aside from taking readings, I started studying the women working there and their breast sizes. In all sincerity, I did not see a single lady bearing what I would have considered an average breast size. As is frequent in a business situation, you befriend people that you can talk to privately. I asked one of the supervisors to explain to me if what I had witnessed was real or if it was my youthful imagination. Oh, it was real, all right. They have a Human Resource Manager whose only qualification for a woman to work there is if she was well endowed. I am quite sure if this happened in the US today, that would be a valid reason for a discrimination lawsuit. Small-breasted women are not welcome!
48. IBM Cult
IBM was a company that behaved like a cult. One executive drove an Alfa Romeo. And all those that wanted to see a promotion in the near term went out and bought an Alfa. Not me. I drove a General Motors Opel, built in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Most would wear similar brand suits and bright shirt colors to emulate this executive. As a maverick, there was no way that I was going to follow the herd.
49. IBM Resignation
I worked with two senior salespeople on this bank account. We all resigned on the same day. IBM conducted exit interviews, and the result was that our boss, George, who had a very successful sales career before being appointed sales manager, was moved to the training department, in the hopes that he would resign and go away quietly. I was not the only one who suffered through his disappointment in not getting the unrealistic laser printer sale; the other team members had also received ridiculous goals to promote what the bank did not need or want.
My father-in-law had a retail store in Pietersburg (now Polokwane), a 3-hour drive north of Joburg. I decided to take a position in a successful family business. The shop sold menswear, school clothing, sporting equipment, and firearms. I gravitated to the sports department and decided to use my skills to increase sales. There were some 1,200 schools in the province of the Northern Transvaal. Mostly these were black schools, and the majority offered their students the chance to participate in a selection of sports. Field, track, and football (soccer) were the most popular.
I created a mail-order catalog and mailed it to all the schools together with an order form to fill out and return with a cheque/check. A delivery driver, who worked for the shop, delivered the merchandise across the extensive territory. Here again, I learned a sad lesson about apartheid in South Africa. The driver, a black man capable of communicating with the school principals in their language, in some instances, had to collect a check if one was missing from the order. Appreciate that South Africa has eleven official languages, including English and Afrikaans. The others: are Zulu, Tsonga, Swati, Ndebele, Xhosa, Venda, Tswana, Northern Sotho, and Southern Sotho. The reality was that some principals did not have a clue how to write a check, and that was an additional service the driver had to provide. Our sporting goods sales increased through this initiative.
My father-in-law had an opportunity to purchase a large consignment of Rossi revolvers made in Brazil. The initial shipment was for one hundred 38 specials. It would have represented an opportunity to generate a high markup on the consignment of inexpensive guns. No sooner had the order been placed than we discovered that firearms sold in South Africa had to have the SABS (South African Bureau of Standards) symbol on each gun. The guns needed testing. If one from the batch blew up, the entire shipment would be condemned. What to do?
Each revolver held five bullets. One hundred guns implied a need for five hundred rounds. Cartridges are not cheap, so how to economize? The first task was to fire each weapon, firing all five shots in the revolver’s chamber. If the gun exploded in your hand, that would be the end of the test. Assuming all passed the initial inspection, ship the revolvers off to the SABS and let them experiment and add the required symbol. What to do about the bullets?
I took a box of 20 rounds, plus a shell reloading device, went to the gun range, fired off four guns, returned to the shop to clean the weapons, and reloaded the ammunition, then repeated the process until all guns got tested. All the guns were approved, but it was a late lesson in government regulations.
In apartheid South Africa, under the white government, there were very few high-ranking blacks who could own a gun, so sales were to whites. I bought myself a Belgium-based FN (Fabrique Nationale de Herstel) 9 mm Parabellum pistol, a 38 special revolver, and a point 22 pistol. When we moved to the US in 1986, we were not allowed to bring wine or guns. I was more than happy to get rid of my arms. Having owned guns, hunted birds and small game, and partaken in combat firearm sports, is what makes me now an anti-gun guy in the US.
Possessing a firearm is nuts! Three percent of Americans own 50% of the weapons in the US. With the daily killings, we can agree that there are far too many guns in existence in the US. We should follow what Australia did and buy back all the guns.
52. Cape Town Calling
My stay in Pietersburg was short. It lasted eight months. Although I believe that I had proved my worth, the computer industry was calling. Cape Town is 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) from Pietersburg, and I secured a job there through a high school friend of mine, Donald Gray. Don ran a computer personnel and recruitment placement company, CPL (Computer Personnel, Ltd). More about CPL later. Don had a business relationship with a computer organization in Cape Town, and it sounded like it could be a good fit for me to work there. Linda and I trekked south, and it was great being in the Mother City again. I reported to a manager Peter who was older than me, and a product of Rondebosch Boys School which we both attended, as did Don Gray.
53. Australian Software Package
The company shall remain nameless for multiple reasons. It was a subsidiary of a holding company. They operated a computer bureau doing work for client companies in and around Cape Town. I was given the task of learning, selling, and implementing an inventory/stock control application for which Peter had obtained the rights. It was the creation of a company based in Australia. Peter was a member of the Lions Club and attended meetings with the son of the owner of a major soft drink bottler.
We all agreed that the Aussie application would be a perfect solution for this bottler. The son was prepared to invest, but he was cautious because it was evident that I had not received the training I needed to be useful in support of the application. With Australia being several time zones away, we did not always receive the rapid response to questions I needed to address. What to do?
I told Peter that the sale hinged on my getting practical training before closing the deal with the bottler. We were in a high-rise office in Cape Town. There was a travel agent at the street level. Peter told me to purchase a return ticket to Sydney, show the son at the bottler, and bring the signed purchase order to him. With the signed purchase order in hand, Peter instructed me to return to the travel agent and cancel my trip to Australia. My job entitled me to drive a company car. I left the office, drove home to my distraught wife, called my boss, and told him that when I received my full salary, I would return the company vehicle.
This section promises to be R-rated. Peter appeared on the back page of the South African Sunday Times, not a place where you would like to be seen. He was in bed with someone else’s wife one day when the woman’s ten-year-old daughter walked in on the fun. The daughter informed Mom that she was going to tell Dad. The case got thrown out of court because a child’s evidence was not admissible in court as she was too young to testify. But it gets worse.
The Managing Director of this company, Bob, would hire a secretary, take her to bed, and fire her after he tired of her. It was a pattern that repeated itself every few months. Bob hired a 25-year-old secretary, the product of an exclusive girls’ school in Cape Town. She was recently divorced from an abusive husband. She could not take the advances from Bob. She left unscathed six weeks after joining the company, and after crying on my shoulder to share her pain from the unwarranted attention. We had social events where we met Bob’s wife. How could she not know what was going on? On one occasion, the management team and spouses had dinner at a restaurant. Bob was next to his wife. On the opposite side of the table was a young developer with his particularly attractive blond wife. Bob was making a sexual play for her in a public setting. Does it get more despicable than that?
The company had a telephone system featuring a light for each extension. If it was glowing, the line would be busy. Here the operator could take calls and transfer them if the party was available. We all knew that one of the senior married managers, Gladwin, was having an affair with a married woman in the office. We would periodically check the switchboard to see if both their lights were on and know that one more time they were involved in long romantic conversations.
We were on an elevated floor in the high-rise building, and because of the computer environment, gaining access to the office suite needed special security keys. One developer’s parent frequently traveled internationally. On his return, he would present his son with pornographic movies acquired on his overseas trip. At night, when a fresh batch arrived, the doors were locked to keep the police out, with a safe opportunity to see the next selection of porn. I cannot deny that I attended one session. With a wife at home taking care of kids, this was not my priority.
South Africa had stringent censorship laws. Every movie shown in theaters had first to be approved before any public screenings by the censorship board. All books were read cover to cover before being sold in bookstores if they were acceptable to the censorship “police.” Smuggling porn into the country could result in a long jail sentence. The message I took away from this company is that the rot starts at the top. Bob was a despicable managing director and human being, and his lieutenants were no better. I had another experience that shaped my thinking.
56. Race Issues
In apartheid, South Africa, everyone was assigned to a race group. The Cape Town environs had the most sizable number of Colored people, different from the US term “people of color.” It is a multiracial ethnic group that has ancestry from various populations inhabiting the region, including Khoisan, Bantu speakers, and Afrikaners. We were invited to a dance at a club in a Colored area. In South Africa, whites would not be allowed to attend a function there, as it was against the law. I went anyway. We had many Colored people working at the company, and I ended up dancing with one of them. To me, it felt so natural. She was a person, in fact, a delightful person. What is the big deal of mixing with other races? During my high school days, I had a friend who was particularly angry that the church taught that black people could never go to heaven because they did not have a soul, based on the interpretation of biblical texts.
57. Hendrik Verwoerd
When I was at university, we got the news on September 6, 1966, that the architect of apartheid Hendrik Verwoerd, the prime minister of South Africa, got stabbed to death in parliament by Dimitri Tsafendas. I recall driving around with my hooter/horn blaring in celebration.
58. Transition Again
After I walked out of the company in Cape Town, Don happened to be in Cape Town from his office based in Joburg. We met at my home, and I shared this Australian story with him. It was no surprise that Don was cheated in this business relationship with this company, by refusing to make agreed-upon commission payments. Don asked if I would like to join his team and help people to secure positions in the computer industry. Linda and I packed our kids, bags, and furniture, and moved 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) back to Joburg. As you can tell, we have never been afraid to move.
59. Computer Personnel
CPL was excellent work experience. Don was a great boss. He was a people person, enthusiastic, and creative as they come. His personality never allowed him to have a down day. He generated enthusiasm for everyone on the small team. The way we operated was unique. If we received an assignment from a client to find software developers or managers, we would visit the client. We interviewed managers and other personnel and received a thorough briefing on the type of person required to fill the position. We documented carefully what the job would entail, and the kind of experience the candidate needed to be successful in the open position.
There was an aspect that we did not share with the client. We used our judgment to decide if we would like to work for this company. If yes, we made a supreme effort to find them the ideal candidate. If not, there were other great companies in the area we could support. We would never place the right candidate in a lousy company and would never offer great companies a terrible candidate. It had to be a win-win match. The next step was to advertise and see who applied.
We held several resumes in a file of candidates in the job market. We wrote a detailed evaluation of the candidate, and presented a report to the client, along with references. In effect, we were selling the candidate to the client. Most appointments of a candidate to the client resulted in a successful match. In that way, CPL built a solid reputation for providing professional service.
60. New Opportunity
As ideal as this environment was, things did go wrong. Don is a visionary, who saw excellent opportunities. South Africa was in a downward spiral because of apartheid, or its racial policies, and rapidly became a pariah country. Many citizens wanted to vote with their feet and find a haven for their families outside the borders. Don teamed up with an international recruiting company looking for engineers, accountants, medical practitioners, and other professional skills for opportunities in America and Canada.
Don placed a significant size advertisement in the Sunday paper. Our office was located on the 47th floor of the Carlton Center which boasted a 5-star hotel, and a wide assortment of shops and restaurants. When we arrived at work on Monday, the foyer was filled with people, resumes in hand. On opening the office, we did not have a sufficient place to seat all the applicants. CPL was a subsidiary company, and unsurprisingly the parent company also saw the advertisement. The parent company did not know about this business opportunity; consequently, Don lost his job.
The tasks I did at CPL required the services of a secretary. Mine was young, attractive, and capable. She shared with me one day that she and her boyfriend were going traveling and sleeping together in a pup tent. That is a tiny tent, sufficient to sleep two people and handy because they were going to be riding using a motorcycle. I escorted her to the local family planning clinic and instructed her to get protection. Despite her assurances that “nothing would happen” with two young people at remarkably close quarters, who knows what might transpire? I was mindful not to follow up after her return to inquire if anything happened.
62. Video-Based Training
Don joined a company specializing in computer hardware and software training, as well as people skill development. Shortly after joining this company, I got a call to join the organization. This company represented an American company producing training material on videotapes. My role was to help sell “rental units.”
A client company would invest in, say, 120 rental units that allowed them to use as few or as many as they liked until the 120 videotape units were used up. Most agreements spanned 1 to 3 years. The longer the term, the higher the quantity, and the lower the unit rental cost. Clients had the option to purchase training programs outright, but the local company owner preferred the regular cash flow with rental money coming in monthly. The training covered computer programming, understanding how to configure operating systems, programming, and data transmission, as well as personal development such as selling skills, managing people, etc. They had more than 1,200 video instruction tapes.
63. Oliver Wight Video Series
There was a 56-part series that appealed to me. It was the Oliver Wight course on computerized enterprise manufacturing systems. I took a set home and watched the series so often that I could recite every word. It turned out to be quite an ego trip for me. When I called on companies to present the concepts that I had learned about, I came across as an extremely knowledgeable resource. I realized that this was a unique set of instructions, and in violation of what the owner of my company instructed me to do, I sold the course material outright. When the money came rolling in, the boss stopped complaining. Frankly, he did not believe that any company would purchase outright by going with the monthly rental plan. He did not appreciate that these sales could easily be cost-justified.
It was not too long after I made sales of the Oliver Wight video series that I got calls from the companies I had sold, and they had technical questions they could not answer. My boss insisted that my job was to sell, and that did not include offering support. My approach was to provide client support after hours in my time. With most of the questions asked, I could use common sense to answer, but naturally, I was never sure. I was able to benefit from the fact that if I called America from home at night, it was still during the middle of the day in the US. I started a ritual of calling Daryl Landvater and Walt Goddard, both consultants and part-owners, with The Oliver Wight Companies based in Vermont and New Hampshire. I explained the challenge my clients were facing, and they provided much-needed guidance. I was now back to having an unbelievable amount of fun.
64. Peter Drucker
Based on my sales accomplishments in 1981, my boss offered me a trip to the US to attend conferences by the American producers of the video training programs we sold. January 1982 was a turning point in my life with the first opportunity to travel to America. There were two scheduled conferences, one in Palm Springs, California, and one in Mexico. With South Africa being the pariah country, we could not get visas to travel to Mexico. I made a quick call to Walt Goddard to learn that Oliver Wight would be holding a five-day training course in Boston the same week as the Mexican conference, and they would offer me a complimentary seat on that course. My boss agreed to the arrangement.
The Palm Springs session was incredibly exciting. Peter Drucker was the featured speaker one afternoon. Peter, as you know, is the creator of management by objectives, and the father of management techniques for modern corporations. He presented his prepared speech and took questions. When someone asked a question, Peter would give a detailed sketch of situations for 5 or 6 minutes and then look at the person who asked the question, repeat the question verbatim, and give a single-sentence response. As Peter explained, if you do not understand the background, it is impossible to provide a short answer. Peter made a visionary statement that rang true to me. To design systems using automation, you must redesign those systems with automation in mind.
Oliver White had their thoughts on the topic, as well. If you implement systems the way business currently operates, you achieve chaos at the speed of light. Peter Drucker died in November 2005 at age 95. He was 72 when I met him. I have a signed copy of his book “The Changing World of the Executive.” There was a software consulting company that presented at this conference. I cannot recall the name. They offered a new method of computer system design. With my computer background, I asked them if they would support my efforts to promote their methodology in South Africa. They received the idea enthusiastically. I did not follow through with this offer because something significantly more exciting was about to present itself.
65. South Africa’s Global Importance
Growing up in South Africa, the white Nationalist Party controlled the media, especially radio, as we did not get television until 1975 and then for only 2 hours a day. We knew that we were the most critical country in the world. We were a strategic country and reasoned those ships sailed around our coast on their way from and to other parts of the world. Then too, we were the most significant gold producer and supplier of many other minerals, including diamonds, aluminum (aluminium), copper, iron ore, lead, nickel, zinc, titanium, and uranium to name a few. The government exercised strict censorship laws, and there was no such thing as a free press. We knew that Alan Paton had authored his book “Cry the Beloved Country” in 1948, but that was not available in South Africa.
66. New York City
On arrival in New York City, I took a stroll along 5th Avenue. I stopped at the first bank to see what the exchange rate was for different currencies, and the South African Rand was not listed. I decided the bank was just ridiculous because they did understand the importance of South Africa. I moved on to the next bank and the next, and the next, and none of the banks listed the exchange rate for the Rand. It started occurring to me that, for most of my life, the government lied to us. It was their feeble way to attempt to control the minds of the population. On that trip, I bought Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country book and smuggled it in through customs. I have since watched the second adaptation of the movie released in 1995.
I kept a diary on that trip to record everything I saw and experienced, recording dates, places, and names of people I met along the way. I genuinely don’t know why, but Linda tossed that book. There was a new experience that was difficult for me to comprehend, based on being raised in South Africa with all the government media controls. I watched NBC’s “Meet the Press,” on television on Sunday morning in my hotel room, currently, still the longest-running program in the US. I was astounded that the TV moderator had the right to question senior government officials regarding their actions and decisions concerning politics, economics, foreign policy, and public affairs, and the impact they had on the US or international citizens.
Chris Wallace confronted the guest and demanded answers. In South Africa, the politicians were treated like God and addressed with reverence, and never questioned. What a wake-up call. No wonder I fell in love with the United States of America.
I had a stopover in Chicago. I stayed in a hotel near O’Hare. Here I needed to visit the offices of the video training company we represented to see their production facilities and meet some of the personnel that we dealt with from South Africa. Remembering that this was in January, the middle of winter, I went to my room to find it freezing. I heated the cold room. It was a cold that I had never experienced before in my life. On turning in for the night, I decided that keeping the place so warm would make sleeping difficult, so I turned off the heater. I must have woken at about 2:00 am and felt my head. My hair felt like it was frozen. In panic mode, I flew out of bed to turn on the heater again. But my experiences were not yet complete.
I arrived at the airport to head to Palm Springs, California. I am sure that you, too, have heard the spiel that you go through before taking off. Please fasten your seat belts, have your tray tables in the secure and locked position, and your seatbacks in the upright position. I was about to have an experience that I have never had before or since, despite having flown many hundreds of times since I was 18 years of age.
The aircraft was thundering along the taxiway, ready to take off when the pilot slammed on the brakes and threw the engines into reverse. Another plane was crossing our path. The intensity of the stopping taught me a lesson that I have applied on every flight since then. The reason that the seat in front of you must be in the upright position is that you fly forward, with your head on your knees due to the rapid deceleration. If the seatback was not where it should be you are likely to decapitate yourself.
To me, since the 1982 era, planes have been configured with much less legroom and significantly tighter quarters, making these instructions even more critical. When I see the passenger in front of me who prefers to take off in relining mode, I will obnoxiously instruct them to put their seats in the upright position, and have done that on a couple of occasions.
68. Palm Springs, California
When we arrived in Palm Springs, in the Sonoran Desert of Southern California, we stayed at a classy conference hotel. The reason so many Americans are “snowbirds” is that they migrate from the cold northern climates to Florida or Arizona, where the temperatures are significantly warmer. The desert area of Palm Springs is a place to stay warm. The hotel has a large outdoor pool. What amused me is that there had to be about one hundred deckchairs all lined side by side and row by row, around the swimming pool, all facing south. That was so the visitors could absorb as much sun as possible as they were suntanning.
I had a colleague who was attracted to a lovely girl. They went to his room, and as he tells the story had the best sex that he had ever had in his life. After the fun, she said to him that it would cost him $100. He had no idea that she was a hooker. He thought that she just admired his body.
69. Oliver Wight 5-Day Class
Attending the 5-Day Oliver Wight course in Boston, Massachusetts, at a 5-star hotel overlooking the Charles River was a treat. I realize that I had thoroughly studied the videotapes and did not believe that I would be in for any surprises. The classes were expensive at $1,500 for the week. Remember that this is 1982. The equivalent amount in today’s 2017 money is $4,000, with an average annual inflation rate of 2.73%. The class had about 60 company executives, and the course was taught by Walt Goddard and the late Oliver Wight. They were gracious in giving me as much time as I needed, including meeting with me in their hotel suites after class.
On Thursday night, they provided a cocktail party for all attendees, plus any spouses who accompanied them. Ollie, as he was known, came with his wife Joan, who was spectacular at remembering names. Joan positioned herself at the entrance and carefully shook every person’s hand as they arrived at the function and made very sure that she heard and repeated every person’s name. While serving cocktails, Joan mingled, addressing everyone by name. At the end of the evening, she was at the exit door, saying goodnight to everyone by name. What a class act. During that week, Ollie and Walt agreed that they would support my efforts to work with their team in South Africa on the condition that I was fully independent.
70. Ollie or Red
Let me make one correction. To most of the client companies, Oliver White was known as Ollie. To a small circle of close friends and members of his consulting group and associates, he was Red. Ollie was a redhead, but by the time I met him, Ollie had lost most of his hair, and what he had, had lost its color. He was a very patriotic American. If any of his employees needed to purchase a motor car, and if they elected to buy an American model, he would chip in $1,000 or more.
Ollie was a legend in his own time. Joan, his wife, was reading a catalog one day and saw a fur coat that she wanted. Ollie called the company, based in Texas, while Ollie and Joan lived at Blodgett Landing in New Hampshire. The company confirmed that they had the coat in stock and that they accepted credit cards for the purchase. Ollie inquired if they had a landing strip nearby for a small turbojet.
Everything is bigger and better in Texas, but they could not believe that this northerner would fly the 1,800 miles (3,000 kilometers) one way for this purchase. Ollie lived on Lake Sunapee, at Blodgett Landing. He was a few steps from the lake, but his house had a full-sized heated Olympic pool. If you saw the movie, On Golden Pond, you would understand the magnificent setting. Ollie graduated from university and was distressed that he could not get a teaching post. He worked at Raybestos as a stockroom clerk.
Ollie was a smoker. He was guaranteed to get cancer of the throat from being a smoker in an asbestos environment. Ollie took a teaching position at IBM, saw the need to educate management, and that set him on a path to form his education and consulting company. When Ollie died in 1983 at age 53, he owned three homes, three airplanes, and six motor cars.
71. Caesar’s Palace
I was planning a trip to America, and this time with Linda. We had to attend a conference at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. While on a consulting assignment with an automotive client in Port Elizabeth, I asked one of the managers who traveled to the US frequently what he thought of the idea that I reserve the honeymoon suite. He told me that it was a ridiculous idea and that I would never be able to afford it. I booked a regular room, taking his advice.
When Linda and I got to the front desk, I plucked up the courage to ask about the honeymoon suite. I am sorry, sir, it is not available, but we have another room that we are sure you will enjoy. We get to the room and find it furnished with a round bed and a full-size round mirror above the bed. Then too, there was a circular bathtub and mirror above the tub. The room’s walls were all mirrors. Linda was not happy and wanted to know where she should position her head on this bed.
Vegas is a fun city. I wish we could visit more frequently. When you arrive at the airport, you can already play the slot machines. Gambling, live shows, and food is something to experience. I even learned the trick that if you attend a live show and want to get the best seat in the house after paying for your attendance, remember to grease the palm of the attendant to place you at the best available table. The more you give, the better the table.
72. Red Eye
Linda was with me to visit the Oliver Wight organization and to attend meetings, training courses, and visit client companies. We had to spend time on both coasts. Being mindful of the expenses, I arranged for Linda and me to fly to Los Angeles from Boston’s Logan Airport on a “red-eye,” which is an overnight flight to save on hotel fares. When Ollie got to hear of my plans, he sprang into action. Ollie arranged for Linda and me to fly in his jet from Burlington, Vermont, to a private landing strip near Logan Boston International Airport. He also arranged for a driver to take us to the airport and fly across the country during the daytime. One additional comment about Logan International Airport.
73. Flight Home
I am unclear about the occasion, but Linda and I were in the US, and we had to fly from Boston’s Logan to JF Kennedy in New York for an onward journey to South Africa. The day we had to commute to Logan Airport using the underground tunnel to access the airport was the day that they decided to change the way that you paid tolls to use that tunnel. Previously you had to pay to get to the airport and pay again when departing from the airport. The change was to pay double to get to the airport, without a payment leaving the airport.
With the transition underway, there was a significant delay in getting to the airport. Since many passengers got delayed, they delayed the flights out of Logan as well. By the time we arrived at Kennedy, our South Africa flight had left the gate and were stranded with the probability of having to purchase a new ticket because it was our fault that we were not on time. As we spoke to the gate agents about solving our problem, we got the good news that the aircraft had some mechanical issues and would be returning to the gate. We made the flight home.
74. MRP (Pty) Ltd.
On returning to South Africa from my first trip to the US meeting with the Oliver Wight Companies, I resigned from my position at the video training company and started my first consulting company, Manufacturing Resource Planning (Pty) Ltd.
75. Goal Setting
Allow me to back up. In 1967 I turned twenty-one while sleeping in a field in Stellenbosch, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town. My mother was mortified that her dear son was not at home to be wished happy birthday on this auspicious day. Sebastian van Reenen and I spent the evening with student girlfriends at Stellenbosch University. We decided not to drive home late at night and pulled off the road to sleep under the stars.
I was in my fourth year at university. I recall waking up early in the morning and thinking about my life. I was born as the eldest of three siblings in a family that seriously lacked funds. My parents were regular middle-class hard-working people doing the best they could while holding down a job. I decided there and then that I was going to have my own business one day. It could not be a business where I needed capital. My game plan was to start a business where I relied on experience and intelligence.
If you study the history of the Barry family, you learn that they arrived in the Cape in the 1820s from the northwest of London. I cannot say for sure that I am a direct dependent of those Barry’s, but I know that the original Barry’s were traders. They took provisions by boat up the rivers in the Western Cape, supplying the small towns along the way. All the cities have Barry Street, and then you have the village of Barrydale.
As I saw it, each succeeding generation got poorer. My grandfather owned a farm with a registered Friesland dairy herd (the black and white cows), and a grocery store, while my grandmother had a café. My dad was left to his own devices, qualifying as a refrigeration mechanic and electrician. There is no question in my mind that while working for a boss, I went the extra mile, but only because I knew it would benefit me. I was determined to get a breadth of experience, and if it meant changing jobs frequently, and moving to different cities, then I understood that I would be the eventual beneficiary.
76. Company Name
The company name, Manufacturing Resource Planning, was taken from a business planning process named by the Oliver Wight group. It also went by the acronym MRPII (MRP2), not to be confused with Material Requirements Planning (MRP). I learned later that over time, consultants have a desperate need to create new names for concepts so that they can always present them as original and fresh ideas, even if it is the same old stuff dressed up to look different. I also learned that it was a mistake to name a company after a concept in this ever-changing world. I had no intention of calling my company based on my name. My ego was not big enough.
77. Learning Curve
Job one was to find a client. I had sold the videotape series to a large, diverse publicly traded packaging company, and they became my first paying assignment. I studied the way products get manufactured and reviewed their Bill of Materials (BOM). In this case, the BOM reflected the changes that the product went through in the production process, created like this to support cost accountants who look at the value-added along the build process. It was a 7-level BOM. I made a strong recommendation to simplify the BOM and reduce it to a 3-level structure.
Proud of my wisdom, I was on a flight to the US and meeting with Walt to show him my brilliance. He quickly showed me my lack of knowledge and understanding and explained why a 2-level BOM would be significantly more efficient and effective for my client.
There is a different solution to satisfying cost accountants by utilizing the associated routings where additional data gets captured. I went through learning curves on many occasions. I quickly learned that a person’s normal inclination is to complicate a situation, and it takes brilliance to simplify a solution. My newest business carried a registered trademark Simple Solutions to Complex Problems™.
78. Glen Patterson
The late Glen Paterson lived near us when we lived in Edenglen, Edenvale, on the east side of Joburg. Glen tragically lost his life in a microlight accident in 2008 when visiting family and friends in Canada. Glen worked for a packaging company. Glen was assigned as the operational project manager to oversee the software solution they were implementing. I was the consultant assigned to work with him. We became friends, and he, his wife Lynne, and his children spent time together in New York City with Linda and me on one of our international trips.
As an operations guy, Glen had a well-rounded career. Over Glen’s years of service, he fully understood and experienced every facet of their operation. Glen was quiet, soft-spoken, and unassuming. Two incidents stood out for me. Glen was going to provide a training class in the mold of “train the trainer” to teach his colleagues the finer points of the software. He requested that I sit in the room. We agreed that I would sit at the back of the class and say nothing but offer a critique at the end of his session. Sometime during his delivery, the accountant announced with much disdain that these systems were all bullshit. It took me a nanosecond, and I flew to the front of the class and went for the accountant’s jugular and set him straight on this matter. I was not going to let my friend Glen get treated in this despicable fashion. I was there to defend him.
After the class, we adjourned to the basement, where the general manager provided pizza and beer. On walking in, the GM asked me how the session went, and I responded that Glen had done an outstanding job. The GM looked at me quizzically and inquired if the accountant had not deemed that this solution was bullshit?
I learned a lesson that day. The GM knew his people and could support Glen and control the naysayers on his team. The general manager was an impressive person. He had tragedies in his life. He lived in a house with a swimming pool, as most of us did in that area, including Linda and me. One day he walked outside to find his young daughter lying at the bottom of the pool, drowned. He was a religious man and treated every member of his team as the most crucial person in the world. He fully accepted their failings and made allowances for them.
On my first visit to this facility, I had a unique experience validating why new systems were required. My appointments always begin with a tour of the manufacturing facility. As Glen was showing me around, we stopped and admired an injection-molded press. Glen could not believe his eyes. He pointed to a mezzanine structure that had been erected to house excess inventory. Glen explained that there was more than a year’s supply stored up there of the product now coming out of this mold. He said the current systems in place did not provide the planners with visibility of current inventory levels, and if they did not recall that stock was available, they released production orders to produce additional products.
79. Oliver White Classes in South Africa
I arranged a 5-day Oliver Wight class in South Africa. I was honored to learn that the group attending this course was the highest number of paying attendees for Americans presenting in a new country for the first time. We held several more of these classes. Each is bigger and more successful than the previous one. Daryl Landvater told me that he would happily fly halfway around the world where he could stay in a 5-star hotel with a Jacuzzi bath in his room, much enjoyed by his wife and himself. Several of the Oliver Wight consultants took turns in visiting South Africa.
Dick Ling bought a diamond ring duty and tax-free for his wife Nataly, to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. The expenses for these courses were high. The Americans flew first class and stayed in 5-star hotels. I had to meet the costs to pay for their time, and I did not make much money on these ventures. We had to cover the costs of the hotels where training was conducted, pay for meals and coffee break treats, and the Thursday night cocktail party. My participation and exposure helped grow my consulting business.
80. Dick Ling
Dick wanted to see some of the countryside, so we drove to several places of interest. I took him into Alexandra Township, a black city near where we lived in Edenvale, outside Joburg. Dick was so afraid of what sort of fate might befall him that he pleaded with me to get out of there as soon as is humanly possible. I guess visiting any shanty town, home to hordes of poor people, can be quite intimidating. At that time, I was driving a BMW, and that vehicle would be entirely out of place in Alexandria.
81. Monthly Replanning
There are many experiences to share, but I will never get to the end if I keep detailing this information. I will list a few highlights. I provided consulting work for an international automobile assembler and manufacturer. Their planning was on a monthly cycle. Consequently, buyers would purchase once a month. I advised them to convert to weekly planning periods. They wanted to eject me from the premises explaining that they have trouble getting through purchasing and planning requirements in a month, and how I expect them to accomplish the tasks weekly. The answer, of course, is that monthly, you have a significantly higher volume of transactions to get through versus a smaller number each week. In later years after I had moved on, their planning cycle became daily.
82. German Multinational Client
I worked with an automotive component manufacturer who turned out to be a dream client. The managing director, Tom, was the son of a trustee running the global trust business in Germany. Tom had to gain experience in a real-world subsidiary environment and was sent to South Africa to run the manufacturing operation. He held a doctorate in engineering, was young, extremely bright, and a strong leader. I’ll illustrate one situation.
I recommended that before issuing any materials to production, the planners verified via the computer that the materials were all available before releasing the work order. We had a meeting with the shop floor supervisors, and they thought the idea was ridiculous. Their recommendation was to pass on the work order, and they would get the product built. In trying to understand how this was possible, the supervisors explained that each machine operator had a stash of parts under their workbench and could quickly find any missing components required to complete an order. Tom had the shop personnel work all day on Saturday, returning every part under their bench to a locked stock room, and entering it into the computer system. By Monday morning, the new discipline and processes were in place.
83. Truck Component Manufacturer
The automotive component supplier supported the truck and car manufacturers in South Africa. I witnessed another unpleasant surprise. It is a reasonable request to ask the vehicle manufacturers to supply a forecast of sales going well beyond the cumulative lead time. The car and truck companies know what new models are being introduced, what was to be discontinued, and speculation on the volume of sales. This forecast information turned out to be worthless.
Each automobile company knew its market share was going to increase significantly over the next year, and sales were going to soar. It never happened, so we had to create our forecast for the automotive industry. Our starting point was to take the aggregate of all cars sold in the country over the past 3 to 5 years and project sales for the next 12 months. We broke this aggregate down by the manufacturer knowing their percentage market share. Next, we took those automotive companies that were customers and broke the projection further by the automotive models we supplied.
Now we had a meaningful target we could plan for. We had to laugh after this exercise was completed. We had one company provide a forecast using their old method. The figures were received, and within an hour, they faxed a revision to their numbers. The reality is that this client had a far more accurate picture of demand than that of their customers.
84. Building a Brand
Over time, David Beer and I became friends. David was the editor of Production Management, a monthly magazine. He requested me to provide him with articles based on what I had learned through my Oliver Wight relationship and consulting experiences. It helped me to raise my profile in South Africa and led to additional media exposure including a single article in the prestigious weekly magazine, the Financial Mail. I was interviewed on the radio once.
On one occasion I flew to Durban to work with a company manufacturing material handling equipment. When I arrived, the production manager pulled out several articles that I had written and prepared questions he wanted me to discuss. I made several presentations to SAPICS (South African Production and Inventory Control Society), at national conferences, and at several chapter meetings. I later learned that having a high profile was not difficult in South Africa, but with the size of the US, it was near impossible to stand out and get recognized.
85. Zimbabwe—A Barter Deal
A German-based software company operating in Zimbabwe asked me to travel to Bulawayo and Harare to present courses on computerized systems, much like those I helped present with Oliver Wight, but to also cover Just in Time production methods. They warned me that due to the economic situation, they would not be able to pay me, but we could arrange a better deal. We agreed that they would provide me with two return airline tickets to fly from Harare to Johannesburg and onward to New York via London. Since we would begin the journey in Joburg, we would trash the Harare—Joburg leg for both the outbound and return journeys. The way the airlines operate today with all the security measures in place, if we were not on the Harare—Johannesburg leg, our entire flight would get canceled.
It is the only time I can recall that Linda and I traveled in style. We flew BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation, the forerunner to BA—British Airways). The airline sent a car to meet us at home to chauffeur us to the airport, and in New York, we had a car to take us to our hotel. We were traveling business class, but after Linda and I were seated the air hostess asked to see our tickets and explained that there had been a duplicate booking with our seats. She requested that we follow her to the first class for the Joburg—London’s leg.
Here we were treated to sleeper seats, food served on fine china and high-class cutlery. The steak was sliced to our liking at our places and served up professionally with vegetables. Having traveled on a minimum of 60 trans-Atlantic flights, this was the only time that we flew business on the remaining legs, and the only time we had the pleasure of first-class travel.
I stayed at a 5-star hotel in Harare (previously Salisbury). The breakfast was top-notch, but the serviette/napkin that I got was greaseproof paper. If I wiped my face, it would only smear the egg from one side of my face to the other. I was rapidly learning how people had to cope in a country that was suffering economically and how sanctions were impacting the lives of businesses and their citizens. 1985 was the 5th year of Robert Mugabe and the ZANU PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) in power since independence. Export earnings in Zimbabwe came from tobacco, cotton, sugar, and beef. White farmers numbered 4,400 down from 5,000 at autonomy. I was in for more surprises.
86. Zimbabwe—Foreign Exchange Allowances
The class I taught included a few personnel from a vehicle assembler. Here I am describing Just in Time purchasing and production principles. They explained to me that they are allowed to import products but are restricted by the available import funding allocation. Twice a year, the foreign currency allocation is made available. They would spend their full allowance on the day of the announcement for fear that the allocation is reduced at a later date.
One of the biggest challenges for them was purchasing tires. They would assemble the cars, as far as they could with available materials, and move them to a “cripple yard” stored on blocks until the missing components arrived. They then completed assembling the vehicle and shipped it to the owners. Some wise residents would place an order for a car, and when delivered, would break up the new car selling the parts for spares. In that way, they could get double or triple the price they paid for their new vehicle.
Using my experience of growing up in South Africa under a white-ruled apartheid government, I was in for another surprise. The software company asked me to meet with a brewery customer. The executive manager was a black man. More than that, he was knowledgeable, smart, articulate, and well-educated. We had a great meeting, and he readily accepted the suggestions and recommendations that I made. I had never met a black man in South Africa with this level of authority. What were we doing to the majority race in our country?
We had fun too. The software team invited me to a posh restaurant but requested that we get up to some mischief. The goal was to order a 3-course meal but start at the end. Start ordering the dessert, followed by the main course, and finally, the starter. It was fun to see the waiters all scratching their heads, trying to figure out what was going on here.
89. Trenton and Philadelphia
I worked with Al Spaeth, an American living in South Africa who represented the Forman software solution by Formation. In doing a Google search, this company and its software are no longer in business. I lost touch with Al. Formation’s location was in Trenton, New Jersey. They produced a unique enterprise-wide application that was years ahead of its time. It was an online, real-time system that provided users with an instant replanning and rescheduling solution instantly sales orders got added to the system.
I was invited along with project team members from my client company to travel to the US for training at the development site. One of the team members was a German national who volunteered to do the driving since he had experienced driving on the right-hand side of the road from his days living in Germany.
Aside from an intensive training session, the company treated us to attend an American National Football League (NFL) game in Philadelphia. It was a 40-minute drive. Lincoln Financial Field seats over 69,000 people and is home to the Philadelphia Eagles. It was the first time I had an opportunity to see football live in a stadium. The Eagles won, but only in the final minute or two of the game. To be in a stadium when the crowd erupted with joy is a unique experience.
I have only had one other opportunity to see a game live: Green Bay, Wisconsin, a 2-hour drive north of us, and where my daughter Robyn attended university. Linda and I saw the Packers play at Lambeau Field, about ten years ago.
90. Clive Lewis
Clive Lewis joined me in business in South Africa. He was older than me, an engineer, who managed manufacturing plants. While working for his company, he was asked to be the project manager for a new plant they were going to build. A greenfield opportunity. It was a challenge that Clive loved because he could apply decades of experience in designing a factory that would have a perfect flow from raw materials to finished goods with production equipment placed in the most sensible place.
I had the pleasure of working with Clive to implement a computerized planning system for his new facility. Clive held strong views that manufacturing was not for a woman because the stress levels were excessive. The general chaos that was ensured was a killer to people. After we went live at his facility, he had a change of mindset.
He welcomed women as part of the manufacturing management team. Clive shared with me that he did not believe that production could be systematized. Now with effective planning systems in place, providing weeks’ worth of visibility, it has made managing the facility a pleasure. Sadly, Clive suffered a heart attack. He returned to work and was placed on light duties, and at that time joined me to carry a message that it is possible to plan effectively in a manufacturing environment.
91. Mike and the beginning of the end
During the time that I operated my education, training, and consulting company, I traveled to the US two or three times a year. It was to attend the Oliver White courses and further broaden my application experience and knowledge. On a few occasions, I visited the client companies of Oliver Wight to see firsthand the way the companies operated with an effective planning process in place. But there were dark clouds on the horizon.
Oliver Wight appointed Mike in the UK to promote their business in Europe. For training purposes, they recommended that he be part of the faculty teaching classes in South Africa. During Mike’s second trip to South Africa, he informed me that Oliver Wight wanted him to manage all finances. I refused.
Linda’s grandmother passed away and inherited her diamond ring. We had it reset in a modern style. Mike saw this and reported to the Oliver Wight Companies that I was stealing money to purchase luxuries for Linda.
As I later learned Mike approached one of the members of our class, an executive in a large corporation, and tried to convince him to take over organizing and running Oliver Wight courses in South Africa. To cut a long story short, Oliver Wight never ran another course in South Africa. Mike got kicked out of the group when Oliver Wight discovered that he was stealing from the company with courses he organized in Europe.
92. Dick Alban
In the interim, I had befriended Dick Alban, another Oliver Wight associate. Dick had a set of books containing every checklist and detail required to establish and control implementation. I sold those manuals in South Africa. With the situation Mike caused, I approached Dick to see if there was an alternate organization for me to represent in South Africa. Dick recommended that I talk to Terry Schultz in Milwaukee. Terry ran courses and had his videotape series. I called Terry to ask if he would be interested in my partnering with him. He said it would be a great idea and I took a flight to Milwaukee the next day. I now represent The Forum Ltd.
93. Meeting Terry again
After a year or so, I traveled to the US to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to attend a class given by Forth Shift, a software package that I was supporting with a South African company. On my return journey, I stopped in Milwaukee to meet with Terry for a day. Terry asked me if I would be interested in moving to the UK to represent his company. I declined. He then offered to join him in Milwaukee as his number two guy had just resigned. I said that would be of significant interest.
I called Linda from his office. A bomb had gone off that morning in Eastgate, at the time the biggest shopping center in the southern hemisphere was located near where we lived. Linda made an instant decision to take up Terry’s offer.
94. Independence Day 1986
I returned to the USA over the Independence Day weekend of July 4, 1986. Terry had his small team of employees stay at a resort hotel in Lincolnshire, Illinois, a 90-minute drive from his offices. Terry gave each of us a t-shirt with a picture of a bald eagle and a symbol that read “America the Beautiful.” The bald eagle is the US national bird. I still wear that same T-shirt every 4th of July.
I presented Terry and his group with his educational material. I learned his specific information from his videotape series, Business Requirements Planning (BRP). If I passed this test, we would take the process further. It was no cakewalk. I got grilled by Terry and his adviser to address recommendations for many practical business situations and to see how I would advise client companies.
At that time, I had to take a series of tests in Chicago with a Management Psychologist, Dr. Duane Lakin. It, too, went well, and Terry was encouraged to take this opportunity further. The next step was for Linda to accompany me to meet Terry. We met in St. Louis at an APICS (American Production and Inventory Control Society) conference in October 1986.
We returned to Milwaukee after the conference and met Terry’s wife, Mary. Terry treated us to a gourmet restaurant in Lake Geneva, 45 minutes away. The dinner should have been a wake-up call. Terry consumed a bottle of wine on his own, and the return journey was the scariest I have ever had, and the only time I have been in a car with a drunk. The motivation for an opportunity in America was too high, and Linda and I elected to move forward.
Next on the list was to find a home. Esther Van Lare was a realtor who guided us. Within a couple of days, we purchased a 2-year-old repossessed house from a bankrupt builder held by the bank. Terry helped us secure a 100% mortgage for this home through the bank. We returned to South Africa to pack and relocate to the US.
95. Living in the USA
I arrived in Brookfield, Wisconsin, after Christmas 1986. My first need was to purchase a car. I bought a Pontiac 6000 with zero down and financed it over three years. When purchasing an automobile in the US at year-end, the dealers will do any deal to make their yearly sales quota. Linda and our two children arrived at the end of February 1987. Here too, we bought a Honda Accord with zero down. You must love this country with its easy finances.
On my arrival, the cement driveway of my home was a sheet of ice. Being innovative, I got out my hammer and chisel and started breaking the ice. Neil Koepsel, a neighbor, came over and asked if I had ever heard of salt. Spread the salt over the ice on the driveway, it melts. Task complete.
That was to be the first of many lessons we learned as we transitioned to living in a four-season climate with extreme heat, cold, ice, and rain. Neil and Barb Koepsel arranged for an indoor block party to meet the neighbors. We learned that the rumor mill was rife with stories that Africans (blacks) had bought the house we occupied. They all believed that the property values would plummet, and the area would go to hell. Yes, racism is alive and well in the United States, and Milwaukee has a reputation for being among the worst in the nation.
On my first day of driving to work, I ran into a challenging situation. The drive was not too far, only 10 minutes, and I took careful notes drawing a map to know precisely where I needed to make my turns. The only problem was that the wet snow coated all the street sign names, and I did not have a clue where I was driving. Those were the days long before GPS.
96. Terry Schultz
Working with Terry proved to be interesting. Terry and Mary had been on vacation in Hawaii over the Christmas and New Year holiday period. Terry had to take medication for some or another ailment. He did not have a fun time in the Aloha State as the drug was not working due to the large intake of wine that neutralized the drug.
I attended an education session that Terry gave to a large electronics company in Milwaukee. A plant manager asked Terry a question. Terry responded that in all the years he has been teaching, it was the dumbest question that he had ever heard. The CEO stated that he never wanted to see Terry on the premises again.
We flew south to work with a company to present course material. That night Terry invited the CEO to dinner. The CEO expanded on some of the challenges he was facing. Terry, now happy with a large intake of wine, recommended to the CEO that he downloaded data from his IBM mainframe to an IBM System/36 (much like a minicomputer). Run programs on the System/36 and send the results back to the mainframe.
I was dumbfounded because I knew that Terry’s recommendation was technologically impossible. The next morning Terry asked me to brief him on what they had discussed over dinner. I shared the computer transfer story. A week or so later, the CEO called Terry to begin the project. Terry declined and said that he had a close working relationship with Anderson Consulting and would get them to follow through with this assignment. Terry explained that he did not have sufficient resources for this project.
97. Bearing Company
I had my troubles too. I was given the assignment to work with a Japanese-owned bearing company in the south. I thought that my course was going well. Terry told me that the CEO of this company called him to ask if they did not have anyone at The Forum Ltd., who could speak English.
There was another exciting development with this company. In studying their production process, I saw that they would produce ball bearings consisting of an inner ring, outer ring, balls, and a retainer. They had a sorting department that would measure the inner and outer race and store it in boxes depending on whether they were over or undersized, and similarly sort the balls themselves. Eventually, they had a matched set of parts and could assemble the bearing.
Understanding that this was a problem for the company, management requested funding to purchase new machines. The Japanese management refused the request because the engineers would not know what type of equipment they should buy. That caused some severe and adverse reactions from the local engineers to be treated like ignoramuses. The Japanese management recommended that the engineers visit the Japanese factory to learn what might be necessary for selecting new equipment.
On the flight over, the engineers were not happy knowing that they would find lights-out factories with robots creating perfect parts every time. They were shocked to see the equipment in use was years older than that in their operation in the States, and no robotics, or lights-out factories. They saw that the machine operators continuously monitored all parts coming off the machines to ensure it was within tolerance. If not conforming, they immediately made machine adjustments. Well-maintained old equipment with highly trained machine operators was the key to perfect parts every time and no need to go through a sorting process that added no value to the end item.
98. Ken Wantuck
Terry established a business relationship with Ken Wantuck, who, in conjunction with Terry, developed a lecture-led video educational series and book entitled Just in Time for America. Here too, Ken had worked for a US-based company that could not compete with its Japanese counterparts in terms of quality and other metrics. Ken was sent to Japan to teach “those people” how to make accurate calculations in conformance with the US standards. When Ken arrived, he quickly learned that the Japanese knew what they were doing and that their performance was significantly better than their US counterparts. Ken taught US plants the Toyota Production System techniques, called it JIT for America, and over time migrated the thinking and process to the current Lean JIT or Lean Manufacturing.
99. Kent Ely
Terry developed a business relationship with Kent Ely, who was a quality specialist. Here we added Total Quality Management to our portfolio of teaching and consulting. Kent previously worked for a local manufacturer of machines that got sold internationally. He told the story that each product produced got stored on a cardboard base because the product leaked so severely that trying to clean oil stains off the floor was a challenging job. As QC manager Kent had to address the production processes to improve the products to be oil leak-free. Those were some of the principles and concepts that we taught in our course material.
When you think about it, Terry was smart and made intelligent business decisions, other than he was too stupid or addicted to get help and cut out the drinking. It did not take long for him to lose it all.
Mary was Terry’s second wife. Mary decided she needed an intervention to stop Terry’s drinking. The staff, about 9 of us, including Terry’s sister and daughter, attended classes to explain how alcoholism affects the brain, how to treat addiction, and conduct a successful intervention. The facilitator was an Episcopalian pastor, a very tall individual who said he had never experienced a failed intervention. The idea was to invite Terry to a meeting where we would all be present, and tell him how much we loved him, and that he should leave immediately to get treatment. At the last minute, I decided not to participate because my legal status in the US was tenuous, dependent on my having a position with The Forum Ltd. If Terry decided to kick us out, we would have to leave on the next flight back to South Africa. The intervention was a failure, Terry and Mary divorced, and I was eager to find a way to remain in the US legally.
Terry was contending with a potential lawsuit. There was an education and training company in the Northeast called The Forum. They objected to this small company in Wisconsin, also in the training field calling themselves The Forum, Ltd. They issued a cease and desist order. This after Terry had been in business for several years. As a significantly larger company, with deeper pockets, they had the clout to follow through on their threats. Terry negotiated a $1 million settlement that he said he required to rename the company and rebuild his brand. After the settlement, Terry took the money and shut the company.
During my trip to America with Linda in October 1986, I purchased the book Getting into America by immigration attorney Howard Deutch. The least complicated way for me to gain legal access was for Terry to buy my South African company. I sold it to Terry for $1.00. In effect, I could apply to work in the US, based on being an intercompany transferee. The pre-condition is that I had to hold an executive position in my company, and as managing director, which was the simple part.
I gave my South African company to Clive Lewis as a going concern so that Clive could make as much money as he could. Sadly, by this stage, Clive added to his medical woes by suffering a stroke. Terry arranged for me to see an immigration attorney in Milwaukee, a partner in one of the largest firms. With my careful reading of Howard’s book, I found the attorney’s knowledge and experience to be sadly lacking. The attorney followed Howard’s recommendation. The papers were filed. I had a work permit, but Linda could not work or earn money.
The rules were so strict that our children were not allowed to get paid for babysitting jobs or delivering newspapers. If any of our family got a felony charge, we would all get banished from the country. So no drunk driving, or speeding, or reckless driving. I was bound hand and foot to Terry. If I stepped out of line, Terry could instruct his attorney to send us back to South Africa. However,….
103. Peter Steyn
It did not take me a long time working for Terry to realize this relationship was not going to work. Back in my days working with Don Gray at CPL, I worked with Peter Steyn. As coincidence would have it, Peter, Sandra, and his children moved to the US at about the same time that we did. Peter took a position with CCSC (Computer Consulting Services Corporation), a company owned by Steve Botes, a South African living in New Jersey. The company recruited personnel globally to fill computer positions in American companies desperate to hire software developers. For CCSC to bring people into the US legally, they used specialist immigration attorneys to prepare the required documents and filed them with US Immigration authorities.
I called Peter to tell him that I was in trouble, and what he could recommend. He put me in touch with a New York-based attorney, who applied for a change of status for me. That implied I would not be tied to Terry and could be more flexible in finding a different opportunity. Steve Botes produced the idea that we executed. He and I would form a company, Modern Business Solutions, Inc., and we would have 50/50 ownership. Once my papers came through, he would relinquish his interest in the company, and I would be the sole owner.
CCSC billed the consulting work I performed until I was allowed to be “employed” by my own company. Steve took a commission off the top of each invoice and paid me the balance. I considered this to be an equitable arrangement. My gratitude for Peter’s assistance with this arrangement was beyond words.
104. Steve Botes
Sadly, things did not work out for Peter long-term. Steve was a generous guy but also worshipped money. He considered himself god’s gift to women, and the combination got him into serious trouble. Steve wanted to spend more time flying and moved his office to Atlanta from New Jersey. He saw an opportunity to sell a software solution that tracked school test performance. With two goals in mind, he set off to sell the software to the Georgia school state superintendent and to help get her elected to governor.
Steve ended up in jail. To the best of my knowledge after prison, Steve got deported to South Africa. After these years, I lost touch with him. I am still in contact with Peter Steyn. Peter lost his investment in CCSC and the promise of a lucrative pension and payout. What a sad ending to a faithful and supportive business relationship with Steve. I wrote a letter appealing to the judge to be lenient with Steve for the support that he provided me. At that stage, I did not yet have all the facts about the prosecution’s case.
105. Peter Not Guilty
Why Peter Steyn was found not guilty: Going back to Peter’s days at CPL in South Africa, and his time at CCSC, Peter kept a large spiral-bound notebook. Peter recorded every phone call and every meeting in date order. Peter used his many volumes of journals to show that he was never in any meetings with Steve to discuss this fraudulent embezzlement action and was unaware of Steve’s shenanigans. Who would have thought that a career-long habit saved Peter from involvement in a crime in which he was not complicit? Peter’s primary purpose in recording details in the notebooks was to make sure that he never let any “things to do” be forgotten or fall between the cracks.
106. Modern Business Solutions, Inc.
It took about a year before I was entirely independent of Steve. To put a timeline on this, I started work for Terry at The Forum Ltd., in January 1987. In June 1988, Linda, the children, and I left for South Africa on vacation. Terry advised me not to return to the US. Terry spoke to his attorney to confirm that this was the best course of action for Terry. He was amazed to see me on my return, and I promptly resigned as we had details worked out a business relationship with Steve.
I was now independent, and the challenge was to get consulting work. We formed our second company in America—Modern Business Solutions, Inc. While in Terry’s employ, I worked for a company making textile products in Wisconsin. I approached them, and they became my first client. But the question was how I secure additional business when I don’t have a nest egg set aside for living with a wife and two children to feed, and for marketing and advertising.
107. Tom Dorrington
While still living in Edenglen, Edenvale, outside of Joburg, where we had built our own home, I met Tom and Cynthia Dorrington, who lived in the neighborhood. Tom is American and Cynthia, a South African. Tom had interviewed me for a position at the company where he worked. Don Gray, from CPL, warned me that Tom was not happy in his job and was planning to move on. I declined Tom’s job offer. Tom was concerned about South Africa’s future, especially for his son having the possibility of fighting in a futile war, sold up, and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, about the same time that we moved States side.
Now with my own business, I had to be super quick to study to learn how to be successful in America. I called Tom. Much like the one word in the movie The Graduate, “plastics,” Tom’s one word was “collaborate.” I asked a salesperson, Steve Shattoe selling the Data/3 software if he had any client leads for me, and he came through with several that kept me occupied and funded for a long time. I am ashamed to admit that as much a savior as Steve was, I lost contact with him. There was no Facebook or LinkedIn in those days. My recent Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn searches did not reveal any leads.
108. Focus Forecasting
The feast and famine got to me. I needed a more secure income stream. Linda was not allowed to work until I had my “green card.” We only became US citizens 11 years after we landed on these shores, in addition to spending $10,000 on immigration attorney fees. I was on my own and motivated to succeed. During my Oliver Wight days, I heard about Focus Forecasting, the brainchild of Bernard Smith. Bernie developed a technique using simple formulas to generate a forecast. In simple terms, he took 42 months of historical data, aggregated it to 14 quarters, created a nine-quarter forecast, prorated or spread it back to monthly figures, and you were ready to plan for the next 36 months.
109. Demand Solutions
In 1992 I became a representative for Demand Management, Inc. (DMI) selling their Demand Solutions (DS) product using Bernie’s Focus Forecasting technique. Realistically not too many companies were doing much forecasting at that time, and the most significant selling point of the concept is that you did not require an advanced mathematical or statistics degree to understand how it worked.
DMI did the marketing and advertising, and their global representative group got leads. My territory included the upper Midwest territories of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. Our task was to present the software solution, prepare proposals, close sales, educate, train, install, and keep the clients happy with ongoing support.
Over time I built a small team of a dozen specialists. I sold to more than three hundred client companies over the ten years ending in 2002. I worked extremely hard during this time and frankly made a lot of money. One year I decided that I had to enjoy the American lifestyle and leased a Cadillac STS, the V8 sports sedan version. During that year, I drove 60,000 miles (nearly 100,000 kilometers). I would be up early in the morning, leave the house at or before 5:00 am, and return home late at night. I would do one-way day drives to Chicago (2 hours), Indianapolis (4 hours), Minneapolis (5 hours), etc. The following year I leased another Cadillac but drove 60,000 miles over two years.
110. Inventory Turns
During my days in South Africa, I was shocked to see how inefficient some companies operated. I consulted with a company making components for trucks. This company boasted of a plant with every machine painted in the same shade of green, with an off-white floor to see if there were oil leaks. In the center of the factory, they had a huge cage to house the WIP (work in process) inventory. They measured productivity and machine utilization very carefully, and the results were more than impressive.
What I quickly learned is that the WIP cage contained an enormous amount of inventory. In studying their stock turns, they barely achieved four turns a year, implying that at any moment, they held a three-month supply of components. The reality was that once the machines were set, they kept running the equipment flat out to get those effective utilization and productivity numbers and producing inventory that was not needed and ended up in the cage.
When I arrived in the US, I knew for sure that every company in this country operated at levels of professionalism significantly higher than anything that we could ever achieve in South Africa. One of my early assignments was working with a stationery manufacturer in the Chicago area. Same thing, four turns.
I mentioned the textile company in Wisconsin, the owner of the company was their chief buyer, and he knew a bargain when he saw one. He was forever buying raw materials even if there was not a need for it—but the price was right, consequently, the same situation, four turns.
I quickly built my confidence, realizing that the reason I was called in to work with these companies is they had challenges that needed addressing. In so many cases, why not free up working capital tied up in inventory that is stored unproductively? That includes raw material, packaging, components, and finished goods inventory. Could that money not be put to better use?
111. Dramatic Improvement
In my South African days, I worked with a large multi-division publicly traded packaging company. They sourced their raw materials from a paper mill. They clearly understood that as one small operation dealing with a large mill, they had no influence in dictating deliveries. They operate with three inventory turns a year. We implemented our computer-based planning systems, and a few changes took place.
First, we laid out a forecast of what we believed we would get in terms of customer orders over the next year, revising this forecast monthly. Based on those projections, we planned out what raw materials would be required, netting out what was currently in stock. The net requirement was now clearly visible. Mills plan their production on a rolling cycle. We had the buyers work with the mill to understand when they were going to produce the required raw materials for my client. Within a year, the client increased inventory turns to 9.
I clearly understand that when I am talking to prospects about what we could achieve, under no circumstances do I say you can go to nine turns from three inside a year. I would instantly blow all my credibility. What I have done consistently is to speculate on how much money could be freed up by increasing turns by only one a year. It is true even if the client company is turning inventory forty-five times a year.
Solutions were always easily cost-justified because of the benefits of inventory reduction to make the software and project investment a reality. It included improvements in the productivity of all resources including labor, equipment, and materials. In that way, I have earned business and significantly outperformed the promise.
There is always more waste in the operations that management will not accept. They all know that they are working at maximum efficiency. While talking to prospects, under-promise, and over-delivery is my professional mantra. There is an important concept that went with my negotiations. Never discuss the possibility or probability of a headcount reduction. When the discussion is broached, my sincere belief and response are that the business will grow with decent systems in place, there would not be a requirement to hire additional people as sales increase but to fully use the capabilities of the current trained team to absorb the growth.
I stated earlier that I worked with more than three hundred client companies that I sold and supported using the DS (Demand Solutions) software. To go into detail with each assignment will be annoying in the extreme. I will touch on one or two remarkable experiences. When working with these client companies, I frequently came across technical requirements that were not addressed with the DS software. I would challenge the software owners at DMI (Demand Management, Inc.) to make enhancements.
Imagine a situation where a company has a large number of customers. Here 20 percent of the customers are responsible for purchasing 80 percent of the product. It gets into the Pareto rule. Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto (15 July 1848 – 19 August 1923) was an Italian engineer, sociologist, economist, political scientist, and philosopher, now also known for the 80/20 rule, named after him as the Pareto principle. It was derived from observations that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.
The concept is applied in business, including the stratification of inventory into an ABC analysis, where A items are the critical few numerically small number or percentage, and C is the less important but more significant quantity of products. It is not always a fixed rule, and variations such as 90/10 or 75/25 may still be valid for analysis purposes.
In the US we have the top 1% controlling 43% of the wealth in America and with that the political influence. The top 5% controls 72% of the wealth. It represents the most significant income disparity since the Great Depression.
113. Item by customer
The original DS software did an excellent job of controlling and planning inventory. When working with a client, if they lose a key customer, it might be detrimental to their business and desperately need control by critical customers as well. It was one of many enhancements that I had the development team program, item by the customer.
114. Inconsistent Representative Agreements
I was fortunate to land a large publicly traded manufacturer of consumer goods as a client. This multi-divisional company had operations countrywide. It is terrific when you get a call and request that you start working with a new division. But this too caused problems.
DMI created a separate representative agreement for each sales organization. In one situation, they gave the representative in Texas exclusive rights to all businesses in the state. When I wanted to implement a solution for my client in that state, there were severe conflict problems. The Texas rep wanted the business, and there was no feasible way that I was going to give up my hard-won account. I won the battle but did not enjoy all the drama that went into this sale due to the short-sightedness of DMI not having a standard agreement with which all sales representatives had to comply.
115. Surgical Instruments
One of the more fascinating assignments was working with a medical device manufacturer, including in their arsenal instruments used for surgical operations. The hospital would schedule, say, an open-heart surgery. The scheduling called for the surgeon, anesthetist, and supporting nursing contingent, plus importantly, an available operating theater. I learned that, with respect, the surgeons are prima donnas and will only use a specific brand of instruments that they insist on using for their surgeries.
At the moment the patient and operating team are assembled in the operation room, a cart with all the necessary instruments and medications is wheeled in. The cart is staged in the distribution center within the hospital. Before this step, the supplier, or medical device manufacturer in this situation, has already supplied all the instruments that are required based on a forecast of demand.
The instruments are sourced and sterilized before dispatching to the hospital. Remember hospitals are countrywide, and each surgeon has her or his request for specific branded products, so this is not a simple scheduling task. It is the type of challenge that excites me to help solve problems.
I consulted at a slaughterhouse. Say they receive an order for one hundred T-bone steaks. The cows are roaming the field, so lead the cow to the slaughter and obtain the required T-bones. But what about all the other meat on the cow? Co-products and by-products. The abattoir receives hundreds of orders per day for cuts of beef, pig, and lamb. These orders must be assembled and processed. Waste control is essential, so what to do if we have an imbalance of requirements?
Naturally, management must determine if they will deliver short deliveries to customers to balance demand and make up the difference on the following day or week or place some of the surplus meat in cold storage or freezer. Realistically planning includes what volume or weight can fit in the refrigerated truck, and that will factor into the production run. Labor is an issue as the company has a limited number of skilled resources in an industry that suffers from elevated levels of injury. All in all, a scheduling challenge.
117. Credit Cards
I worked with a company that produced credit cards for banks and retail organizations. I am not sure that I have ever encountered higher levels of security. To gain access to the production facility, they require you to hand in your driver’s license, and you were under very close supervision as you toured the facility. This is so that you can be inspected at the exit to verify you are not leaving with a handful of credit card blanks.
The process is complicated. Most banks have several different cards, identified as debit, gold, silver, and platinum credit cards. The chip in the card has additional processing requirements. Each card produced has the customer’s name printed on the card, with an assigned card number, expiration date, and security code. The product is matched with a corresponding letter to be mailed, along with legal documentation. Mailing by the credit card generator is on behalf of the bank client.
Naturally, banks or retailers begin the process after receiving requests for cards from customers. What is unknown is how successful a campaign will be to solicit new customers with, say, zero percent interest on outstanding balances for the next 12 months. There might be an overwhelming response to an advertisement and the credit card processor does not have sufficient card blanks, literature, and envelopes to meet the needs of the increased demand. Collaborative communication is key between the bank and card processor, but not always practiced.
118. Garage Doors
I worked with a garage door manufacturer. The initial information conveyed to me is that this is an industry that is impossible to plan. Intriguing. It has the risk of being a little technical, so please bear with me. The company told me that their computer system had thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Bills of Materials (BOM) on file. Every order received had to have a BOM constructed with the specifics of the customer to control the process through production, and to plan raw material, packaging, paint, fasteners, etc.
Garage doors may be manufactured from wood, fiberglass, steel, or aluminum. There are two types of insulation: polystyrene and polyurethane. The door can be single, 2, 3, or 4 horizontal panels. With and without windows. The finish can be any of 6,000 colors. The appearance can be classic, carriage, or contemporary. All doors are made to measure and can vary in width and height in 1/8th-inch increments. Faced with this daunting array of choices, the door company had taken each order and created a unique BOM. Technically the company was working as if they were made to stock (MTS) requiring this unique BOM for each build.
My first task was to persuade the company to adopt an Assemble to Order (ATO) build strategy. It is the same method used by auto manufacturers. Here we start with order entry and ask the customer questions. What material do you want for your door? What type of insulation? How many panels do you require? Do you want windows on your doors? What color do you want? What finished appearance do you desire? What is the width of the garage door opening? What is the height of the door from the ground to the top of the door?
By adopting this process, the company would construct a BOM to support this order, identify the BOM by an order number, and save the database from being cluttered with redundant data. More importantly with the way they operated previously, it was impossible to forecast the models, options, and accessories. Then it is difficult to determine the popularity of options based on orders received. Now this ATO approach information would support creating planning BOMs to plan materials from suppliers and capacity in the plant.
All that could be gleaned from the initial history was the rate at which orders were received and if the trend was up, down, or level. By following the ATO strategy, trending is determined.
It was a successful assignment. In the end, this privately held company was sold to a larger corporation. To visit this company requires a one-way 90-minute drive. One night, while driving home in the dark and heavy snow, a snow truck driving in front of me was clearing snow off the road. When I realized where I was after the cloud cleared, I was barreling down toward a barrier protecting a bridge. I still do not know how or why I did not have a severe accident that night.
Have you ever had an experience where there is suddenly no road noise? That happened that night too. I was driving on ice. Now the challenge is how to slow the car down without applying the brakes.
119. Reuben Olson
Reuben Olson worked with me. He was driving home one night and fell asleep behind the wheel of his company-owned Cadillac and drove into the post supporting an overhead bridge. The car was a total write-off, but with all the protective devices in the vehicle, all Reuben hurt was his pride. Our team put in long hours.
120. Potency control
My experience covers inventory or stock control, and especially inventory record accuracy, but how do you process a product that has a half-life?
I worked with a bioscience company that manufactured radioactive seeds used to destroy cancer in patients with prostate cancer. The potency of those seeds deteriorates over time. As an example, the half-life of Palladium-103 is 17 days. That means that the prostate receives half of the dose in the first 17 days, then one-quarter in the next 17 days. The required dose is delivered in three to four half-lives.
Now think about the software application that needs to program for this eventuality. Then too, the software needs to keep control of the seeds by batch, with one or multiple lots produced on a specific day—a lot and date tracking are critical. The doctors would need to clearly understand the precise potency of any lot of seeds they were to administer to the patient.
121. Lawnmowers and snow throwers
I worked with companies manufacturing lawnmowers and snow throwers. That implied they had their winter and summer production plans balanced. So how do you go about forecasting next season’s demand? Simple, you say. Look at shipments for the past three years and extrapolate orders by taking trend and seasonality into consideration. Not so fast.
In this industry, the products are sold through distributors. What if last season you had an abnormally low snowfall season or a surprisingly cold summer season with low grass growth? In both situations, the distributors might still be sitting with high levels of inventory in their warehouses due to the previous season-low demand. At the start of the new season, demand will be low or slow.
It is necessary, therefore, to communicate with your customers, the distributors, or even large retail groups to determine their on-hand inventory position. Now, what is the likely demand that they will require at the start of the new season? I will not get into the added complication of consignment stock. Who owns that problem?
122. High fashion merchandise
High fashion merchandise is another area that presents a challenge. To keep it simple, let’s say you have a new line of shirts, blouses, suits, dresses, whatever. How can you have an accurate forecast for something that you have never sold before? It is highly unlikely that you have never manufactured or sold shirts previously, so you use the history of what was sold in the past and use that as a guide to the demand for the new season.
You will plan at families of products, say all dress shirts, irrespective of size or color options. That could be the first yardstick to use for future demand.
Generally, high-fashion merchandise is presented at trade shows. Retailers and wholesalers will take orders for the new season products. If using the past demand for trade show merchandise and projecting potential demand, it will show a level of higher or lower interest in the latest product line. The manufacturer can adjust the future demand pattern according to market acceptance.
After the season arrives, and after the initial rollout of the new season merchandise, keeping daily track of demand for replenishment provides the most accurate picture of the success or failure of the lines. The solution here is to track separate demand streams, possibly one for the trade show, and another for product rollout. Product production is adjusted accordingly. I will not elaborate on using the planning bill of materials to prorate aggregate demand to color and size options.
Planning cores presents its challenges. Say the alternator in your vehicle fails. You have a choice of purchasing a new or a refurbished unit. The price and age of your car will determine your choice. But what happens to the old alternator unit—the core? The core, or in this case, the alternator, is returned to the manufacturer, stripped, and rebuilt to be like new.
The challenge is for the manufacturer to plan which components need to be available for the rebuild. Then too, at what rate are old units returned for repair? The year of manufacture has an impact. With older vehicles, more core returns are received than later model cars. Here the system needs to track what components got replaced on previously returned cores.
You may have a policy that all bearings, regardless of the state of wear, are replaced. With the detailed information available in your systems, future demand calculations are at the end item level, and the planning bill of materials will provide the planners with component demand. This demand compared to the current available inventory will show planned replenishment over time. Tracking this information also helps determine Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF).
There are additional demands that present an exciting challenge. Airlines never want to contend with an “aircraft on the ground” (AOG) situation. It may be the result of the landing brakes not working effectively on the aircraft. Here careful records are kept of the number of landings that the plane has completed. With an aggregate look at all similar types of aircraft, a determination is made when a replacement repair needs scheduling. Say every 1,000 landings — another MTBF metric. Naturally, companies like Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Lockheed Martin, etc., provide the airlines with valuable preventative maintenance information.
124. Political influence in planning
How easy do you believe it is to plan demand when politics enters the picture? I worked with a small armaments gun and ammunition manufacturer. The situation should be so easy. With a minimum of three years of history, project future demand based on trend and seasonality. Easy. Barack Obama was elected president of the US to office in January 2009 and ended his 8-year term in January 2017. The National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the largest lobbying groups in America, advised its members that Obama is going to take their guns away. Motivate the public with fear. That drives up sales.
During the administrations of Bill Clinton (8 years) and George W. Bush (8 years), Americans spent an estimated $21.1 billion and $22.9 billion in 2016 dollars on guns and ammunition, respectively. Under Obama (half the total time of 16 years), Americans spent more than that entire amount combined ($44 billion). Fear of the removal of guns and ammunition alarmist rhetoric was repeated during Obama’s eight years. Obama did not take people’s arms. The Republicans would not allow him to enact any gun laws.
The National Rifle Association donates millions of dollars every year to Republican lawmakers in Congress. Republicans are in the pocket of the NRA. The NRA gave Trump $21 million for his presidential campaign, the highest amount the NRA has ever given to a presidential candidate. Those same Republicans line up uniformly to block proposed gun control legislation. The implication of these facts appears obvious: Politicians are refusing to stem the bloodshed of gun violence because they’re getting what amounts to a legal bribe from lobbyists.
Every member of Congress gets rated by the NRA as to their support of the 2nd Amendment’s right to bear arms. The higher the rating, the more campaign dollars are provided. Firearms were used to kill 13,286 people in the U.S. in 2015, excluding suicide. Approximately 1.4 million people have been shot using guns in the U.S. between 1968 and 2011, or about 30,000 per year. The Vietnam War for the US began on November 1, 1955, and ended on April 30, 1975. During that two-decade period, 58,220 soldiers lost their lives for an average rate of death of 2,900 per year. Since Trump’s election in 2017, arms and ammunition sales have declined 17%. Forecasting these wild swings is a challenge.
125. Paper Shredder
I worked with an office supply manufacturer producing paper products and machinery. The customer base consisted of large office product retailers that operated nationally and some small family-run businesses as well. They received a call one day from their biggest customer to say that they could source a paper shredder from China at half of what a similar model cost from this US producer. My client decided that they were up to the challenge and harnessed the brains and creativity of their product development engineers.
The existing shredders required machining and assembly with numerous fasteners. The new product they created still required some machining, but they made the frame with plastic housings. Assembly required the parts to be snapped together, all in a fraction of the time of the earlier models. They retained their customers with a new low-cost model, and sales increased dramatically.
126. Buy Online?
Consultants can be stupid sometimes. I worked with a company that made health care products. Hair combs are one example. They requested a consultant to visit the company and recommend an innovative approach to sales. Their current market was to sell through retail. The consultant (and a person I knew) strongly recommended that they dump the retailers and embrace online sales. The company could not fathom why somebody would buy a single comb online and pay more for shipping than the product itself. It was not so important to pick up a comb from your local pharmacy. Even if ordering a dozen combs and who needs that many would not make economic sense. The consultant lost this assignment.
It seems like in my career, I began working with a packaging company in South Africa, and by luck and circumstance, gravitated to several different packaging companies in the US. I worked with another publicly traded packaging company. An investment firm initially owned this client company. I was presenting the DS software to the management team, and they highlighted a critically important need. They had sales personnel stationed in many cities across America.
How would the DS product be able to send information to each salesperson and get feedback based on the forecast for each of the salesperson’s customers?
Easy, I said. DS had a feature where you could extract data for each salesperson. The DS user administrator could take each of these separate exported files, compress them, attach them to an email, and forward them to the respective salesperson. We would provide each salesperson with an application on their laptops, and on receipt of the email, they could expand the file, attach it to their database, make appropriate adjustments over time, export the data, compress it, and email it back to the corporate administrator who would consolidate all the sales people’s data and then share information with the respective sales managers.
The management team sat there in total silence. Finally, they asked me if I thought that salespeople were savvy enough to be able to do all this technical computer work where they do not have the aptitude for managing this process. They then asked if I had ever heard of the internet.
There and then, I asked them if they would work with me, and I would develop an internet-based system for them. The year was 2001. My son Sean graduated with a computer engineering degree. I employed him and a few others, including one of his best friends, Jim, who held the same degree, to help program what I named Sales-Lynx, an internet collaboration tool.
The first requirement was that this must be developed using the Microsoft SQL (MS SQL) database. The second requirement was that all user interfaces had to be accessible via the Internet. But it was not all plain sailing. The idea was to use the Sunbelt database in DS and convert it to the Microsoft database. Recall that Sunbelt was a series of indexed flat files. Microsoft SQL does not permit redundant data, so extracting data from Sunbelt, requiring redundant data, resulted in a significant cleanup that needed to take place through a rigorous conversion process.
Once over that hurdle, having a salesperson restricted to only seeing their data was simple, and then having the sales manager see their direct reports’ information was again possible using MS SQL technology. The other neat benefit was that the salesperson could slice and dice their data to view it in multiple ways. If they wanted to see “A” customers, with only “A” items, they could achieve that.
We allowed the salespeople to download their data to their PCs so that they could take the data with them, review aircraft trips, or share data with key customers. If they had internet access at the customer, this feature would not be required. We were able to restrict factory cost data from being displayed so the customers would only see what they had to pay per unit and extended price.
We provided the capability of sales personnel, to add notes at aggregate or detailed data levels. It turned out to be a big success. In 2005 DMI purchased this application and branded it as Feedback.
129. DMI antagonized
In developing this solution, I did not win friends at DMI. Their attitude was that I should have come to them with the idea, and they could have produced the solution. The reality is that I did approach them with many ideas that they rejected. The owners of the company, the late Steve Johnston, and Mike Campbell were making so much money selling what they had with an international group of resellers and reasoned why rock the boat and spoil what you have if you perceive that you have built the very best mouse trap available.
I presented the DS product to a Milwaukee transport company who agreed to purchase the product if we migrated it to a Microsoft SQL database away from Sunbelt. That was just one battle I did not win.
With my relationship now showing DMI that I was creative, we parted company in February 2002. My Sales-Lynx was dependent on the DS product, so what to do next? DS had another significant problem, and that was the naïve forecasting formulas that Bernie Smith had developed years before releasing his book in 1991. There is a professional body of academic knowledge and experience that has defined a selection of algorithms that would produce a higher-quality forecast. We redeveloped our software to include the series of formulas from Forecast Pro and named it Supply-Lynx Internet Collaboration (SX).
The users loved our solution because it was significantly more user-friendly to navigate and present results. Mike Baird, who was part of our team and a part-time forecasting lecturer at a local university, conducted several tests using both DS and our SX solution. The results showed that over time, the Forecast Pro created a forecast that was significantly more accurate when comparing actual to forecast, and the variability of the errors was substantially smaller, allowing client companies to plan with much lower levels of safety stock inventory. Then too, we were not restricted to forecasting in months but had the flexibility to forecast in weeks and days.
With our team growing, we moved into offices in Brookfield’s Bishop’s Woods. The offices were built on a tract of land that had previously been owned by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Linda called me from home in the early morning of September 11, 2001, telling us about the terrorist attack in New York City. Our team rushed to my house to watch the planes flying into the World Trade Center and see them collapse. With our deep-felt emotions and confusion as to why this was happening, we closed the office for the balance of the day.
Ted Kanavas died of cancer on July 3, 2017, at age 56. I met Ted when he worked for Harris Data in Brookfield as a sales manager. Harris Data developed and sold an enterprise software solution. I partnered with Harris to interface with Demand Solutions software to provide a value-added forecasting function. While we were developing our Supply-Lynx software, Ted joined our team to help promote and sell our software. Ted also had the responsibility to help us secure venture capital so that we could hire additional developers and pay for marketing and advertising.
My business plan was over one hundred pages with significant detail, including a cash flow analysis that spanned five years with optimistic, average, and very conservative estimates. To Ted’s dying day, he was an ardent Republican and always supported loyal Republican causes. His employment relationship with us required time off to perform his duties as a Wisconsin State Senator and to attend legislative meetings in Madison, the State Capitol. Ted had several lunchtime meetings with supporters and donors. Ted said that he knew every deep pocket in Wisconsin who supported the Republican cause and helped fund their political party. Ted believed he could tap into those relationships to get us the funding we required.
Ted orchestrated a presentation to the local angel investor group. I still have the sports jacket that Ted strongly recommended I purchase to match the dress code of the wealthy investment group. We were not successful in getting any investment money. I blamed Ted for this. I did not believe that he could present our case as effectively as I could. He lacked my enthusiasm, breadth of understanding, and experience for a solution that I valued. Ted teamed up with a friend of his and flew to California. They met with several investors. The outcome was they could not secure the $5 million I was looking for but could get access to $50 million from investors who would take over the business and kick me out. That did not appeal to me. Ted and I parted ways when we realized that sales would close at a slow rate. With us being unsure of the potential income that would keep us in business, we had to reduce costs. Sadly, Ted was expendable.
I did, however, learn one vital lesson. Investors are looking for traction. If you could show them a graph where sales were increasing exponentially, then you have their attention. If you are presenting a concept, wrapped up with lots of blue skies, then despite 100 pages of a detailed business plan with every justification in the world, you will not be successful in raising capital.
I should add that at the time we were looking for money, the stock market was not doing well, and several investors told us that they would not pull money out of a depressed market unless to support a substantial venture with significant guarantees. I had expenses getting this mission off the ground. I had to have legal documents drawn up for the investors to sign where they attested to the fact that they could afford to lose their investment if this venture failed.
Jim Doyle, a Republican, was governor of Wisconsin at the time I was trying to get financing. The state promoted small businesses and would help fund ventures. I enthusiastically applied. I was unsuccessful. I learned that most of the money got awarded to out-of-state companies. Even the state wanted to be sure of getting a return on their investment. What a disgrace!
132. First Client
We worked with a company producing chemicals for the tire industry. It was a global operator, and the business relationship turned out well as they became one of our first clients when we created our own SX software after parting company from DMI. We naturally gave them the absolute best attention possible and saw to it that we would meet their every need. It was, indeed, an international account. Their data center is based in the UK and our software is housed on a server in the US. When we were ready to roll out the application, I flew to Brussels, Belgium, to do the initial training.
We had a gentleman from The Netherlands who elected to take charge of the evaluation of the software with a contingent of 15 people sitting around a large conference table, each with a PC linked to the internet. One test that he wanted to conduct was to see how responsive the application would be when all 15 people tried to use the system simultaneously. Recall that we are in Europe and the computer server is in the US. He gave the order to participants to adjust and to time how long it would take for the change to be complete. Well, the changes were never completed.
I’m in Europe early in the morning, and my team is still sleeping in the middle of the night in Milwaukee. What to do? I certainly did not understand what had gone wrong. I knew that it should have worked. We had the managers take a break and attend to other duties. I sent Sean an email appealing for help. My crazy son had to take a bathroom break in the middle of the night and for some strange reason, checked his email. He responded nearly instantly and said that he would investigate the matter.
133. Microsoft Sequel Database
When anyone purchases Microsoft’s SQL, you have a choice of the version you can acquire. Knowing what I was up against, Sean logged on to the client’s US computer to discover that they installed the entry-level SQL that allowed for testing applications but was restricted to single-user access only. So, with fifteen users trying to access the database from Brussels, obviously, that could not be accomplished. Sean had to wait for daybreak, talk to the client’s computer team, and had the appropriate version of SQL loaded. The rest of the training went well.
There was another situation that fascinated me after the company had been operational a few months later. The client requested additional functions programmed. When ready, we needed to deploy the upgrade to the server in the US. We had a feature in the software where we could see who was using the software at any point in time and their location in the world. The application was operational 24X7 to support global users. We had built in a feature that we either lock out any or all users or send a message to request that they shut down their application so that we could affect an upgrade. To say that I was excited to stand and witness this upgrade taking place is an understatement. I was very proud of Sean and our team.
I met with a manager at a client company in Belgium. He received a phone call while we were in conversation and asked my permission to take the call. He conducted his discussion in Flemish. After the call, I told him that I understood every word as he was telling his friend about his wife’s pregnancy and childbirth. It was the first time that I had heard Flemish spoken. It is so like Afrikaans that I could easily follow the conversation. Doing some research, I see that there are different dialects of Flemish: Flemish-Dutch, Belgium-Dutch, and Southern Dutch. Afrikaans was derived from the Dutch language. Flemish varieties are spoken in Flanders, the northern part of Belgium, as well as the French Flanders language. The official languages of Belgium are Dutch, French, and German.
The year 2000 was critical in the computer industry. There were millions of applications that developed during the 1900s. Recall my career began in 1969, working on IBM 360 and developing programs in COBOL. Back then, when we had to work with dates, using a 2-digit for the year was an efficient way to program. 69, representing 1969. Minimizing data record length usage helped programs operate faster. With all those many programs in operation, what was going to happen when we reached the year 2000 represented as 00?
To calculate a date range, what happens when you subtract 69 from 00? We certainly did not program for negative numbers in the date field. The short answer is that the applications would no longer work. That requires companies to acquire new applications to work in the new millennia if their existing applications did not comply with these date issues. That, in turn, created a situation where billions of dollars were spent on software upgrades or replacements.
When the year 2000 rolled around, it was as if the computer industry had fallen off a cliff because there were not too many companies with an appetite to invest any more in IT (information technology). We built our Sales-Lynx in 2000, and our Supply-Lynx starting in 2002. It is not difficult to see that sales were not going to be brisk.
By 2005 we had sold five systems, and we had run out of money. Our only option was to close the doors. October 10, 2005, will remain the lowest point in my life. I was devastated, humiliated, angry, and filled with so much emotion that I had difficulty controlling myself. To get out of the mess, we moved out of our home and into an apartment in early 2006. Eighteen months later, in November 2008 we bought the condominium we are currently living in. We were the first to move in along with four other families. So, what did I do to earn an income?
Daryl Landvater and Chris Gray, the computer specialist with Oliver Wight, spoke about the sunrise and sunset evolution of software. A software solution is newly developed and promoted with lots of fanfare. The software company cannot get sufficient traction with sales and quietly disappears on the horizon. Tell me about it. That is what happened to us.
136. Global Electronics Company
One company that we were presenting our Supply-Lynx software to was an international publicly traded electronics company. The Vice President, Jack, was overly excited. Their current forecasting process consisted of an enormous Excel spreadsheet stored on a server. Salespersons’ data got extracted and emailed to them to review and adjust. The function we offered was so superior and significantly less manually intensive that he motivated the company to invest. Alas, the agreement to purchase our software came days after we closed the shop. I had a face-to-face meeting with Jack to explain our dilemma. A few days later, he contacted me and requested that I make contact with the owners of WebConcepts, a City of Industries (near Los Angeles), a California-based company that expressed interest in acquiring the software.
I met with WebConcepts CEO, Ray, and I agreed that he had to hire Mike Baird and me and give us guaranteed employment for a minimum of 18 months. In turn, I would provide the source code and help sell the electronics company. Ray and his older brother, Richard, who financed the company, were originally from Burma, now Myanmar.
The chief technical officer, Yudha, was not in favor of the deal because he said he could develop the entire system in a week, something that had taken us 12 years of development. Yudha was not precisely what one would call an upright individual. He possessed six cell phones. He gave each of his girlfriends a cell phone, and they had the number of one of the six he carried. They all knew that they were special, and he rotated who he would sleep with, and by having multiple phones, the girlfriends would not know of the existence of others. His excuse for the neglect of the five he happened not to be sleeping with that night is that he had a critical task that required him to work very late at night.
Ray, too, had his problems. He drove a late-model Mercedes sports car and wore the most elegant clothing available. Living in the Los Angeles area was very important to Ray. He did business with the film studios and believed that his image was critical to securing business. Richard and his wife Jean lived in Dallas, Texas. Richard spent many years working for IBM and saved diligently. After retirement, he helped fund WebConcepts.
138. Electronics company visit
Ray, Mike, and I sat in on a meeting with the electronic client. They were looking for specific functions needed to roll the software out to China. There were about a dozen people at the meeting, sitting around a large conference room table. One of the female managers had technical questions that she wanted clarity on to assure her that the software would meet their needs. I was sitting there with my mouth open. I knew full well that the required function was not in the application but could be enhanced.
Ray gave her every assurance that everything she requested was already part of the solution. It is one reason I have been critical of the software industry. If, as a prospect or client, you are lied to, how can you tell? Frankly, I had a fun time working at WebConcepts for the two-and-a-half years I stayed there. I got to know the finer points of the product WebConcepts had developed, managing and controlling sales of DVDs to retail companies by the film studios. Our forecasting application front-ended their application to support planning for new releases and replenishment of inventory on the shelf. Richard fired Ray after I left because he was rightfully concerned that expenses were totally out of control. Ray’s insatiable appetite for luxuries exceeded their income.
139. SCM Solutions, LLC.
DMI sold Demand Solutions to Logility, a publicly traded software company. That allowed Steve and Mike to retire. Logility brought in a new CEO, Bill, to run DS and to make his mark make wholesale changes. It did not make the representatives happy, and many left the company. They had commission privileges removed or reduced, and the management style offended many of the sales representatives. Logility became a wholly-owned subsidiary of American Software.
In 2009 I incorporated SCM Solutions, LLC. The SCM represented Supply Chain Management. It was now my third company, and second in the United States. We continued a path to represent software companies, providing education, training, consulting, and services to help make client companies profitable.
Ralph Thiery was a representative with DS during the time that I sold the software covering Ohio and other states east of my territory. Ralph and his partner Ron, plus their team, were one organization that parted company from DS under the new regime. Every so often, I would get a call from Ralph with a new idea of what we could do as a representative for a different software solution and to continue to earn income. One idea was for us to sell JustEnough software. They marketed as an American product, but under the covers was developed in South Africa. I called an associate in South Africa, Carl, to give me a reference for this company. Carl told me they were f*****g crooks.
Not heading the advice, I went out and sold the software. My first client was a textile company. Since we were traveling to South Africa, I decided to stop in and meet the JustEnough management team and developers on their home turf in Joburg. I learned that the development team would be releasing a new and improved version of the software soon. Great news. I conveyed that information to my textile client.
When I originally sold this client, we charged them $50,000 for the suite. They were enamored with the function of the upgrade as it addressed a significant shortcoming with the original product. The US executive and owner of JustEnough thought that it was a great decision on the part of the textile company and quoted them $1 million for the upgrade. The comment from my South African contact, Carl, came true. I stopped representing this company immediately. Regrettably, the textile company is now stuck with the software and will never pay an extortion price for the upgrade.
Please understand that I have been selling and supporting software for many years. In my IBM days, I would present a solution, and if the client made an additional investment, I thought I was the most phenomenal salesperson on the planet. After I left IBM and kept up my sales and support role, I quickly learned that the clients were buying from IBM and not from me. I was facilitating the acquisition of the IBM solution, no better than a glorified sales clerk.
After leaving IBM I understood that prospects were buying from me. The prospects believed in my ability to solve their challenges by demonstrating that I clearly understood their business needs and the opportunity for addressing their issues with the software I represented. It included my solution that would address their needs. You do not sell three hundred-plus prospects just because they like you, or you happen to knock on their door. As stated in my opening, and as a reminder, if there was a lack of integrity with either the prospect or client I was consulting or the software company I represented, I moved on.
During the days that Ralph and I sold DS, the application had a significant shortcoming. The solution would determine a demand pattern projecting forward 36 months but did not have the function to plan replenishment of inventory. One of the many representatives, Gene, wrote a replenishment model making sure that he retained the rights to his software. The good news is that we have added another product, Gene’s, which we could sell to prospects and clients. Gene was one of several representatives that left the DS fold after the sales to Logility and are now under new management with Bill at the helm.
143. Ralph Thiery
It is getting repetitive and will not be the last time that Ralph called me, this time to say let’s sell Gene’s product Avercast. The good news is that Gene was looking for representatives to help promote his solution, and we had a ten-year record of accomplishment with Gene. Ralph had a prospect in mind.
We visited an automobile component manufacturer in Ohio and quickly won their business. I had a trip planned to South Africa, and while on vacation, Ralph contacted me to say that the day I arrive back I must get to Ohio for a meeting with the client so that we can document the function and features they required. Gene had preapproved these enhancements, according to Ralph. Ralph was using my skills to write specifications, not something that Ralph had done in his career.
In the end, there were ten separate specifications. I had the client sign off on each of my documents to verify that our collective understanding was correct for each of these provisions. With their acceptance signature, I sent these to Gene.
Gene said that he did not approve of the enhancements to his software, despite what Ralph had said and promised. We informed the client that these enhancements would not be forthcoming. They decided to sue! Who do you think they targeted? Ralph because he was the salesperson on the account, or Gene because he owned the software. No, neither. They decided to sue me because I had written the specifications.
That was the day I stopped representing Avercast. They did not follow through with their threat to sue me. How much blood can you get out of a stone? The manager at the company who worked with us resigned and left the employment of our client.
Gene Averill passed away on February 1, 2018, at age 76.
144. Anand Nahar
Anand Nahar earned an undergraduate degree in textiles from a university in India. He completed a master’s degree in operations research at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia. After graduation, Anand joined i2 Technologies, a publicly traded US company run by an Indian gentleman, Sanju Sidhu. i2, among other functions, offered a factory planning application that Anand supported. Anand’s father had his own business, where he helped people finance used vehicles in India. The father demanded a third-down payment. If the customer missed a single payment, he would repossess the car, and sell it to the next person looking for a used vehicle.
Anand grew up in a home where business and money dominated the conversation. As is customary practice in India, Anand married Anju in an arranged marriage. As Anju told me the story, she lived in a home with 20 family members. The home environment was vibrant all the time. After the wedding, Anju lived with Anand in an apartment in Atlanta. Anand’s job required him to travel extensively, so Anju was home alone most of the time. It was a huge adjustment for her.
After a time working for i2, Anand and Anju returned to Bengaluru (previously Bangalore). The couple has a son Adit (born 2004) and a daughter Aditi (born 2006). Anand is a non-practicing Hindu, mostly a vegetarian, but his children attend separate single-sex Catholic schools. As an aside, Adit attended school with 66 pupils in his class taught by one teacher.
While at i2 Technologies, Anand became friends with Pari Nagappan Annamalia. Anand learned in his support role at i2 that the factory planning software was nearly impossible to install, and extremely user-unfriendly to learn and operate.
After Anand returned to Bangalore, Anand, and Pari decided to build their user-friendly factory planning solution, naming it Planvisage—envisage your plan. My 5 cents worth: I thought this to be a stupid name because the word “envisage” is not commonly associated with the software.
Planvisage is not a memorable name either. Neither Pari nor Anand was a skilled developer, so Anand hired Jogy Thomas (a Catholic), a bright developer. Pari also had an arranged marriage, and he and his wife elected to live in Singapore. i2 Technologies was acquired by JDA Software in January 2010.
While Ralph was still involved with DS, he heard that Pari had called on DMI/DS to add a factory planning feature to their forecasting and replenishment offerings. The new CEO at DMI/DS, Bill, decided that he knew precisely how to negotiate with anyone, and he would be in charge. Part of the way through the meeting, Pari realized that this was not meant to be a win-win relationship, and abruptly got up and left the meeting.
Ralph, not born shy, contacted Pari and said that he and I would represent Planvisage in North America, had a client that was very interested in the solution and would like to propose Planvisage to the company. It was in early 2010. And yes, I got Ralph’s call requesting me to learn the software and help sell and install Planvisage.
With the usual back and forth with legal sorting out terms and conditions, we closed our first deal with this packaging company with eight factories. We got on-site support from Pari. The way we wrote the agreement, the company could start with a single plant and add new plants as and when required. Since the software was negotiated at a reduced introductory price being the first installation in the US, we built in an annual 10% escalation in price clause.
We could not know at that juncture that this company would be on a journey where today they have fifty factories. The unwelcome news: only thirteen plants purchased the software over several years, and six plants stopped using the solution, now available to move to other facilities within the same organization.
146. Demand Planning and Sales and Operations Planning
The Planvisage software was well-architected and an easy-to-use application. To say that I was impressed would be an understatement. But it too had its shortcomings. Imagine having a solution to plan a factory taking all the bottleneck work centers into account and optimizing capacity and the production flow throughout the factory, securing needed raw materials and components as required. Planvisage planned based on orders received.
If you wanted any long-range planning, you would need an additional source of information to project longer-range demand, say at least a year out. If you wanted to plan for capital replacement or investment or new facilities, you might need to plan 3 to 5 years forward. That function was not available in the software, but Planvisage did support importing an external file to provide longer-range planning visibility.
I met Anand face-to-face for the first time at a trade show in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in June 2011. By this time, Anand and Pari had parted company after disagreements, and each went their way. Pari joined JDA (now the owner of i2), and in 2012 moved to Tata Consulting.
During my meeting with Anand, I recommended that he should consider adding a fully-fledged demand planning solution inclusive of forecasting, replenishment, and distribution planning. It was an area where I had extensive experience in recent times with the DS product beginning in 1992, and then in developing my Supply-Lynx solution in 2002, and later representing other software solutions.
Anand said that he would need to discuss this concept with his investors and respond to me then. When Pari severed his relationship with Planvisage, Anand did not have the funds to buy out Pari’s share of the business and subsequently acquired investment capital from two investors. One investor was previously the senior sales manager for SAP in India: the other lived in the Bangalore area.
In December 2011, Anand contacted me to say that they wanted to go ahead with my recommendation and build out the software suite to include demand planning and S&OP (Sales and Operations Planning) function.
147. Written Agreement
Before putting a single word on paper, I drew up an agreement where I stipulated that I wanted a 5% royalty on all sales globally for the demand planning and S&OP modules. For the record, my S&OP experience dated back to 1982 when first represented Oliver Wight, the originators of this concept with Walt Goddard, Dick Ling, and Tom Wallace as the key contributors.
Then my first implementation of this concept was with the division of the packaging company where I helped them accelerate their inventory turns to 9 from 3.
S&OP is the executives’ handle on the business, balancing supply, and demand, and tying it to the company business plan. Also, together with Anand, we agreed that any travel to India would be reimbursed in full by Planvisage.
Anand accepted the agreement, and at the beginning of 2012, I got busy writing the detailed specifications. I took the position, cynically, that the developers had never visited a retail store or factory, and in my specs walked the developers through why the function I was laying out was critical to solving business challenges.
148. Sean’s influence
At the outset, I wanted the application to be internet-based and all functions accessible via a smartphone, tablet, notebook, or PC. I needed the flexibility that the software to operate from a server in the client’s computer center or run as a cloud solution. In early March 2012, I pleaded with Sean to read some of my specifications. He was not impressed. I had written the specifications showing screen displays for a PC.
Sean said that I should invest in a book “Mobile First” that recommended the GUI (Graphical User Interface) must be designed for a smartphone, and then migrate it to a tablet, and finally to a notebook or PC. The idea is that it is easier to migrate display information from small to large but impossible to start large and attempt to shrink it.
None of my logic was of concern, but I needed a rewrite where the GUI was concerned—and I was even more confident that my specifications would be more impressed with this improvement.
On August 19, 2012, I arrived in Bengaluru (Bangalore) India. My flight arrived at midnight. Anand drove me 30 minutes to the hotel from the airport. If this were daytime travel, with traffic congestion, the trip would have taken more than an hour. It was my first visit to India, and education was underway almost immediately. I could not believe the number of large construction trucks on the road, nor could I understand why there was so much road construction underway so late at night. Anand told me that due to traffic congestion during the day, trucks were not allowed on the roads during daylight hours.
I saw a business park with several high-rise office buildings lit up, all offices were occupied. Anand explained that those offices belonged to companies operating call centers, mainly for US businesses, and therefore had to work at night to accommodate the US regular daytime office hours. These business centers were impressive. Across the street are new high-rise apartment complexes to house workers in the call centers.
Anand had me stay at a hotel owned by his uncle, about a 20-minute walk from his offices. The hotel can best be described as an economic hotel caring for regular businesspeople. With jet lag being a reality, I woke up the first morning at 6:00 am and decided I desperately needed a shower after the long journey and short sleep.
Have you ever taken a cold shower? I later learned that to save money the hotel does turn on the hot water until 8:30 am. Most Indian companies start work at 9:00 am. The breakfast menu in the restaurant did not look too appealing, so I took a pass on that. I’m sure the locals loved it, but it did not appeal to my appetite. Anand had warned me not to drink water from the tap at the hotel. We met early in the morning, and he bought me a case of twenty-four bottles of water. I stored it in the small refrigerator in my hotel room. I used the balance of the day to sightsee the area.
I found a 5-star international hotel about a 10-minute walk from where I was staying. I checked out their menu and ate breakfast there for the rest of my stay. I found an upmarket mall, UB City, India’s first luxury mall. Stores included Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Este Lauder, Rolex, Armani, Jimmy Choo, Michael Kors, etc. It was also about a 10-minute walk in a different direction. With a wide selection of restaurants at UB, I ate there every night. The “UB” represented United Breweries, one of the biggest breweries in India, and its owner Vijay Mallya was regarded as one of the wealthiest in Bangalore.
If you have ever had the pleasure of drinking any of the Kingfisher brands of beer, then you know who UB is. UB owned numerous offices, retail, and apartment buildings in the city of twelve million people. Vijay Mallya became a controversial figure long after I left India. He started an airline, United Spirits, which went bankrupt with employees not being paid for 15 months. As I write, Vijay Mallya is in the UK facing extradition charges for fraud and other crimes in India.
While walking around Bangalore, it was not difficult to see the 250,000 stray dogs that roam the city. In walking to work, I was surprised by several sights. The pavement was broken, and I wondered if I would sprain my ankle. That did not happen. Growing up in South Africa, I thought I knew what poverty was. It was incomparable to Bangalore. I asked Anand if there was any financial support for people who seemed to live on the streets. He said that a significant sum of money was allocated to the poor, but politicians siphon off the cash before it reaches the needy.
I passed a building where the locals used the restroom. It was easy to find because you could smell it a mile away. The streets were a useful place to dump trash. The volume of rubbish had to be seen to be believed. I read in the local paper at the time that they thought the city should encourage a recycling program.
Watching the traffic was an education. I have asked many people after my return, “What direction do cars drive on the one-way streets?” Both ways. Anand explained that the traffic fines are so low, at about US$1, that they are not a deterrent. Laws are ignored. Watching entire families balancing on scooters was another sight to see. Dad is driving with his helmet, Mom at the back with Junior sandwiched between Mom and Dad, and another child in front of Dad. None of the other family members wore a helmet—only the driver had to have one as demanded by law.
The Tuk-Tuks (taxis, rickshaws) were an experience. I took a ride on one to be able to say I did it. It is a scooter with a bench seat at the back that can hold three people, the driver in front, and a canopy covering the passengers and driver with an opening on both sides to embark or disembark. I hopped on one because it was raining. We were pulled up at a traffic light when another Tuk-Tuk came flying by and drenched me.
My time in the office was fascinating. Planvisage is on the 4th floor. When you enter the building, there is a sign saying that the only elevator in the building is to be used to ride up only. People needing to go down must take the stairs, while others use the stairs both ways if they are fit. I did. I saw electrical connections open with bare wires. There are no building codes. If there are any, no one adheres to them.
If desperate, and you needed to use the toilet, I hope that you did not need to sit. Remember, in India, the fashion is to use a hole in the ground, and you know Indians eat with their right hand because the left is used to wipe up after a squat. Yes, they do wash their hands before eating. The stench was something else. At least in the hotel, I had a conventional toilet. I forgot to mention that Anand spoke to his uncle, and they turned the hot water on earlier so that I showered at 6:00 am.
About a year after I left India, Anand moved into a new building that his father had built. I only saw photographs, but it had large windows with brightly lit open-plan offices. August is monsoon season and malaria is rife. I was inoculated for the disease and did not get affected. One of the developers told of her dad who was in hospital suffering from Dengue. It is a virus transmitted by mosquitoes, prevalent during August.
My meeting with the development team went well. I prepared slides to walk them through the logic required to have a successful solution and handed them the specifications as far as I had written to that point. I worked on writing specifications for the balance of the year, resulting in approximately 1,000 pages with 122 individual modules. I said earlier that Jogy Thomas, the lead developer, was a smart guy. Unfortunately, I believe that Anand had a negative influence on Jogy’s work. With my focus on retail, I required the software to cater to a retailer’s corporate office, divisional offices, distribution centers, and retail stores.
I recommended catering for a receiving and replenishment network. There was a need to focus on suppliers and customers. In a retail setting, tracking individual customers is not necessary. For distribution and wholesale companies, tracking key customers is critical. Since the factory planning system was not dependent on all these nodes in a network, they cut the detail significantly and consequently weakened the architecture of the solution.
In hindsight, I realized when seeing the shortcut that Anand did not attend any of the discussion sessions. If he was more knowledgeable, he might not have been so eager to request a compromised solution. There was an additional factor at play, Anand wanted this application to be programmed as quickly as possible, so he encouraged cutting corners. The quicker he had something ready to market, the sooner he would see revenue from this application. I left India on August 30, 2012.
150. Early disappointments
As I stated earlier, the balance of 2012 was taken up with writing the rest of the specifications. I did have an initial disappointment. Anand said he would pay my air travel and meal expenses after he made the first sale. He picked up the tab for the hotel if his uncle ever charged Anand for that room.
I had a troubling experience while staying in the hotel. We had monsoon rains one night, and I decided to try the dinner meal in the hotel restaurant. They had a pizza oven, and I decided that it should be a safe option. After the meal, I ordered a beer. With the place settings, they served a glass of water. I knew not to drink that, especially after the warning Anand gave me. The server was slow getting me my beer and presented me with the pizza. I took one bite and thought that my innards were going to explode with the scorching peppers cooked into the pizza. I had no option but to grab the water and drink as much as I could to neutralize the burning pain. I did eat the rest of the pizza, but only after the beer arrived.
Over the weekend, Jogy invited me to have lunch at his home. He met me at the hotel and drove me to the outskirts of Bangalore. Here too, it was a 25-minute drive that took well over an hour during the week. The men assembled in the dining room to eat while the women congregated in the kitchen to prepare the meal, serve the meal, and clean up after the meal. Men and women do not mix.
They were gracious to provide me with a knife and fork as I was not adept at eating with one hand. Before my trip to India, I had many conference calls with Jogy on factory planning topics. I was impressed to see that Jogy lived in a new home. The easiest way for me to describe it is to picture a shoebox placed upright on a narrow edge. The house went straight up for four floors. The floors were all marble, including the staircase, and the lighting was all concealed. The home was magnificent. On top of the house was a balcony structure where the family (wife?) did the laundry, and the wash lines were strung across to dry the washing. Jogy’s office was on the top floor.
My greatest puzzle during the meal was the cows that meandered along the road outside, mooing as they walked. Cows are sacred animals, so they have free reign of the place. I did learn that Anand loaned Jogy the cash required to purchase the home.
UPDATE: Jogy Thomas passed away from COVID-19 on May 14, 2021. RIP.
151. Anand and Anju’s condominium
During the week, Anand invited me to his home. It was a 15-minute walk from the office. Anand and Anju live in a four-story condominium building on the ground floor. There are two units side by side, but the top level is a single unit occupied by the owner of the building. Here too there are marble floors everywhere with concealed lighting. Anand, Anju, and their children Adit and Aditi joined us for dinner. They had a domestic who served us.
As you enter the home, you are required to remove your shoes. Each house has a shrine, and the house is considered consecrated ground, hence the requirement to remove shoes. What intrigued me is that Jogy, a Catholic, also has his shrine in his home, and you are required to remove your shoes. I was impressed with Anju and found that her English diction was significantly more precise than Anand’s. She spoke without a trace of an Indian accent. Anju’s goal was to be a teacher at Montessori School. At both meals, Jogy’s and Anand’s, they made every effort not to serve a dish that was spicy hot.
I should add that growing up in South Africa; we frequently ate Indian foods, especially curries. Where we live in Milwaukee there is a significant Indian population and several excellent Indian restaurants. Our favorite is The Taste of India. My favorite dish is lamb masala. It is complemented with naan, samosas, and Kingfisher beer.
152. Local shopping district
Sometime during the week working with the developers, I decided to take a break at lunchtime and walk to the nearby shopping district. I saw a very long, narrow road, where it felt that if you could stretch your arms wide, you might be able to touch the shops on either side. The multitude of people had to be experienced to appreciate the mingling. All the shops were small, and each seemed to offer its specialty. It included selling food or snacks. I visited a few toy shops to purchase gifts for the granddaughters, including model tuk-tuks. Several stores had generators outside the entrance doors since power failures are frequent. If you picture this crowd of people, now imagine a few cows intermingling with the people along the narrow road. A remarkable sight.
153. How to get leads and close sales
2012 became 2013, and Anand nor our team sold new client companies. Naturally, Ralph thought it best if we gave the software to two companies to use in production to in effect test it out in the real world. Ralph had worked with Eric, who, before our involvement with the software, had traveled to Bangalore to receive training on Planvisage. At the time Eric was working for a pharmaceutical company. In the end, after purchasing the software, and paying all expenses to have Eric travel to India, they abandoned using the software before they even got it operational. Eric was a beneficial resource to offer advice on the factory planning system.
Eric was now working for a global electronics company, among other products offering security systems. It was with this division, also a global player, that Eric implemented the demand planning solution. The idea was that when fully operational, Eric would be able to recommend the solution to other divisions. A great concept that did not work. We never closed any additional business with this organization. Nor did we earn a commission as the software was never purchased. To the best of my knowledge, they are still using this software, but without a software maintenance agreement in place, they could not obtain updates released periodically.
Ralph worked with another individual, Bill, who he deemed to be the most brilliant person on the face of the earth. Bill worked for a company Christine Alexander located in Seattle, Washington. The reason I mention the company is because I checked today and discovered that they are out of business. No surprise there. Bill was assigned to this company as a consultant to turn this business around. A husband-and-wife team owned the company, selling highly decorative women’s clothing through stores and via the internet. Each garment is embroidered with beads. Since this was to be another software giveaway, I paid my expenses to fly to Seattle, including car rental, hotel, and meals. It is a long and sad story that I will cut short.
The company had several personnel issues in that it needed to hire creative people. Those people were not respected and overruled by the wife—the creative partner. The company, through mismanagement, had racked up substantial debt and was under pressure to reduce the debt burden. I decided that if I could get someone to sit and listen to my recommendations, including the brilliant Bill, I could have provided guidance to use the software effectively and help contribute to the company’s success. We loaded the software, did minimal training, and were requested to put everything on the back burner while they addressed financial issues.
Bill was eventually appointed CEO, but he did not have the best people relationship with anyone within the company, and as I stated above, the organization closed. In my business dealings with Bill, I found him impossible as a communicator. I have been using Microsoft Excel for many years. In talking to Bill over the phone, he requested that I type in a function. His directions to me were not clear. When I asked for clarification, he spewed out some of the vilest verbiage I have ever heard come out of anyone’s mouth. Then too, there was that situation where he would fly home to Ohio every weekend. One weekend to his wife. The next weekend to his lover. When it comes to my relationship with Ralph, I never seem to learn, and it always costs me money.
It is a little technical but bear with me for a moment. I have referenced the term “factory planning” many times. In reality, Planvisage’s solution was named Production Planning and Production Scheduling. The way the developers wrote the application, if you looked inside the code you would find these two separate components. The reality is that you could not get benefits if you only used one function. From an industry perspective, if you wish to use jargon that everybody in the industry uses, the proper identification is Advance Planning and Scheduling, or its acronym APS. I could not believe how difficult it was to get Anand to adopt the correct terminology. From that aspect, he was obstinate.
2013 became 2014. I can list several companies that we called on, but that would be a tedious exercise. Anand kept promoting the APS along with Demand Planning, and I was able to share my experiences with Anand along the way.
In January 2015, Anand entered an agreement with Stellium to acquire the rights to the Planvisage software. Stellium has access to all the source code. It is critical to understand that I was not aware of this transaction until January 2016, but more about that later. Stellium employed more than 100 consultants with offices in Bangalore, India; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Houston, Texas. Their main activity was consulting with companies implementing SAP and Oracle. If you are not familiar with these software products, they cost millions of dollars to purchase and take years to implement. Having skilled and experienced consultants is essential to successful implementation.
If you Google SAP implementation disasters, there are dozens of case studies available on the internet. SAP originates from Germany, and Oracle is American. SAP has a module called APO—Advanced Planning and Optimization. In line with other SAP modules, APO requires millions of dollars worth of investment and years to install. Stellium found this to be an unreasonable burden for their clients and searched for an alternative product. The Planvisage software, with its APS and Demand Planning, filled this need impeccably. Then too, it costs a fraction to acquire, and implementation could be under a year if the client company data were clean.
Toxic data always extend the implementation period. Every company will assure you that their information is pristine, but as soon as you begin working with it, the worms start crawling out of the woodwork. The Stellium development offices are a short distance from Planvisage in Bangalore.
Two partners owned Stellium. Venky is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology. The university has graduated many successful computer people, including the heads of development at Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple, to name a few. Venky worked for consultants in the US after graduating to learn the American way of business. Venky resides in Bangalore and is a frequent flyer across the Atlantic with multiple visits a year to the US. Randeep qualified as a lawyer in the US and is resident in Houston, TX. Venky has the title of CEO, and Randeep COO. Both men are in their early forties, married with children. With Randeep’s lack of detailed knowledge of computer systems, he hired Alex to be a Senior Vice President of the software in January 2015.
156. New business relationship
In January 2016, my patience was wearing thin. I started pressurizing Anand to begin making payments for my 5% royalty for the demand planning systems that he had sold. Anand informed me that he would not pay me anything because they changed the GUI—Graphical User Interfaces that I had specified, and to him, that was justification for reneging on the deal.
For those of you who are not software architects, understand that my specifications included suggestions of the type of data required on a smartphone, tablet, notebook, or PC for each module. This information is to be used as a guide only. I realized that I could not present the developer with a blank sheet of paper. I was thinking through the process in detail and had to document precise ideas that would need to be seen somewhere on the display.
I had an agreement in writing. However, I could never engage an attorney in the US to fight a case in India. The cost would have been prohibitive, and the royalties due may never have covered attorney fees. I had to suck it up and move on. What was galling is that I had met with Anand, his wife, son, and daughter, had a meal in his home, met his developers, and thought that a handshake would have been good enough. Getting screwed after investing a very long year, plus all the expenses to travel to Bangalore left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Since I had met some of the Planvisage developers, I learned that some of them had jumped ship and joined Stellium. Jophin was the first contact I made and asked him if this was typical of the way that Anand would treat his business partners. Jophin told me that he discovered that he has been drastically underpaid and requested Anand to double his salary. Anand refused. Jophin resigned, took a temporary job, and then joined Stellium.
It took a few days, and I got a call from Alex to ask if I would like to work with the team at Stellium. I agreed. Ralph was equally annoyed at the way that Anand had treated me, so we decided to offer the packaging company an opportunity to migrate to Stellium and end the relationship with Anand. In July 2015, I proposed a significant upgrade proposal to the packaging company for an unlimited number of software licenses to roll out to the 40 factories at that time for the sum of US$500,000. Anand was delighted.
I made an identical offer to our client company if they wanted to invest in the Stellium product. In the year that Stellium owned the software, and now employing several of the ex-Planvisage developers, they had made some impressive improvements to the software that I was able to demonstrate. My thinking was that if Anand wanted to screw me, I could take this account away from him. And over time I knew how much he worshipped money.
158. Health Supplements
Before this fallout with Anand, he had sent me a lead to a healthcare supplement company in Vancouver, Canada. I got to a point where they were ready to invest in June 2016. Out of courtesy, I invited Alex to be on the call with me to finalize licensing arrangements. Alex recommended that they not pay for the software until such a time it was up and running to their satisfaction. I was horrified. Recalling that I sold more than 300 DS systems, making an offer like this was plain stupid. The problem: They have little ownership of the solution. If, like every other sale, they paid upfront, they would work awfully hard to make the investment pay for itself as soon as possible. Now we would have to be the drivers of getting users to adapt to the new solution.
I can author a dissertation on managing expectations and change management. What we quickly ran into was a user community that wanted the software to be modified to work the way that their manual systems worked. Doing that would not deliver the required and requested benefits. During my initial onsite visit, my contact was with Jennifer. Her boyfriend is South African. To say we hit it off immediately is an understatement. I studied the operation and prepared a 20-page document recording my findings and recommendations. Included in negotiations and proposals was to add the demand planning module to the APS investment by year-end 2016.
Alex had other ideas. He resented the fact that I was earning support consulting money by working with this company, and he decided that Stellium should receive it all without any funds flowing in my direction. At the end of 2016, he stopped me from doing any more support work for this Canadian company. By the end of 2017, I never earned a penny in Lighthouse consulting revenue.
Here again, I need to explain some redirection with Stellium. SAP would not permit a consulting partner to work with one of their clients and offer a competitive product. Any Stellium consultant recommending the Stellium APS in place of the SAP APO was violating the agreement. Stellium needed a change in strategy. They branded their software solution acquired from Planvisage as Lighthouse. Stellium could now offer Lighthouse, registered as a separate company, and not be in violation of the SAP agreement. Naturally passing qualified leads from Stellium to Lighthouse to get around this legal constraint. The developers kept adding new functionality and making the product more user-friendly.
I was in regular contact with Scott at the packaging company. We agreed that we would present the software to the management team, including plant managers from several of the operating divisions. I prepared a few slides, and Ralph and I met with Scott via web meetings to agree on a strategy that would satisfy all managers. Out of courtesy, I invited Randeep and Alex to the meeting. I thought it a great idea now that we were changing solutions from Planvisage to Lighthouse to meet the management.
We had about a dozen managers sitting in a U-shaped arrangement in the conference room. We included Thilak, a Lighthouse consultant who had joined the team and is now a resident in the US. He had worked with Planvisage for seven years and was remarkably familiar with the software and was a close friend of Jophin’s, one of the developers in Bangalore. No sooner had I opened the meeting than Alex got up, moved to the front of the room, and took charge of the meeting.
Two facts were obvious. Alex had no idea what the packaging company wanted, nor did he know the finer workings of the software but spoke in broad principles impressing nobody but himself. The meeting was not a success. Alex is like other Americans I have met. To him, having the title SVP (Senior Vice President) is critically important. As an executive member of this company, and appreciating it only had a headcount of 8 people, Alex did not believe it was his role to learn the detailed workings of the software. I do not think that he ever loaded the software on his computer. Why should Alex? If Alex were required to provide a demonstration of the software, he would get Thilak or Jophin to operate the computer.
I should quickly add that in my DS days I did not sell three hundred companies without knowing the detailed workings of the software, and by this time I was familiar with Lighthouse software as well. Scott was not happy because the strategy he had laid out with Ralph and me did not get addressed.
I met Randeep in a face-to-face meeting in Detroit in October 2016. It was a brief breakfast meeting during which I pleaded for Randeep to fire Alex as he was not adding value, but instead being a hindrance with all our prospect and client contact. Randeep said that he would decide if that might take place. Recall Randeep was a lawyer, and Alex had joined Lighthouse from a consulting company and was knowledgeable. To add insult to injury, it took me 7 hours one way to drive to Detroit, stay in the same expensive 5-star hotel that Randeep was staying in, and not realize that Randeep only had 20 minutes for this meeting. My understanding was that this was going to be at least a half-day strategy meeting. I drove 14 hours because I figured the airfare would be quite expensive, and Randeep had no plans to reimburse me for travel. Am I stupid, or what?
161. November 30, 2016, executive presentation
Alex arranged with the packaging company to make a follow-up presentation, this time to the CEO (Chief Executive Officer), COO (Chief Operating Officer), CFO (Chief Financial Officer), CIO (Chief Information Officer), Business Unit Directors, and other high-ranking members of the company for the session. Ralph and I were there along with Thilak. Randeep attended via a webinar conference call. The meeting day was November 30, 2016—my daughter’s birthday. The session was held in Charlotte, North Carolina. Not surprisingly, Alex needed no input from Ralph or me, even though we had worked with this company since 2010, including several onsite visits to several facilities. Alex launched forth with 60 PowerPoint slides. Is it necessary for me to say that the executives want to see the software in action—not sit through boring slides—as PowerPoint is not what they were purchasing?
162. OLAP and OLTP
Now I need to get technical. There are two computer processing strategies one can follow when developing software and interacting with a computer server. OLAP and OLTP. Online Transactional Processing (OLTP) is where you go to your banking terminal to withdraw or deposit money. The database is updated in real-time immediately with that type of transaction. Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) is where the computer runs a program, usually, every night, to build a relational database of information that allows the user to slice-and-dice data to see information presented in multiple ways, provided that the OLAP is designed to support specific user needs. An example might be a desire to interrogate data beginning with the corporation, select one division, now presented with all its product families, choose one, see all the products making up that family, select one, and see the customers who purchase that product by volume displayed in descending profitability sequence.
Alex had the developers spend weeks developing a number of these OLAP displays. It is essential to understand that this was not integrated into the Lighthouse solution. The developers extracted data from the database in Excel format and used this Excel file to mockup Alex’s dozen requested OLAPs. Alex was asked during his presentation what would happen if a salesperson visited a customer to discuss forecast demand, and would the salesperson be able to adjust this data? Yes said, Alex. He had Thilak show the appropriate OLAP, and Alex said it was simple to support the sales personnel using this tool.
The IT director was in the room. What he and I both knew is that if the salesperson made a few adjustments to forecast demand, to now reprocess the data to update the OLAP database could take between 30 to 60 minutes. It was selling snake oil at its best. In brief, this is not the tool that the salesperson should use, but an OLTP solution (you know, the bank analogy). But then why would incompetent, know nothing, Alex be aware of this?
He was carefully, thoroughly, and consistently destroying any credibility he might have had. What upset me was that if any of the management in the room requested Alex to make an adjustment and show the results in the OLAP, it could not happen. It was not an integrated, fully functional solution. There were additional disturbing episodes that took place. I’ll recount another.
The CEO asked about forecast accuracy. At this time, I was burning with frustration seeing all the incredible stupidity taking place in that meeting under the jurisdiction of Alex. I decided to field that question before Alex could jump in. I explained to the CEO that they would need to establish a forecasting process and have a system in place to increase accuracy over time by having the salesperson held accountable for valid measurements of results and communication.
I further explained that it was essential to determine at what level of detail you were going to measure forecast accuracy. Was it at the item-by-customer level, a product group level, or a divisional level? I said that it is not impossible that you begin with a forecast accuracy of say 30% and over time, increase it to 90%.
Alex interrupted my conversation to tell the CEO that forecast accuracy will always be 85%.
164. No more questions
Something interesting happened after that encounter. All the managers stopped asking Alex any questions. Questions were directed to me. Allow me one more time. The manager in charge of distribution asked if we had the function to determine the best way to replenish regional distribution centers from the distribution center hub. What was the best method of transportation, their fleet, or using third-party carriers like UPS or FedEx? His real question was could we determine the cost benefits of the alternate strategies?
I said that we did not have that available function, but that with the necessary transport, tables could easily program that for the corporation. Alex nearly had a fit that I would be as bold as to say that we did not have the function available. Alex said that we had that capability in the current version. He should know because he was clueless as to what was in the solution. He only had two years to learn about Lighthouse, but then too, that was not the job of an SVP!
Alex only got fired in June 2017, 30 months after he was appointed, and not a single sale to show for his efforts. When I first encountered Alex in January 2016, I extended a hand of friendship and offered to support him in any way possible. He told me that there was nothing that he could learn from me.
At that time, I had created 20 YouTube educational videos used for training and marketing purposes, but all were directed at Planvisage. I offered to redevelop those for Lighthouse. Alex said that there was nobody who would tolerate my face on so many videos. Interesting that my face does not appear on the video, with one or two small brief 10-second exceptions. The majority are training materials that feature software screen displays.
As of October 2019, our videos were viewed 33,000 times, a current average rate of fifteen per day. Two of the twenty are now available for viewing. I deleted the balance. The available two videos are educational. One teaches the principles and logic of Material Requirements Planning (MRP), and the other explains the philosophy behind Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP), executive management’s control of the business. As of October 2021, these two educational videos have been viewed 39,000 times, and in May 2023 now nearly 40,000 views). There were additional factors that upset me.
Alex has three young children. On some of my conference calls with him, they would enter the room at his home that he used as an office, and he would scream disparagingly at the kids to get the hell out of the room and shut the door behind them. That abuse did not endear me to Alex. As an SVP, Alex was highly paid and could show nothing for his service. Here I blame Randeep. I pleaded with Randeep to let Alex go. Randeep did say that with Alex joining a new consulting company after his departure he would not retain his position for long because he did not have the right work attitude. It took Randeep a long time to figure that out.
In the months since Alex’s departure, Randeep has not been able to sell anything. The scorecard shows only one sale in 3 years, and that was my sale to the company in Vancouver. I met Randeep in Chicago in September 2017. He was telling me that he was having trouble sleeping. I spoke to Randeep again in early December 2017, and he told me the same story. This time, he added that his wife was awake with him the previous night because he had severe chest pains. To me, these are apparent attacks of anxiety and a probable precursor that Lighthouse is on a path to bankruptcy.
There was a management change in November 2017. Venky said that he would take over the management of the Lighthouse software. Obviously, with Randeep’s lack of technical knowledge, he was not coping. Let me return to that October 2017 meeting. Venky was in town, and he and Thilak went to visit a prospect in the Chicago area. It was symptomatic of the Lighthouse strategy. They will not involve me with these sales calls, even if to use me in a support role selling or consulting. It would be a 90-minute drive to this prospect from my home. An easy drive. However, by involving me if we got the account, I would get 50% of the sale. They would prefer 100% of the total deal. With this prospect, they could not move the sales to the next level.
We are living in Donald Trump’s America. Racism has never been as prevalent as Trump supports and encourages white supremacists. Picture two highly qualified Indian nationals, one from Bangalore, and one from the Washington DC area, calling on a company to present their solution. Then too they have no credibility with any sales in the US, and they come with strong accents. To me, it was no surprise that they were not invited to take the opportunity further. They had told the prospect that I would follow up with the next steps if they were interested. If they did make this offer, why not include me in the initial presentation? Nothing developed.
Then too, they had an opportunity to present to a company in Florida that made flavor additives for soft drinks. The Indian team was ready, made the pitch, then nothing. There were other instances in St. Louis, upstate New York, and other centers. So they had the leads but were unable to close any. To repeat my contention, I had 300 DS sales. I am a successful salesperson. The simple reality is that American management is turned off hearing the Indian accent. There is so much anger in the US that many jobs are being subcontracted to Indian companies and mostly offshore to save on expenses. If you will believe me, I explained this “Indian” situation to Randeep in our October meeting. But there are none as deaf as those who will not hear.
166. Operations study
To help the packaging company make an investment decision, I spoke to Scott, and we agreed that I would visit another division of their facility in Dayton, Ohio, in mid-November 2017. It is to perform a week-long study to learn about their operation and explain how Lighthouse would address and support their needs. Randeep told Thilak that he could not accompany me. If I had not stated this earlier, I would have enormous respect for Thilak. He is a great team player. He is married, and his wife was expecting a baby girl in March 2018. (Anora was born on March 16, 2018).
The Ohio packaging division had performed their study and determined that their inventory record accuracy was 32% and forecast accuracy of 26%. For the uninitiated—that sucks. Imagine a one in three chance of having material needed available when it is urgently required. Imagine planning demand with an invalid projection. In the absence of a valid forecast, all the company can do is sit and wait for the next sales order. If you don’t have the required capacity or raw materials or packaging, oh well—we’ll get it to you sometime in the future. You only have to hope that your competitors suck worse than you, or they will eat your lunch by taking orders away from you. Their competitors love this situation.
With the details the Ohio division provided, I had valuable information available. Scott scheduled a conference call with Thilak and me to provide additional information to help make this study a success just before my departure. Immediately before our communication with Scott, Thilak and I had a call with Randeep. He forbids me to go on that visit, and during our conference call with Scott, we had to inform him that I was not allowed to proceed with that visit. Understand that I had been working with Scott since 2010 and had performed these studies at other divisions, so Scott was aware of my capabilities. To say Scott was disappointed in canceling this visit is an understatement after he had arranged for the personnel to be available for me to interview them. And Randeep is trying to close a deal with this group.
The next week Randeep calls me and requests that I now do a study the following Thursday and Friday. I informed him that I was not available due to other commitments. That was a lie, but how do you do five days’ work in 2 days? And since he had already upset the client, why would I now want to volunteer my time and at my own expense to undertake this study? I had told Scott that to get this done, it would be on a no-charge basis.
In March 2018, Lighthouse finally lost this account. I was not too surprised because, within the Lighthouse team, they had nobody with any experience of working with large corporate accounts boasting 47 manufacturing facilities operating under several diverse divisions.
It was a situation that I had encountered multiple times in my career, beginning with my days at IBM, where I was part of a team working with the leading banking organization in South Africa, as well as during my tenure with Demand Solutions. Here I managed a large publicly traded corporation, a manufacturer of household products throughout the US with numerous production facilities.
Closing additional sales was so simple, but I made it my business to be associated with the decision-makers at corporate. It helped that I established a reputation for providing professional service, education, training, and support. It was not something that the Lighthouse personnel understood nor wanted to learn.
Aiming to close a business where they could earn 100% of the sale, versus splitting commissions with me was just not part of their mindset. And naturally, 100% of zero is not that great either, as in this situation. Lighthouse was quite happy to work with a non-decision-making manager and hoping that one day the sale would materialize.
After the effort that Ralph and I had made with this company since 2010, it was more than a travesty to lose this account, moreover when they cut us out of this deal after I submitted a $500,000 proposal in 2016 and kept motivating the investment until Lighthouse decided they had a better strategy.
In the end, Venky, Randeep, and Thilak all left Lighthouse.
167. Sean’s company medical device client
In April 2017, my son Sean asked if I would be interested in a project that could provide me with income through the balance of the year. His company had worked with a medical device company for several years, and they were installing a new global SAP system. His company built a web-based online order processing system that would need upgrading to SAP from the previous enterprise software system.
There would be an income split where his company would earn some of the revenue from my services, and I would get about 70% of the fee. Then too, since I would need to commute 2 hours one way to the Chicago area, I would be paid the same hourly consulting rate while traveling, plus I would get paid mileage. It sounded too good to be true, and I enthusiastically accepted the assignment.
Upon arrival at the new client company, I learned that Switzerland was the global headquarters. The American market was its most significant volume of sales. Before I was assigned to work with this account, I learned that they had dropped the initial SAP consulting group and had recently signed up with new consultants, based in Germany, but with offices and consultants in the US.
SAP is a German-based software company with a strong presence in the US. I was assigned to work with a young team member, Jody, from Sean’s company but reported to Laura at the client company. Laura had 15 years with this client and was responsible for working with Sean’s company for several years to get the web-based order processing system operational.
My role was to learn about the current three critical order processing interface programs with the existing enterprise application and write specifications for three similar order processing functioning interfaces to work with SAP. It sounded easy enough. The first interface was a tax calculation system. Taxes in the US vary by state, the county within the state, and sometimes includes city taxes as well.
The system uses the purchaser’s name and addresses detail, interrogates the tax calculation system to verify the address details were valid, and according to the merchandise requested, determines the tax payment. The second interface was to calculate shipping or delivery rates. How did the customer want merchandise shipped? FedEx, UPS overnight, next day, 2-day, or United States Postal Service regular or expedited services, or cheapest alternative?
Naturally, the selection would impact the total cost of the order. The third interface was the payment interface. I will not get into too much detail but use just one example to illustrate my responsibility. The old system used PayPal for payment purposes. The new method to interface with SAP was likely going to use JP Morgan Chase’s Paymentech.
The project had a large number of people working on this project, about 120 in all. The consulting company had around 40 people assigned to this project full-time — some consultants based in Europe, with some resources in the US. The overall project manager was from Germany and would travel to Chicago every three weeks or so with a few support personnel.
The client company had several people assigned to the project, some full-time, some part-time, most with subject matter expertise to verify that their functional needs would be satisfied as the company migrated to SAP. The distribution center manager was one such specialist. The client company had a project manager, in this situation, he was an IT (information technology) manager. Over and above the dedicated workers, the client company had several executive-level managers who expected to be kept apprised of progress and developments.
Then there was Laura. Laura reported to the director of IT and worked in close coordination with the client project manager, also a computer person.
The modus operandi was that we would have regular team meetings, usually about 15 people, in one of several available conference rooms. We meet on a specific topic with the attendees from the consulting group and the user community sitting in on discussions. I was regarded more as a user person versus the SAP consultant. I found these meetings fascinating. We sat around the table talking. Nothing ever got decided, and action items were few and far between. But that was fine because we would meet again and hash the same old stuff all over again. Progress was slow to non-existent.
I should clarify that in this environment, political fights were ever-present. Allow me to explain one situation. In attempting to write the specifications of migrating from PayPal to Paymentech, I had no problems understanding the current system in PayPal because Sean’s company, through Jody, could provide me with all the detailed specifications. On the JP Morgan side, we attended web-based informational training sessions. Paymentech offered three levels of security, from general to highly secure.
The accounting department decided that for the good of the company they needed to invest in the highest level of protection and go with Level 3. Ironically, this was the cheapest cost option because the likelihood of fraudulent transactions occurring was near zero, and JP Morgan would have the least credit card exposure. Naturally, the accounting department voted to go with Level 3.
Laura fought this tooth and nail. Her attitude was that PayPal was closer to Level 1 security, and the need to provide additional informational data to allow Level 3 to perform accurately was unreasonable. Then too, you have to admit that computer people know much more than the user community would ever know. (Sarcasm). I do not see the outcome of the final resolution.
Early on, I ran into serious communication problems with Laura. Laura had worked for her company for 15 years and was the interface to Sean’s company during the building of the original order processing system. In brief, Laura knew it all. However, getting her to share any information was impossible. Why should she tell me anything if she already knew it all? When I made my best efforts to document what I had understood about the old system, she was swift to point out what an idiot I was because I did not have my facts correct.
I involved Jody in my attempts at understanding, and in turn, she spoke to the original development team at Sean’s company to try and make headway. But those developers were getting paid for new projects they were working on for other clients and were willing to provide some assistance, but not to do my work for me. Understandable. It did not help that in my quest to be professional I decided to show data relationships between PayPal and each of the Paymentech Levels 1, 2, and 3. Why did you show level 3, said Laura, when I told you we would not use that option?
With the shipment application, I discovered that the supplier of the software was a company less than 30 minutes from my home. I have been known to use initiative. I contacted the company, and visited them, setting out to understand the differences in data processing between the existing system and the proposed SAP system.
The person I met alerted his salesperson to keep him in the loop that I was visiting. For security reasons, the salesperson, in turn, contacted Laura to verify that I was working on this project for her company. Well, Laura threw a fit. How could you talk to that company when we have not told them that they are getting the business to interface with SAP? Interesting. Because at that stage JP Morgan had not been told that they are the vendor for the SAP solution.
In a similar way, I got scolded because I took the initiative to talk to the proposed company, which was to provide the address and tax information for the SAP account. I reached a stage where I was not sure if there was anything I could do to help contribute to the project. Each week I sent Laura a list of activities I had worked on by date and duration so that she had no surprises. I produced documentation to get stored in a database established by the SAP consultants. It was fascinating in that it was so convoluted that I had difficulty in deciding where to file my documents. If I did not keep a record of where I saved it, I would never be able to find the location again to add or replace files.
After two months, I had enough. The final straw came at 5:30 am one day. I have always been an early riser and always check emails first thing in the morning to see if there is anything urgent that requires immediate attention. The client’s project manager sent me an email at 10:30 pm the previous night, along with others, including Laura, when I was already fast asleep, requesting me to attend a project meeting at the company at 10:00 am. It was a Tuesday morning, and I had a Wednesday meeting previously scheduled. I typically only had onsite meetings twice a week, and another was planned for Friday. That would make it three sessions for the week—but that was no big deal. Mostly I had work that I could do from home for the other days of the week. I arrived in time for the meeting and made whatever contribution I could make with my limited experience and knowledge.
Laura did not attend that meeting. Jody was there. Jody had an even longer drive than I did and had to scramble to participate in that session. On my drive home, I got text messages from Jody and Laura requesting I call them. I returned the text messages to say that I would be in the car for 2 hours and to call me on my cell phone. After I got home, Jody connected with me. She had a message from Laura telling me not to attend the Wednesday meeting, and that I should not have participated in the meeting earlier that day because I did not have Laura’s permission to participate.
Having worked with Laura for two months now, I knew that she never arrived at work before 9:00 am because she took her kids to school before going to work, and she had a bit of a commute, so calling Laura at 7:00 am to get her permission would not earn me any Brownie points. Laura left work on time to pick up her kids but would sometimes respond to emails after she got the kids to bed. Then too I had never had to seek her permission in the past, why now?
More than anything, what riled me up was that Laura did not have the courtesy to call me and discuss this incident one-on-one. My rationale was that Laura wanted to show Jody what a great manager Laura was and by instructing Jody to tell me not to attend the next important meeting, ensuring that the details would feed along the gossip chain.
So, after two months of a ten-month project, I resigned, and they never saw me again. During Christmas 2017, I asked Sean how the project is going. He told me the medical device company is negotiating to appoint a third SAP consulting group. You can imagine that a significant amount of continuity is lost when you keep replacing costly SAP consulting partners. My conclusion is that I was wise to get out of there. Then too at my age, I don’t need to be treated like some naughty kid by a woman who is clueless about managing people effectively. Yes, the money would have been helpful, but my sanity remained intact.
As I look back on a 50-year career, what have I learned, and what have I achieved? My name is not Donald Trump, and my father did not hand me millions of dollars to get established in business. I made the best of the hand I was dealt. Any parent wants the best for their children, and when I see what Robyn and Sean have achieved, then I am a proud father.
To say my four months as a car salesman from July through October 31, 2015, was an exciting experience is probably an understatement. There were benefits, the key one socializing.
Working from home, both selling and supporting software, can be a lonesome experience. Here I dictate my schedule, not requiring clocking in and out—something that I never had to do in my entire career but a requirement at this Subaru dealer.
A benefit from my time at this dealer is that I lost fifteen pounds and fitted into the suit I wore on November 14 for Phil and Simone’s wedding. I missed the convenience of regular nibbles at home, a helpful distraction from stressful work.
So how did this car-selling venture transpire? In mid-May, after doing extensive research, Linda and I decided to trade our 12-year-old SUV for a Subaru Legacy, a mid-sized symmetrical all-wheel-drive sedan. The Mazda Tribute was rusted with close to 100,000 miles (160,000 kilometers) on the odometer. Once vehicle mileage gets to 100K, the trade-in value drops like a stone, so the timing to exchange old for new was ideal.
On the way out of the showroom, Linda commented to our salesman, Matt M, that I should be selling cars because I have always loved automobiles, and this could be a fun job. Several weeks later, I had a call from an associate wanting me to change my allegiance and sell a competitor’s software product he was representing, one I had sold in the past. It occurred Thursday, June 11, 2015. I mulled the idea but had no desire to go backward in life, discarded his suggestion, and my thoughts turned to new car sales.
The timing of the offer to sell another product came when I was disappointed in not closing a software deal with a prospect in a long time. Consulting and training support calls were on the wane. My most significant involvement was helping an Ohio-based manufacturing client company with complementary consulting, but that is a story for another time.
Next week, I called Matt, who sold us our Subaru, asked if he was serious about my selling his brand, and invited me to meet with one of the sales managers. I met with Mike S, who did no more than a cursory interview, and requested that I meet with his counterpart, John S.
I met with John on Thursday, June 25, 2015, in a 90-minute session. To say I was impressed with him is an understatement. I have always held the view that the manager you work for can make or break your career. They sent me off the same day to take drug tests. On Friday, I checked with the clinic to learn the results. They would not share information since the dealership paid for the test.
I called the dealership, and Mike S told me to report to the office Monday, June 29, at 10:00 am “to arm wrestle.” Showing up on Monday, I learned that John S worked his last day the previous Saturday, and now I had to report to Mike. Mike, 36 years old, graduated high school, married the owner’s daughter, and sold Subaru for 18 years. Mike showed me to a desk.
The first surprise was that I did not know I would begin working that day. Without my computer glasses and spending the day on the PC to start learning about Subaru would be challenging for my eyes. Thirdly I did not have a packed lunch, so I had to buy takeaway from one of the dozens of fast-food restaurants in the area.
Eating “takeaway” is not part of our healthy lifestyle, being both expensive and not always the most nutritious food choice. Finally, the desk I was assigned to has no computer! Matt, rather than Mike, escorted me to another desk with a PC where I spent the next four months.
The dealership communicates the necessary indoctrination that we run our own business within the confines of their facility. It took me a while to understand what it meant. I asked Mike about obtaining business cards. He avoided giving me an answer. I learned from the other sales personnel that you are responsible for designing your card, printing it, and paying for it yourself.
As a marketing guy, I was more than surprised that they did not have a corporate standard or consistent image. I collected a card from each salesperson and took the best ideas to create and pay for my own. I quickly learned that I needed to be responsible for supplying notebooks, pens, staplers, and battery-operated screwdrivers to remove license plates off the trade and fit them into the new vehicle.
I had to pay $55 to receive dealer license plates that would be refunded when I left the company. That excluded the $10 I paid to obtain a magnetic bar to affix to the plate so that they could be attached to the demonstration vehicle during the test drive. If I was in the car for the test drive, and the customer decided to see what the zero to sixty miles per hour (mph) time was, in a 35-mph residential zone, and they got caught for speeding, then I would have to pay the fine.
When test-driving on their own, the customer is responsible for their stupidity. I could never understand why acceleration was so crucial to the vehicle buying decision. I would think that comfort, ease of driving, safety features, reliability, and road noise should rank much higher on the ownership scale. It was a shock to experience how awful some motorist’s drive.
Generally, the dealership preferred us to be in the vehicle with the customer to answer questions and explain features, functions, and benefits. Some customers were incredibly indecisive and did not drive defensively. Some were willing to test out the “EyeSight” safety feature and see if they would be prevented from getting into a rear-end accident. Some thought they were investing in a racing car. Eventually, I gave up and let prospects take the car without me in it and risked my life.
Subaru of America would send about one hundred marketing brochures to each dealership for each vehicle at the beginning of the model year. Many customers wanted a booklet to take home and read before making a significant investment decision, second only to a house purchase. If a dealership wanted additional brochures, then the dealer had to order and pay for them.
Our dealership saw this as a total waste of money. If the customer did not have an email address, and some did not, then too bad, they had to live without supporting collateral information. When Phil joined our dealership as a sales manager, I called him over one day and showed him a test that I conducted.
I opened several Google web pages and, in each one, searching for a different Subaru model: Outback, Legacy, Forester, Impreza, WRX, and BRZ. In every example, our primary local competitor was listed at the top of the search engine, and our dealership was not on the first page. Here again, why would our dealership pay Google for AdWords and waste all that money? Then too, why did the competitor sell 50% more vehicles? I am not smart enough to figure that out.
I dedicated most of July month studying for online tests to qualify to sell Subaru. Without certification, I would not earn commissions from Subaru of America. The dealership provides the larger commission, but only after the vehicle is sold and delivered in both cases. With the shortage of cars, and customers wanting specific features, functions, options, and colors, often the managers had to locate a vehicle from another dealer in an exchange, or failing availability, order direct from the factory.
A dealer exchange usually takes place within a few days, but orders on the factory are minimally a 6-week process. Occasionally we were lucky, and a vehicle with the required specifications was planned for the short delivery term, and we would reserve the car for a customer. It transpired that I passed the Subaru of America tests in one of the quickest time frames ever at our dealership.
I thought the teaching method through Computer-Aided Instruction was terrible, and I quickly learned to make notes as I went through each screen. Eventually, I did a screen copy and paste to a Word document to create a user manual that I could use for reference purposes. Instructions included module tests, requiring a perfect score to proceed before the next segment and a final post-test for each of the eight topics. To pass required 80% on each post-test.
I discovered that if you missed getting 80%, in re-doing the tests, the questions changed, and there was no guarantee that you would pass the next time. The reference manual I created, and additional web searches, helped to facilitate passing post-test scores. But it was time-consuming, especially when the questions were ambiguous, and the answer provided was no assurance that it was the desired response.
I found the dealership’s “management,” or lack of supervisory skills, a challenge. Later they hired two additional sales managers, Phil J, and John M. The new sales managers were a pleasure to work with, mainly because Pete E was no longer on the scene. Pete is the General Manager of multiple automotive brands at this dealership. With John S’s departure, we had Pete’s pleasurable management style (sarcastic comment).
I was required to work until 9:00 pm, three nights a week. As you may well imagine, once 7:00 pm came around, we had no new customers enter the showroom, and those already present would be taken care of by closing time. In one dramatic situation, I had a couple come in at 7:00 pm on a Friday, and they left with a new vehicle at 11:00 pm. That required me, a sales manager, and a finance representative to be on duty until all the paperwork was complete, the car cleaned, and the customer instructed me on how to use the features correctly.
I should add to the record we were expected to work a 45-hour week. My duties were Monday’s 9 am to 3 pm, Tuesday and Thursday 9 am to 9 pm, Friday 3 pm to 9 pm, and Saturday 9 am to 5 pm, with Wednesdays off. I worked more than my allotted 45 hours every week and occasionally came in on a Wednesday if I had a customer delivery.
When I started work, Linda was the happiest person in the world in that I was bringing home a regular income. The novelty quickly wore off when she had to sit at home alone three nights a week and Saturdays. Even my granddaughters missed me.
To share one Pete story: One night, while Pete was still helping out, I went to the sales manager’s office to say goodnight. Pete asked me where the f@ck I was going. I said it was the end of my shift. He said, what f@cking time do you have? I pulled out my iPhone and showed him that it was 8:59 pm. He shouted at me that it was not 9 pm, and that he would “fire my f@cking ass if I leave early.” Guess what, if that is how the GM behaves, how would Mike S behave? Management 101, how to get the best out of your people?
It is of no surprise to know that Mike’s every sentence was peppered with at least one “f@ck” somewhere in the dialog, and that included conversations with Jackie C, our most successful salesperson at 68 who has been selling Subaru’s for 15 years, winning multiple Subaru of America awards thanks to her successful sales record of accomplishment.
The other thing that amused me about Mike S is quite often when I talked to him; he would ask, “What does that word mean.” He honestly has a smaller vocabulary than my four granddaughters, aged 6 to 10. He did admit to another manager that he never reads books. And then, too, at 36, he is morbidly obese. He has young kids, and I guess that a heart attack and adult-onset diabetes cannot be far away.
For “Trick or Treat” or Halloween on October 31 (my last day at work), he encouraged us to all come dressed in a costume. We all did; he didn’t. They don’t make costumes that big. I donned my cowboy outfit. I have cowboy boots that I bought when I was still living in South Africa more than 30 years ago on a visit to the US and had not worn them once while living in the States. They collected dust and took quite some cleaning, and I was worried that rats had built a nest inside. But it all worked out well.
Our standard dress code was golf shirt and slacks to give the image of a vehicle brand that is fun to drive while outdoors. The sales personnel alternated each day with blue then white shirts, and the managers in the alternate colors to distinguish themselves from the rabble. I was presented with two shirts, one white and one blue, with the dealership Subaru logo.
I purchased two more plain blue and white shirts from Kohl’s (Linda’s employer) to accommodate a week’s supply. Mike was quite furious. He asked if I did not wear a t-shirt or “undershirt,” as it is known here, under my golf shirt so that I could have a shirt with a logo for the whole week. My response was that I did not change my underwear ever but insisted on a clean shirt daily. I trust you can see my irritation and sarcasm at being told what to wear and how to dress.
Another Pete story: he wears his hair in a GI cut. No hair on the side and very short on top. It is so funny to see the personnel who worship at his feet. You can tell by those who try to emulate his hairstyle. Many, even Pete, look plain stupid with that cut.
In my last month with the Subaru dealership, it was interesting to see the interplay of the three sales managers. John M was hired as the senior sales manager over Mike and Phil. John had a long and successful career in the auto industry, selling various brands, but he was new to Subaru. He has extensive management experience and, to me, was very personable and a wise choice to lead the team. Phil J had a successful career selling Subaru primarily for dealers in Ohio. He also worked in the industry as a salesperson and brought with him varied experience. I enjoyed working with Phil as he was a no-nonsense, fun guy.
Now ponder for a moment that you have a new executive sales manager, and John has Phil and Mike reporting to him. But Mike is married to the owner’s daughter, and how does John or Mike succeed with all this nepotism surrounding him? Then too, Mike and Pete are as thick as thieves after a long working relationship. My prediction is that they will see more conflict among the management, and resignations will follow.
Jumping the gun, a little with a topic I will cover later again is Mike’s view of dealership greatness. If I went to Mike to request that we provide a discount to a customer, he would remind me of the costs of running the business. Typically, he declined my discount requests.
When the father-in-law saw how profitable the Subaru dealership was, I am confident he was twice as impressed by a very smart son-in-law. The dealership has a large facility with buildings, inventory, spacious parking lots, and management that needed salaries. But when you consider that one of our three local competitors sold 50% more vehicles, I question the management team because they would have lost out to more significant incentives provided to dealerships by Subaru of America based on sales volume.
Lost sales are not recorded on the balance sheet but are highly visible in our CRM (Computer Relationship Management) application if anyone ever bothered to look within this archaic application. But Daddy only saw high profitability. With the new managers in place, they were more focused on volume, and if I selected my sales manager wisely, the discounts would be approved, and the sale closed. Important too is that as a salesperson, if we facilitated a deal, our commission would be impacted to a minimum payout. Still, to me, a minimum always was significantly better than zero commission.
My additional lesson was the pricing of the vehicle. One challenge for Subaru is that many of the other automotive companies, GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, and Hyundai, to name a few, carry a glut of vehicles. They offer incentives anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000 off MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price). Subaru has been operating for the past 44 months, where each month, their year-over-year sales increased. Subaru experienced a shortage of vehicles and could not keep up with demand.
Consequently, Subaru does not provide the same incentives as other vehicle manufacturers. We receive pricing information or an invoice for each vehicle in stock. On it, we see the MSRP and Dealer Cost. If a customer does not request a discount, we sell for the total price and get a larger commission. If they do negotiate a deal, then we can go as low as Dealer Cost. Most customers pay this amount.
I am well aware that the other salespeople are concerned that we are not profitably selling cars at dealer cost. My view is that it is financially impossible to stay in business if this “dealer cost invoice” is valid. Who funds us our $100 commission per car? How do the sales managers, finance team, administrative staff, lot attendants, and General Manager get paid? How do they pay the utility bills for the premises, the taxes, the cost of running a shuttle bus, and drivers between our lot and the offsite employee parking lot? The list goes on.
To put this in perspective, one obnoxious finance guy was telling me that there is a more significant percentage profit in a gallon of milk than in a car sale. There are confidential discounts, probably based on the volume paid by Subaru of America to the dealerships. But I did say these people are not drawn from the top echelon of the educated and intelligent population.
I read a 2015 article about wages in America. In it, they state that median wages in America are $17/hour. In the retail sector, it is $10.29/hour. In my situation, I earned a gross wage of $8.12/hour and a net (take-home pay after taxes and other deductions, including our self-funded Social Security) of $7.98/hour. What is significantly more alarming is that I declined the dealer group’s offer of taking money out of my pay for a personal (401K) pension fund and did not take their request for health insurance coverage.
I sold 27 cars while serving the dealership but only received a commission for 24. The other 3 I had to hand off to Matt and Jackie, the two people who guided me the most at the dealership. The three vehicles ordered from the factory will only arrive in December, and since I cannot deliver, I don’t receive any commission on those deliveries. I benefit from health insurance through Linda and Kohls.
On a 10-point scale, I averaged 9.7 on my customer satisfaction rating. In many situations, I lost points because we did not have a wide selection of vehicles, and some customers hated the process of going to see the finance team where they were coerced to spend additional money on long-term service contracts. I got dinged for these factors that were outside of my scope to control.
Without a doubt, I scored high marks in understanding the customers and their needs. Then too, I was criticized by management because I took too long to get the customer into any car for a test drive. Let the vehicle sell itself; they admonished me! My ratings showed otherwise. Mike assured me that he could sell the car in 3 minutes! The average sale took 4 hours, including paperwork and explanations of the many features provided with the vehicle.
One additional deduction from our payroll was $25 per vehicle sold. When I left, only my portion was refunded to me, no courtesy of the dealership! It is held until the final weekly paycheck in December when the dealership will double our contribution and pay us as a Christmas bonus.
I worked alongside one salesperson who shared quite a few heart-rending stories with me. He tells that when on the receiving end of verbal abuse from the managers, think Pete or Mike, he was so demoralized that he found it nearly impossible to sell a car for the next week. His wife is a nurse, and her shift ends at 10:00 pm daily. They have a young child, and his daycare cost (or should this read night care) nearly exceeded their take-home pay. Who in their right mind would want to care for a child until after 9:30 pm or 10:30 pm several times a week because the parents have jobs that require them to work late?
In the oodles of quiet time that we have during the day, I would often see him looking online for a new and roomier place that we know they cannot afford. I know too that they lived in a tiny apartment and wanted something more spacious. If you were not part of the high-income earners, life sucked.
One other salesman often arrived at work dead tired because he had little or no sleep the night before. He lived on the poor side of town and was frequently woken at night by police in the area after gunshots had gone off, usually when a drug deal had gone wrong, and the cops were doing door-to-door searches for suspects. I quickly understood how the other half lived where you barely eke out a living and cannot afford safe suburbs.
Our facility had a parking area in front of the building and a larger lot at the back. In principle, you would want the Legacy’s alongside each other, followed by Outback’s, Foresters, Impreza’s, Crosstrek’s, WRK/STi’s, and BRZ’s. But space was at a premium, and each time you had to find a vehicle that customers would like to drive, it was a witch hunt. I appreciate that we had entry-level cars, premium, limited, in each model range, and in some cases sport or hybrids, plus four and six-cylinder engine choices.
We have “lot attendants” responsible for moving the cars around to have similar models lined up. We typically had 50 to 70 vehicles on the lot at any one time. Parking for customers was at a premium and had the service department alongside parking customer cars.
The other lot attendant’s duty and most important responsibility were to clean the vehicles and fill them with fuel immediately before a customer delivered their shiny new possession. One lot attendant Ben, named he said, after Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill. Ben is black with the most favorable disposition I encountered in anyone. In the morning, he worked for a dealer across the road and in the evenings for our dealership. He worked a 14-hour weekday and a 10-hour Saturday. I took a particular liking to Ben and asked about his situation.
The first characteristic that attracted me to him was his effervescent personality; he was always upbeat. He was very articulate with a vast vocabulary, very well-spoken—and not like the cohorts who worked with me. He was well-read, and I could not fathom for the life of me why he would be a lot attendant—the very bottom of the food chain in a dealership. Ben told me that he was studying the justice system at college until the student loans built to a level that he could not face the mounting debt, so he decided to take a job and pay off the debt before continuing his studies.
I spoke to the dealership’s internet sales manager to see if he would hire Ben, but I have no idea if that will work out for him. He did tell me he was allowed to work at another dealership as an internet sales representative but failed at the job because the training was not provided. Then too, I spoke to our one sales manager, Phil J, who said that he too would encourage Ben to apply for a sales position.
I must comment that in our dealership, we are white’s only “professional” personnel. At the Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/RAM dealership, both Hispanics and blacks sell cars as with the pre-owned (used vehicles) sales group. Subaru’s are immensely popular with the Asian community. I sold a few cars to Indian Americans and saw quite a few Chinese and Taiwanese Americans buying the brand.
Let me return to the topic of training and management. Please understand that I have spent 50 years in the computer industry. I breathe, live, and support computerized business systems. The system that we used to clock in and out daily at the dealership is a 1986 system. It epitomizes user unfriendliness. We have a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system requiring sales personnel to enter customer details. We had to keep a paper copy for additional data processing in other systems.
The data is not transferable to other systems, and the only way to achieve success is to work from the hard copy.
One executive at our dealership, an owner, needed a “new” computer. He instructed his IT people to find a refurbished machine to avoid wasting money on a new PC. I was the only one who could appreciate the productivity benefits of having a seamlessly integrated solution that would make everyone operate so much more intelligently.
Phil told me a story of a privately held Subaru dealer in Ohio who had fully embraced modern computer systems. All the sales personnel were given iPads with instant access to information. They also had a system of when you needed to get a car key, you entered the vehicle stock number, and a retrieval system would present you with the key. Keys were stored in this “storage and retrieval” system.
At our dealership, the receptionist stored the keys in a filing drawer. When you required a key, you asked, and it may or may not be there. In my short time, we delivered one or two cars without the mandatory second set of keys provided during vehicle delivery. We would either locate the keys later or have to place a special order from the factory.
It was not just a case of cutting a new key. I learned that the vehicle had to be returned to the service department on arrival, where the keys had to be programmed to integrate with the car’s electronic system. The dealership had to have the key cut at the factory because we did not possess a laser cutter—that cost money.
As an aside, Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson of Virgin Group of company’s fame takes the position that the customer is not the most crucial consideration for any business, the employees are. He said that if you care for your employees and make them happy, they will care for the customer. He is surprised that more companies haven’t adopted an employee-centric management strategy. “It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do an excellent job, and they are treated well, they’re going to be happy.”
Getting on the flight to South Africa, I read the editorial in the in-flight magazine Delta Sky. Here, Richard H Anderson, CEO, said precisely the same thing. He challenged the passengers to see everyone from the pilots, flight attendants, ground staff, and baggage handlers, and everyone was delighted to work for Delta and smiled. He explained that they hired a noted designer to design new uniforms to make sure the employees look and feel great on the job.
Delta provides employee spas in more significant hubs with massages, skin and nail care, hair styling, makeup applications, and uniform alterations. He listed recent 14.5% pay increases, employee profit-sharing, 10% of earnings before taxes paid out as bonuses, stock ownership plans, all way above industry standards, and other benefits to make all Delta employees proud to work for the airline.
Our dealership subscribes to the “American Corporate Paradigm,” enriching the executive and screwing the employees. In this equation, customers do not even feature.
Racism angers me. I helped an Indian gentleman purchase a Subaru. To be clear, he was one of several I was privileged to help. When meeting anyone with Indian heritage, I was quick to advise them that I had an Indian partner based in Bangalore and that I had visited the country and could share experiences. This Indian fellow shared with me after the sale that he had been to several Subaru dealers, and in each one found that he was ignored. When arriving at this dealership, I instantly greeted him and his wife and cared for his needs. Maybe that is part of my South African heritage and what racism lessons I learned to reject. I should add that Milwaukee is rated as one of the most racist cities in the US.
So how did day-to-day business processes get addressed through on-the-job training? The standard operating procedure was where the f@ck is the signed agreement, where the f@ck is the sheet, the customer accepted the monthly leased or finance options, where the f@ck is the mileage for the trade, and the f@ck is the state license certificate. Eventually, you got to know what documentation was required. Another mysterious process is asking the customer to fill out a credit application that includes divulging their social security number. Most people in America freak out about having this recorded on a sheet of paper because this becomes invaluable for identity theft. We are required to gather all this information, store it in a folder, and hand it to the sales manager, who passes it to finance, which is locked in a safe.
A few days later, when the customer returns to take possession of their new car, the folder with its contents is retrieved from the safe, given to finance, and not shared with the salesperson. The salesperson uses psychic powers to recall what documents were filed in the folder as salespeople cannot access and see this information—for security reasons. If only this were held in a computer system with secure access, life could have been so much easier. By the way, Federal regulations require that this paperwork be stored for seven years.
With the existing systems, sales personnel cannot be trusted. You greet a customer, understand what they are looking for, and after a test drive to confirm their vehicle of choice, it is back and forth to the sales manager’s office. I appreciate that there are never more than one or two managers on duty, and you could have up to 10 salespeople helping customers, especially on a Saturday. So, you get to the office, but there are other salespeople processing sales ahead of you.
One popular request is to provide a financial quote for the customer’s vehicle of choice. Since the managers are highly responsible people, and salespeople are total idiots, only the managers can provide this information. And what a challenge that is. They have an Excel-style printed document for every vehicle with rows of numbers in a tiny font comprising factors over a varying period to prepare a quote. These factors must be keyed into a calculator, multiplied by a price, and entered into a computer system via keyboard input.
Finally, it is printed for the customer’s review. If a customer was looking for both finance and leasing figures, with zero, $3,000, $4,000, and $5,000 down, over 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 years, then each cell required this laborious finding a number on the printout, using the calculator, multiplied by a price, and entering it onto the computer without making any mistakes. And if the customer tells you that their credit history will get them 1.9% interest and not the 3.9% that you quoted, the sales manager starts the process all over again. Now continue the exercise to do the same for a lease deal over 12, 24, 36, 39, 42, 45, and 60 months, with additional upfront payments, including zero down.
When I see the opportunity to be programmed and made available to the customer accurately in seconds on an iPad, it more than boggles my mind why they cannot embrace technology to significantly speed up the process and be highly responsive to the customer. But when the owner is looking for refurbished computers, you know where the problem originates. I realize that this is not a sophisticated team. They follow processes taught to them by an earlier generation who have retired and moved on.
I had an incident where I helped a young lady in her mid-20s. She came to the dealership after she totaled her car. Acquiring a new vehicle was pretty urgent. She had precise requirements for her new vehicle, and we undertook to find what she was looking for through a dealer exchange. For us to act on this request, we require a $500 deposit. Her mother paid with her credit card. I asked the managers to please source a vehicle for her. Now understand that any sale on a Friday will not receive attention until Monday because Saturdays are too busy managing customers’ immediate needs and the biggest sales day of the week.
Getting action required reminders to the sales manager on Monday, and my responsibility to follow up on Tuesday, then Thursday because I don’t work Wednesdays, and so on. Long story short, I eventually got a call from the same young lady requesting a refund because a dealer near her work could find just what she wanted. And so, I chalked up yet another lost sale, which sadly occurred occasionally.
On the positive side, we did sell several vehicles to customers based in Madison, our State Capitol, an hour’s drive east of us. That dealer refused to discount and provided customers with inflated prices. Understanding Subaru of America’s guidelines, I could never understand how that was possible, except for the dealer adding several dealer-supplied profitable options.
The biggest challenge is waiting to get these finance and leasing figures from the managers. I saw it frequently happen when Mike S was doing the proposal work, and one of his drinking buddies would come in to get figures, they pushed to the front of the line, and you had no choice but to wait until they got served. You are left with the challenge of how to keep your customer smiling. One of the janitors that I befriended pointed out an interesting fact there are no clocks in the dealership. They did not want visible evidence that customers were being kept sitting for so awfully long.
My key point is that if the sales personnel could be treated as semi-intelligent human beings, we could be armed with iPads. We could have all the information held within an application, and proposals could be issued within 60 seconds. But that robs the customer of their frustrating buying experience!
Some of the sales psychology floored me. “Never let a customer leave your desk; make sure they sit in place and do not take a turn wandering around the dealership. They get out of the buying mood.” Even with the initial turn with finance, the finance manager comes to your desk—and you must leave so that they can have a confidential conversation that you are not allowed to hear. After the deal is all but consummated, only then is the customer invited to the finance manager’s office, where the finance manager will attempt to upsell the customer with additional profitable services.
You may be interested in what motivated Linda and me to invest in two Subaru’s. Living in Wisconsin is challenging driving, especially in our long winters where we need to contend with snow, ice, and at other times heavy rain. We did a significant amount of research, and Kelly Blue Book raved about reliability, longevity, and high resale value with a meager 5-year cost of ownership by comparison to other vehicles. We subscribe to Consumer Reports, a non-profit organization that evaluates many products, including household appliances, electronic equipment, and automobiles. Here they purchase the car from a dealer without identifying who they are and begin the road test. They also canvass their subscribers to share their experiences. Subaru has had one of the best ratings for trouble-free motoring for over five years.
In surveying the driving ability in snow for SUVs, Subaru took first, second, and third place for the Outback, Forester, and Crosstrek. It collaborated with input from 47,000 subscribers. If you are paying your annual dues to this organization, you may as well heed their recommendations.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an organization funded by the insurance companies, rates vehicles based on frontal, side, rear, and rollover tests. Here Subaru’s with EyeSight took the very highest honors. EyeSight is an optical feature that monitors the road for drivers to help you stay in your lane, and in theory, will not let you rear-end another vehicle. It literally will apply the brakes for you to prevent an accident.
There are many other features, including blind-side vehicle detection and rear camera features to alert you to small children or pedestrians or cars behind you when backing out. The list is long, and I will not bore you with all the safety feature details.
The reason the sales managers asked me to resign is easily explained. Linda and I had planned to fly to Cape Town, South Africa mid-November for our annual 3-week vacation to visit family and friends. Our timing coincided with our niece’s wedding in the picturesque vineyard farmlands of nearby Stellenbosch. Neither my mother nor mother-in-law is getting any younger. (Update October 2021: they have both now passed away). We needed to visit them and our respective siblings and their families. The dealership has a corporate policy to not grant more than one week’s vacation until after 12 months of service. I only started at the dealership in late June, so I don’t qualify for an extended vacation. My sales manager requested that I resign and reapply for a position after my return. A drug test will be required. They have all assured me that I will get rehired. Fat chance of that happening.
Conclusion: It was fun while it lasted. In forcing me to resign, the sales managers broke the momentum of what I was doing, and I see no incentive, financial or otherwise, to return to this job. I am pouring my heart and soul into software sales and service where I suspect my talents will be appreciated, and hopefully, the financial reward will follow. Thus far, the prospects for software business in 2016 are looking extremely favorable.
I had one significant benefit from this dealership. Before leaving, I purchased a top-of-the-line, fully loaded champaign-colored Subaru Outback. I paid the discounted employee price. The Wisconsin vanity license plate is “PROTEA,” the national flower of South Africa. I drive my Outback now in October 2021. In five years, the vehicle has been trouble-free. We gave our Subaru Legacy to our son Sean in 2021. Sean will require this car for his daughter Addison one of these days.
Here are a few different experiences from my four months that I noted during that time.
I have now completed 11 days of working at the dealership. Last Saturday (July 4, 2015) was a public holiday, which only required five days’ work, and this week was a full 6-day 9 to 5 routine. Most of my time was spent learning. I did a sexual harassment course, studied, and tested for a salesperson license in the state of Wisconsin. Naturally, this could only occur after checking my driver’s license record and doing a drug test. If the driver’s license record revealed any moving violations, especially drunk driving, I could have been rejected for a state sales license. To sell the Subaru brand, I must undergo a series of 9 separate online studies and testing through Subaru America to be certified. I began those Friday last week, the 3rd, and have yet to finish the third module. So, it takes time. I still must do additional testing to learn about the dealership’s CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems.
On Friday morning (10th), there was a change in the pattern of learning. I was at my desk and approached a customer who came into the showroom to help. Everyone else was busy, and I sprang into action. This 50-something-year-old Rebecca needed a vehicle. Her husband changed jobs, no longer had a company car, and used the family car. She was looking for a small SUV, and we drove the Forrester and the XV Crosstrek.
That night Linda and I went for a walk, and I told her this story, and she asked what I had done about “dealer plates.” Backtracking some, when I arrived on day one, I was required to fill out several forms. One was to permit the dealership to deduct $55 from my salary to pay for a set of dealer plates. Naturally, to drive a vehicle on roads in Wisconsin, the car needs to be licensed. So, the dealers are issued these plates. They come fitted with powerful magnets to affix to the back of the vehicle. We have to pay for them so that we take care of them and will get a full refund when we get fired or after resigning and return the plates in good order.
So Linda and I are walking, and she asks about the plates. My reaction was, “Oops.” It never occurred to me to borrow plates because I have not yet been issued my set. So, I happily had Rebecca drive two cars on the roads without dealer plates. The worst that could happen was a traffic violation fine for not displaying plates and no insurance coverage. I guess I will not make that mistake again.
An elderly couple came into the dealership, and Alex attended to them. The cranky old geezer was only interested in knowing what the vehicle was going to cost him. After Alex presented the figures, the old guy says, “That’s great” now, you arrange for me to get another $3,000 discount, and I’ll take the vehicle. Alex explained very nicely that there was no feasible way to get any further discount. Well, the old guy starts ranting and raging that he has bought many cars in his life and always gets the additional discount. In all honesty, I don’t think that Alex handled the situation too well, but the old couple got up and left.
The old guy was correct in how GM, Ford, and Chrysler have run their business for eons to build a gazillion vehicles that end up outside their factories and on dealer lots. They then have the challenge of getting rid of the inventory at all costs. So, the manufacturers take the hit, and the vehicles are discounted. That is not the case with Subaru. The plant in Indiana is maxed out. Most Legacy and Outback’s are sold before they hit the showroom. The rest of the Subaru vehicles imported from Japan are in short supply, not as seriously as locally manufactured vehicles.
In another situation, I am guessing this young girl could only have been 25 or so, came into the dealership with her boyfriend, and drove off in a $43,000 WRX STI. And she had paid cash. (Daddy’s money?) Plus, she waited eight months for delivery from Japan. It is a street-legal racing car.
There are so many entertaining stories, but I’ll share one more that took place. Jackie is our top salesperson. She meets a couple ready to take delivery of their new car. Jackie asks the woman for her money or if she would like to arrange to finance through Subaru. (Chase Bank is the financier for Subaru). No, says the woman, her bank has already pre-approved her loan so she will deal with them. It turned out that she got a 7-year deal at 3.9% and could have done a deal at 1.49% through Subaru over five years. It tells you that this woman had financial problems and needed a lower monthly payment over a longer term.
Jackie explains very nicely that to take the car, she needs a check (cheque!). So, the couple leaves to get the money from the bank. They return, and the man is quite uncontrollable. It appears that this attractive girl, I am guessing early thirties, has been living with this not-so-very beautiful older man for four years. In fact, in all honesty, I could not understand why she could not have done better for herself. Anyhow, what caused the flare-up is that on the check stub, the name of the guy that she had co-habituated with previously was still on the check! (Would the previous guy be her guarantor?) And the new boyfriend goes ballistic. She got her car and left, offering many apologies for her live-in lover’s bad behavior.
“When Subaru went zero-landfill more than a decade ago, we started very simply by dumpster diving,” says Denise Coogan, a Subaru environmental and safety manager. By inventorying all their trash and tracing its origins, the carmaker could more effectively separate and recycle the material. The tricky part, Coogan says, was finding enough recycling operators to take their excess steel, plastic, glass, and other supplies.
“The car company also reduced its excess material by 50 percent by eliminating unnecessary packaging, reusing containers, and cutting car parts more precisely.”
I could elaborate on what the company does for environmental causes—but that is another long story. They persuade their dealers to follow suit and recognize them for their achievements. Then too, they are very good with many social causes, including help with minority organizations and everything environmentally friendly.
Robyn made it to the director of marketing operations for a multibillion-dollar discount retail organization, and Sean to senior vice president of digital for an advertising company reporting to the CEO. Even if the kids do not admit it, I set the groundwork for them to be successful and established the drive and determination where they are today. (Update October 2021: both Robyn, after 19 years, and Sean, after 14 years with their previous companies, have started new positions with new companies. They are still doing exceedingly well in their careers).
Growing up, I did not have parents who discussed business at the dinner table, as I did with my children. Linda and I were better qualified to guide our children in terms of what to study at university. And Linda was always the slave driver to ensure that Robyn and Sean did their schoolwork diligently. When we sent them off to university, Linda even read them the riot act, warning them that failure was not an option, or they would be yanked out of college immediately. They honored us by graduating with honors after four years of studying diligently.
The business had another benefit. Linda was a stay-at-home mom. That is not altogether accurate. Linda undertook responsibilities for the company, including all the accounting, legal, insurance, and human relations type work. In many cases, when we worked from home or in an office nearby, Linda had the freedom to multitask but work around the kid’s school programs.
It became more challenging with our relocation to the United States. Linda had to learn a new skill set, and how the business got conducted in America. When we started growing the business and hired several people, Linda had to help develop an Employee Handbook with guidance from a professional company. Our taxes were more complicated trying to untangle personnel from the company, and record-keeping was a critical responsibility loaded on Linda’s shoulders.
We gave our children opportunities to travel, certainly more than most people. That allowed them to be more open-minded and less judgmental, more tolerant, thanks to the breadth of their travel experience. We traveled across America and had trips to Europe, primarily when Robyn studied in Spain for a semester. As I witness how they are raising their daughters, I see the positive influence that they are exerting on their daughters. Robyn’s twins at 12 have had several international trips. Sean’s girls have seen several seaside cities in the US, Hawaii, and Jamaica. To put this in perspective, when we arrived in Brookfield, Wisconsin, we mentioned to a neighbor that we were taking a drive to Chicago. They informed us that no sane person would ever do that with all the traffic in that city. We had just relocated from Joburg, and Chicago did not subject us to a challenge. But then some people are provincial.
I know that Linda would have preferred not to have to take a full-time position. Linda boasted a 16-year career with Kohl’s Corporation, after working for another retailer for a few years before that assignment. Linda needed to get out of the house for her sanity when we were at a low point in our business. Working for us helped develop her knowledge of Microsoft Office products, which put her in good stead at the job interviews. Then too, Linda has never been shy about working with computers. Linda is an expert in Excel and Word. I have heard Linda offer advice to others on managing a small business experiencing a downturn in a lousy economy. It comes across as highly credible because we have been there and done that. Linda retired on May 16, 2018.
I have learned that when one door closes, another opens. I believe you must be ready to take the opening. Fear can paralyze anyone, and optimistic determination will see you through any venture. If I had to do it all over again, would I like to be working at Mobil with a secure pension? When I see how companies have changed and how security is not a guarantee, then I have no regrets. I did a training course at Mobil. One comment made was that you never want to look back on your career and realize that in a 30-year career, you had one year of experience thirty times over. I can safely say that I escaped that trap. The constant movement did allow us to be adaptable, and again an antidote to fear.
Yes, it has been a great life. Having Linda in support, despite all the criticisms I had to endure, was worth it.
2018 will be a different year. It’s called retirement. My twin granddaughters received my support by facilitating their school’s book club. Sean’s oldest daughter had me talk to her 6th-grade class about the water crisis facing four million people in Cape Town, South Africa.
What will my epitaph read? John was adventurous. He was not afraid to take risks and learn from each adventure along the way. It was not all plain sailing. John had his difficulties, but through it all had fun. John’s family enjoyed the ride. They may have wanted less stress along the way. Caring for people was important to John. John strived not to be judgmental, favoring the mantra to live and let live.
One final comment. With the coronavirus wrecking the economy and causing many deaths in the US during 2020 and 2021, I am pleased that we are no longer in business, retired, and can stay protected from this pandemic.
Thank you for reading.
January 16, 2018. Updated April 15, 2018, May 2, 2018, July 5, 2018, October 25, 2019, and October 2, 2021.