It is a long read. Take a break at any time. Remember the chapter number. Return later, clicking on the appropriate link above to get back to where you stopped reading previously.
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, retired
with a pension and medical aid policy.
He 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.
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 two 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 houses, 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 once, and Waukesha County, Wisconsin, in 5 locations. All in all, we lived in two countries, owned six
homes, and resided in 8 rental apartments.
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 at least 30 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.
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.
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 11 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 businesses, the balance, 21 years working for different bosses.
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 their incompetence versus highly
successful companies with an 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 into critical positions,
resulting in a less than optimal operating performance and financial results. Then too, working with or consulting to companies
large and small with poorly defined measurement and reward systems results in
the worst possible outcome for the organization.
To put my assertions in perspective, understand that I have been
fortunate to engage with more than 300 client companies in North America,
Southern Africa, Western Europe, while running my businesses and with close
business relationships with two Indian software companies, including a visit to
Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) India. On
occasions 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 be the motivation to keep invoicing a company for services rendered if I
could not assure them of 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, or software companies that I represented, or consulting
assignments that I knew would not have a successful conclusion.
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 failing, 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 was presenting 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, and human relations, etc. I never
tripped up again. In my career, I have
taken many courses covering computer technical and personal development.
To protect the guilty, I will not name individuals or companies, unless
it is where I wish to honor colleagues and clients. 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
very high ethical and professional standards for myself and expected the same from
people I worked for or with. That became
a pivotal motivation to start my businesses.
I have a lifelong drive where I wake up in the morning, motivated to get
to work. If I did not feel that passion
with 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 effect change
to politics in government or any organization, but I could control my destiny.
The current thinking in the US is that the number of people in the
“gig economy” is going to grow to 40% by 2020.
In this environment, corporations save on benefits, office space, and
training—and get qualified skilled resources to perform clearly defined tasks
from their own, usually home, location.
In the “good old days,” we called it consulting, but like everything
else in life, we must create new marketing terminology. Essential to the gig economy are people with
specialized skills who work from home backed up with a computer, cell phone,
internet, and able to travel anywhere worldwide where 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
for half my working career. It is
especially great for experienced Baby Boomers looking for part-time work or the
desire to dress casually every day with a very short commute to their home
office from the bedroom.
What have I experienced over five decades? I acquired detail workings of retail,
wholesale, distribution, and manufacturing businesses. My expertise covered supply chain management. It embraced customers, suppliers, marketing,
sales, and company operations. The
retailers, wholesalers, or distributors could be brick and mortar, mail order
in earlier times, or internet sales in recent years. I can advise on planning and to manage all
aspects of omnichannel, where and how to control the replenishment of
merchandise, especially as it relates to inventory management (stock control) with
the emphasis on ensuring available inventory with very high stock turns and
improved profitability for the organization.
In essence, 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 imported
to clarify that these productivity improvements required practical software
tools, and almost always after re-engineering the business process with
automation in mind. It could only be
successful with prerequisite executive and middle management education, training,
project management, and consulting services.
With manufacturing enterprises, I worked with make-to-stock (MTS),
make-to-order (MTO), assemble-to-order (ATO), engineer-to-order (ETO), and other
production variations or combination of strategies. 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. The production
enterprises covered all of the pharmaceutical, medical devices, chemical,
automotive, automotive component, capital equipment, and just about any batch,
process, or flow production that you can imagine. My role here 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 sub-contractors, where applicable, is critical. Many companies structure 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 stepped up 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, who could
not meet demand. They had not ratcheted
up production while planning for the necessary increase in ingredient 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, unnecessary promotional costs, and
annoyed their customers in the process with missed deliveries.
During my time at high school and university, I worked for Mobil
during my holidays. 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 10 gallons (20 liters)
drums and pails. 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. Walls were whitewashed,
and management decided to re-paint with acrylic. My job was to scrape the whitewash off the
walls. It defines difficult hard 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 the 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 needed permit.
We had an extraordinary experience one day, my last working day before the start at 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. Members of Poqo, working for Mobil, chose to have a real fireworks display. The Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), formerly known as Poqo, was the military wing of the Pan Africanist Congress, an African nationalist movement in South Africa. A terrorist group. 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 attached to the valve. When not in use 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, maybe a 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 and 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, causing 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 current month
expenses, year to date, and life-to-date information. I was required to find the appropriate transportation
equipment card in the Kardex Card tray, sorted 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 a needed process. He
explained that there might be an inquiry from the head office to learn 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
to 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.
Now without a useful 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, where the fuel dispensers are to be
located and submit plans to the city for approval, 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.
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 long illness.
My dad worked at Mobil for 40 years. He joined when I was born and retired at
65. He ran into a corporate buzz
saw. 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 manhole covers on the
driveway court and couple up the hoses before decanting into the tanks from the
delivery truck. My dad worked in
operations and got frequent calls to replace the square or rectangular manhole
covers. On inspection, my dad noticed
that when cars or trucks drove over these manhole covers, the corners would
break off, and the entire manhole cover needed replacing. My dad spoke to the foundry suppliers and requested
them to manufacture round covers. Over
time the square and rectangular covers were replaced by these new round manholes. A few years later, my dad was hauled onto the
carpet by head office and asked what right he had to make this engineering change
that had saved the company a fortune in repair and replacement bills. The head office stipulated that all manhole
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 manhole
covers. For the record, circular manhole
covers cannot fall down the hole; rectangular covers can. My dad never received thanks for the savings
generated or the initiative he took.
One day my dad was called to a service station where a driver had
dropped the dip stick, used to determine the level of fuel in the tanks, down
the pipe. 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 my 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.
During my studies at UCT, we learned computer programming. The bug bit.
Understanding that this was the mid-60s, programs had to be written on
preformatted pages, punched onto 80 columns (and 12 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 and did not have
state-of-the-art technology. During my
first year at Mobil in the branch office, I made a strong 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.
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 in 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. The prerequisite requirement before
coding was to design and layout the processing logic on sheets using a Program Flowchart
Template. 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 created
an assembly or executable program, which ultimately ran on the computer to
perform the logical operating instructions.
It is necessary to stress that I found 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 determine how to exploit the latest
There was an incident that helped
me earn praise. At that time, the 360
was mostly 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,
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), South West Africa (Namibia) and Bechuanaland (Botswana). As product moved around the country and
across international borders, the inventory control tracking, currency
calculations, and General Ledger entries were all created, generated, documented,
and precise. Ironically that was the
beginning of my career-long specialization in inventory (or stock) control
Our 360 computer was so impressive
that we held an annual open house. Here
our 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 in to play.
Moore’s law is the
observation 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, whose 1965 paper described a doubling every year
in the number of components per integrated circuit,
and projected this rate of growth would continue for at least another
decade. In 1975, looking forward to the
next decade, he revised the forecast to doubling every 18 months because of
Intel executive David House, who 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
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 likely dirty, and surely 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’s essential advice if you
needed to be seated to fulfill a call of nature.
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.
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 30s 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 the old IBM
1401, and working the multicycle card sorter.
When Helen was not attending to the payroll, she was a member of a contingent
of about 50 keypunch card operators in the data recording pool. What Helen did not appreciate as an entry-level
clerk, a minimum level income person was seeing what everyone at Mobil earned,
including executive management. 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 in the company earns the same salary as a keypunch operator.
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. In my career, I have performed numerous cost
justifications, still being savvy about the end goal and preparing indisputable
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 possible presence of luxury sometime down
the road. I know too that circumstances
change. What if the father’s business
went bust and he lost his fortune?
When I was a young kid, about 5 or 6 years of age, there was a
person in the neighborhood who drove a motorcycle. He would see me on the road and ask if I
wanted to ride with him. My mother had
near apoplexy when I told her, read me the riot act, and warned me about
pedophiles. I never did take that
ride. While working at Mobil, and after
Linda and I were married, Neville invited us out 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
they came with Neville commenting on how beautiful my hands were and how
gorgeous my eyes were, etc. Back then, I
had no real appreciation of homosexuals.
I was brought up in a very secluded 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 to a guy hitting on a
female co-worker who is not seeking attention.
For the record I do have any problems with the LGBTQ (lesbians, gay,
bisexual, transgender, and queer) community.
My attitude is 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.
I know that 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.
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, or 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 as a result 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 continue, so the task completed correctly. The bureau owners were two Charted
Accountants (CPA’s). 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, the one partner, and
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.
My next task was to find a job.
An employment agency in Cape Town was advertising for a software
developer for a retail company in Johannesburg (or Joburg as it is known to
locals). This position required
extensive retail experience. If my
memory serves me correctly, I believe the person I applied through was Mr. Worthington. As I sat across the desk 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 to apply. 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 4 miles from the apartment. We drove home happy to have such a flashy
car. By the time we reached our
apartment, we had 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, from 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 publically traded
company, a retailer consisting of department stores and the Checkers grocery
chain. My immediate boss was Alan
Turkington, probably 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 department. Greatermans
used a British based ICL computer. That
did not matter to me since I was now more involved with designing systems,
versus programming them.
After a short 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 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 corporate 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,
considerably 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 who fund their
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 its corruption. Putting this technology into perspective,
data communication was achieved via a dialup 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
corporate had DataPoint computer terminals and keyboards. Data got keyed into the application that I
developed. At 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 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 considerably faster, and the company
was able to realize significant cost savings.
Ivan Sachar was the exceptionally smooth and competent salesman who sold
the DataPoint system to Checkers. He
wanted to hire me, but I declined.
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 bit 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 buys 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 publically 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.
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
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 tired
beyond belief and needed to go home. It
stands out as a memory because it was a 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 run 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.
I honestly believe it was a cultural situation in that Norbert was
incapable of thinking in theoretical or intangible terms. If a condition was 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 on how his students
coped. He told me a story to emphasize a
point. He spoke of a final year student who
had to write a dissertation about the continental shelf. The professor said it was a fantastic paper
laying out facts and figures about the available nutrients and how this 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 (in reality 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 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 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.
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!
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 ultimate goal.
In other words, think through what essential points needed 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. 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 where
he had no interest. So much for my
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 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.
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 the 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 be using 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 a
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 a number of the IBM mini-computers, but to no
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. At the other extreme, 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.
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 most likely
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, any
confidential company information was not 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 somewhat shocking surprise that I experienced while
doing my due diligence in the bank’s basement, watching printers, and taking
readings. I saw a lady with rather 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 was it my youthful imagination.
Oh, it was real, alright. 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!
IBM was a company that behaved somewhat like a cult. One executive drove an Alfa Romeo. And all those that wanted to see a promotion
in their 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.
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 been
appointed sales manager, was moved to the training department, possibly 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), 3 hours’ 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
to participate in a selection of sports.
Field and 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 to return with a
cheque/check. A delivery driver, who worked
for the shop, delivered the merchandise across an 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
11 official languages, including English and Afrikaans. The others: 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 substantially 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 when 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. With 100 guns implied a need
for 500 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 mainly 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, 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.
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 had 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 also a product of Rondebosch Boys School that we both attended, as
did Don Gray.
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,
attended meetings with the son of the owner of a major soft drink
manufacturer. We all agreed that the Aussie
application should 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 addressing. 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 a distraught wife, called my boss, and told him when I received my full
salary, and 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 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
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 girl’s school in Cape Town. She was recently divorced from an abusive
husband. She could not take the advances
from Bob and 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
was 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 with 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 of the developer’s
father 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.
In apartheid, South Africa, everyone was assigned to a race
group. The Cape Town environs had the most
significant number of Colored people, different from the US term “people of
color.” It is a multiracial ethnic group
who have 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
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.
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 of 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 the 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) back to
Joburg. As you can tell, we have never
been afraid to move.
CPL was an excellent working 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 would we 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 the 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 a professional service.
As ideal as this environment was, things did go wrong. Don is a visionary, saw golden
opportunities. South Africa was in a
downward spiral because of apartheid, or its racial policies, and rapidly
becoming the 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 that
boasted a 5-star hotel, and a wide assortment of shops and restaurants. When we arrived at work on Monday, with the
foyer filled with people, resume in hand.
On opening the office, we did not have 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 had 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 sharing 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 very close quarters, who knows what might transpire. I was mindful not to follow up after her
return to inquire if anything happened.
Don joined a company specializing in computer hardware and
software training, as well as people skill development. Shortly after joining this company, I got the
call to join this organization. This
company represented an American company producing training material on
videotapes. My role was to help sell “rental
units.” A client company would buy, 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, 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, data transmission, as well as
personal development such as selling skills, managing people, etc. They had more than 1,200 video instruction
There was, however, 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 versus 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 of 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.
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 very detailed sketch of situations for 5
or 6 minutes and then look at the person who asked the question, repeated the
question verbatim, and gave a single sentence response. As Peter explained, if you do not understand
the background, it is near impossible to provide a short answer. Peter made a visionary statement that
rang very true with me. To design
systems using automation, you must redesign those systems with automation in
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 during 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.
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 that 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 written his book
Cry the Beloved Country in 1948, but that was not available in South
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 of 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. 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 it 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 wakeup 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 got 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
sleep 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 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 in 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, the
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
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
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 of the 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 up side by side and row by row,
around the swimming pool, all facing south.
That 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.
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 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 condition that I was fully independent.
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 a $1,000 or more. Ollie was a
legend in his own time. Joan 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 stock room 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
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 place 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
seemed to be 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 gift,
the better the table.
Linda was with me to visit with 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 fare.
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 to Logan. He also arranged for a driver to take us to
the airport and fly across the country during the day time. One additional comment about Logan
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 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 getting 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 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.
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.
Allow me to back up. In
1967 I turned 21 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 early morning and thinking about my life. I was born as the eldest of three siblings in
a family, seriously lacking 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 direct
dependents 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), 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 ultimately
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.
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 come up with new names for concepts so that they can
always present it as original and fresh ideas, even if it 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
Job one was to find a client.
I had sold the videotape series to a large, diverse publically traded packaging
company, and they became my first paying assignment. I studied the way product got 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 a 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™.
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 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 that 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 possible 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 exceedingly,
great people person. He had his
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.
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 the
Americans presenting in a new country for the first time. We held several more of these classes. Each 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 got conducted, pay for meals and coffee break treats, and the Thursday
night cocktail party. My participation
and exposure helped grow my consulting business.
Dick wanted to see some of the countrysides, 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 shantytown,
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
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, how do I expect then 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 days.
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 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, return every part under their bench to a locked stock room and entered
into the computer system. By Monday
morning, the new discipline and processes were in place.
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. After all, 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 new its market share was going to increase significantly over the next year, and sales were going to soar. It never happened in reality, 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 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 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.
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 the national conferences, and 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.
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 barter deal. We agreed that they would provide me with two
return airline tickets to fly 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 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 business
and its 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
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
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 desert, 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.
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
their 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 on-line,
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, and that was in 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.
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 then 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 ensured was a killer
to people. After we went live at his
facility, he had a mindset change. 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 made managing the facility a pleasure. Sadly Clive suffered a heart attack. He returned to work and 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.
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 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.
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 represented The Forum,
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 me 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
located not far from where we lived.
Linda made an instant decision to take up Terry’s offer.
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 USA national bird. I still wear that same t-shirt on every 4th
of July. I presented to Terry and
his group 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 to 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 wakeup 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. Inside of 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.
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 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 have to love this country with its easy finance. On my arrival, I found that the cement
driveway of my home was a sheet of ice.
Being innovative, I got out my hammer and chisel and started breaking up
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 as
we learned as we transitioned to live 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 of 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, maybe 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.
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 other 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
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 downloads
data from his IBM mainframe to an IBM System/36 (much like a mini-computer),
process locally, 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.
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 who 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
Terry established a business relationship with Ken Wantuck, who, in
conjunction with Terry, developed a lecture led and 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 their 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 the 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
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, 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, 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 ultimately divorced, and I was eager to find a way to remain in the US
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. Ultimately
Terry negotiated a $1 million settlement that he said he required to rename the
company and to rebuild his brand. After
settlement, Terry took the money and shut the company.
During my trip to America with Linda in October 1986, I purchased
a book Getting into America by an
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, that was the simple
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.
Ultimately the attorney followed Howard’s recommendation. The papers got 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….
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 with US Immigration authorities.
I called Peter to tell him that I was in trouble, and what could
he 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 came up with the idea that we executed. He and I would form a company, Modern
Business Solutions, Inc., and we would have a 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
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.
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 where he was not complicit.
Peter’s primary purpose of recording details in the notebooks was to
make sure that he never let any “things to do” be forgotten, or fall between
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 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 on with a wife and two
children to feed, and for marketing and advertising.
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 a super quick 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 as a savior as Steve was, I lost contact with him. There was no Facebook or LinkedIn those days. My recent Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn
searches did not reveal any leads.
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.
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 more than 300 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.
During my days in South Africa, I was shocked to see how
inefficient some companies operated. I
did consulting work with a company making components for trucks. This company boasted 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 adjusted,
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?
In my South African days, I worked with a large multi-division publically
traded packaging company. They sourced
their raw materials from a paper mill.
They clearly understood that as one relatively small operation in
dealing with a large mill, they had no clout in dictating deliveries. They operated 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 9 turns
from 3 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 45 times a year.
It was always easily cost-justified because of the benefits of
inventory reduction to make the software and project investment a reality. It included improvements for 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 deliver is a 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
increased, but to fully use the capabilities of the current trained team to
absorb the growth.
I stated earlier that I worked with more than 300 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
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 the
less important but more significant quantity of products. It is not always a hard and fast 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 wealth in America and with that the political clout. The top 5% controls 72% of the wealth. It represents the most significant income disparity
since the Great Depression.
The original DS software did a
great job of controlling and planning inventory. When working with a client, if they lost a
key customer, it might be detrimental to their business and desperately needed
control by critical customers as well. It
was one of many enhancements that I had the team program, item by the customer.
I was fortunate to land a large publically 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 possible 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 to not have a standard agreement with which all sales representatives had to comply.
One of the more fascinating
assignments was working with a medical device manufacturer, included 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 are 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
dispatch 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 problem solve.
I worked with a slaughterhouse. Say they receive an order for 100 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 for beef, pig, and lamb.
These orders have to be assembled and processed. Ultimately waste control is essential, so
what to do if we have an imbalance of requirements. Naturally, management must determine if they
will short deliver to customers to balance demand, and make up the difference
on the following day or week, or to 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 high levels of injury. All in all a scheduling challenge.
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 so that you can be inspected on exit to
verify you are not leaving with a handful of credit card blanks. The process is complicated. Most banks have several different cards, possibly
identified as debit, and gold, silver, and platinum credit cards. The chip in the card has additional
processing requirements. Each card produced
has the customer name printed on the card, with an assigned card number,
expiration date, and security code. The
end 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 the 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 for the increased demand. Collaborative communication is key between
the bank and card processor, but not always practiced.
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 Bill of
Materials (BOM) on file. Every order
received had to have a BOM constructed with the specifics of the customer order
to control the process through production, and to plan raw material, packaging,
paint, and 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 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 in 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, identifying 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 too 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 sold to a larger
corporation. To visit this company required
a one-way 90-minute drive. On 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.
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.
My experience covers inventory or stock control, and especially
inventory record accuracy, but how do you process 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 would deteriorate 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 to the software needs
to keep control of the seeds by batch, with one or multiple lots produced on a
specific day—so 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.
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 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. 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?
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, and dresses, whatever. How can you possibly 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 likely demand for the new
season. You will probably plan at
families of product, 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, will show a level of higher or lower interest with 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 detail information available in your systems, future demand calculations are at the end item level, and planning bill of materials will provide the planners with likely component demand. This demand compared to 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, and Lockheed Martin, etc., provide
the airlines with valuable preventative maintenance information.
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 through 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 the entire amount combined. 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 to 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
November 1, 1955, and ended 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 declined
17%. Forecasting these wild swings is a
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 approximately 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.
Consultants can be pretty 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 such a big
deal 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 publically traded packaging company. This client company was initially owned by an
investment firm. 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 sales person’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, attached it to an email, and forward 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 back to the corporate administrator who would consolidate all the sales peoples 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 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 in extracting data from Sunbelt, requiring redundant data, resulted
in a significant cleanup that needed to take place through a rigorous
Once over that hurdle, having a salesperson restricted to only
seeing their data was simple, and then having the sales manager seeing their
direct reports information was again possible using MS SQL technology. The other neat benefit was 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 on 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, adding notes at aggregate or detail data levels. It turned out to be a big success. In 2005 DMI purchased this application and
branded it as Feedback.
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
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 likely produce a higher quality of the forecast. We redeveloped our software to include the
series of formulas from Forecast Pro and named it Supply-Lynx Internet
The users loved our solution because it was significantly more user-friendly to navigate and to 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 built on a
tract of land that had previously been owned by the Archdiocese of
Milwaukee. Linda called me from home on 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 seeing 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 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 100 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 supporting
loyal Republican causes. His employment
relationship with us required time off to perform his duties as a Wisconsin State
Senator and to attend congressional 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
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 ultimately 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 would keep us in business, we had to
reduce costs. Sadly Ted was
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 to 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!
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 very best
attention possible and saw to it that we would meet their every need. It was, indeed, an international
account. Their data center based in the
UK and our software 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 complete. Well, the changes never completed.
I’m in Europe early 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 near instantly and said that he would look into the matter.
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
restricted to single-user access only.
So with 15 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 on 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
lockout any or all users or to 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 similar to
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 got developed during the 1900s. Recall my career began in 1969, working on the 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 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, during
November 2008 we bought the condominium we are currently living in. We were of the first to move in along with four
other families. So what did I do to earn
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.
One company that we were presenting our Supply-Lynx software to
was an international publicly traded electronics company. The Vice President, Jack, was very
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 to make adjustments.
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), 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 to 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 we
had taken us 12 person-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 to 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
secure 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
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 particular technical questions that she wanted clarity on to
assure her that the software would meet their needs. I guess 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, essentially 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
DMI sold Demand Solutions to Logility, a publically 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 made 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
ultimately became a wholly-owned subsidiary of American Software.
In 2009 I incorporated SCM Solutions, LLC. The SCM was representing Supply Chain
Management. It was now my third company,
and second in the United States. We
continued on 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
was 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 did learn
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 in 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, really 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 300 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
to 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 of his
software. The good news is that we 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 now under new management with
Bill at the helm.
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 the Gene was looking for
representatives to help promote his solution, and we had a ten-year track
record 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 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 employ of our client.
Gene Averill passed away on February 1, 2018, at age 76.
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 publically 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, 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 a common 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 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 near 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 were
skilled developers, so Anand hired Jogy Thomas (a Catholic), a bright
developer. Pari, by the way, 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 call the shots. Part 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 install in the US, we built in
an annual 10% escalation in price clause.
We could not possibly know at that juncture that this company would be
on a journey where today they have 50 factories. The bad news: ultimately, only 13 plants
purchased the software over several years, and six plants stopped using the
solution, now available to move to other facilities within the same
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, during June 2011. By this time, Anand and Pari had parted
company after disagreements, and each went their way. Pari joined JDA (now the owners 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 from
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)
Before putting a single word on paper, I drew up an agreement
where I stipulated that I wanted a 5% royalty of all sales globally for the
demand planning and S&OP modules. For
the record, my S&OP experience dated back to 1982 when first representing
Oliver Wight, the originators of this concept with Walt Goddard, Dick Ling, and
Tom Wallace as the key contributors.
Then to 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 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,
somewhat 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.
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 operates
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 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 re-write where the GUI was concerned—and I
was even more confident that my specifications would be impressive with this
On August 19, 2012, I arrived in Bengaluru (Bangalore) India. My flight arrived at midnight. Anand drove me the 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, the trucks were not allowed on the roads
during daylight hours.
I saw a business park with several high-rise office buildings lit
up, appearing that all offices were occupied.
Anand explained 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 economy hotel caring for regular business people. With jet lag being a reality, I woke 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 India 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 did not
appeal to my appetite. Anand had warned
me not to drink water from the tap at the hotel. We met early morning, and he bought me a case
of 24 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 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 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
office, retail, and apartment building in the city of 12 million people. Vijay Mallya became a controversial figure
long after I left India. He started an
airline United Spirits that went bust 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 pavements were 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 in Bangalore. I asked Anand
if there was any financial support for people who seemed to live in the
streets. He said that a significant sum
of money got 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 the 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
generally 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 the 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 pulled up at
a traffic light when another Tuk-Tuk came flying by and drenched me.
My time in the office was as fascinating. Planvisage is on the 4th
floor. When you enter the building,
there is a sign to say that the only elevator in the building is to be used to ride
up only. People needing to go down must take
the stairs, for others use the stairs both ways if you are fit. I did.
I saw open electrical connections with bare wires. I guess there are no building codes. If there are any, no one adheres to them. If desperate, and you needed to use a 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 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 shower
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 are not necessary. For distribution and wholesale companies,
tracking key customers is critical.
Since the factory planning system was not dependent on all of these
nodes in a network, they cut the detail significantly and consequently weakened
the architecture of the solution.
With 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 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.
As I stated earlier, the balance of 2012 was taken up with writing
the rest of the specifications. I did
get 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. With 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 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 the narrow edge. The house went straight up for four
floors. The floors were all marble, including
the staircase and the lightening 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 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.
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
on the ground floor. There are two units
side by side, but a 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 have a domestic who served
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 very impressed with Anju
and found that her English diction was significantly more precise than
Anand’s. She spoke without a trace of an
India 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 are there are 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
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 their 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 sight to behold.
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 it 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, 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 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 very short.
The company had several personnel issues in that they needed to
hire creative people. It appeared that
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 we 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 verbiages I have ever
heard come out of anyone’s mouth. Then
too, there was that situation that 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
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 the 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 pretty 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 got 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
are 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 cost a fraction to acquire, and
implementation could be under a year if the client company data were
clean. Toxic data always extends 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 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, Randeep COO. Both
men are in their early 40s, 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.
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 realize 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 in the
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
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
had 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.
Before this fall out 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 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 very 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 write 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 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 now resident in the
US. He had worked with Planvisage for seven
years and was very familiar with the software and a close personal friend of
Jophin’s, one of the developers in Bangalore.
No sooner had I opened the meeting when Alex got up, moved to the front
of the room, and took charge of the meeting.
Two facts were obvious. Alex
had no concept of 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 appreciate it only had a headcount of
8 people, Alex did not believe it was his role to learn the detail workings of
the software. I do not think that he
ever loaded the software on his computer.
Why should Alex? If Alex 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 300 companies without knowing the detail workings
of the software, and by this time was very 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 with Randeep in a face-to-face meeting in Detroit during
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 and when
that might take place. Recall Randeep
was a lawyer, and Alex had joined Lighthouse from a consulting company and was
supposedly 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 realizing 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 the 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?
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, held in Charlotte, North
Carolina. Not surprisingly, Alex needed
no input from Ralph or me, despite that 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?
Now I need to get somewhat 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 on 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 mock up Alex’ 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 make adjustments to 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 forecasted 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
rather 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
creditability 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 the 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, 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%.
Something interesting happened after that encounter. All the managers stopped asking Alex any
questions. Questions were directed to
me. Allow me one more. 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 during 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 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 being training materials
features software screen displays.
As of October 2019, our videos got viewed 33,000 times, a
current average rate of 15 per day. 2 of the 20 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. 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 he would and scream disparagingly at the kids to
get the hell out 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 that 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 with 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 Lighthouse. 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
sale 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, 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
To help the packaging company make an investment decision, I spoke
to Scott, and we agreed that I would visit another division their facility in
Dayton, Ohio, in mid-November 2017. It
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 have not stated this
earlier, I 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 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 needed material 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
With the detail, 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 forbid me to go on that visit, and with our conference call to 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
well 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
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 day’s
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 situations
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 publically traded
corporation, a manufacturer of household products throughout the US with
numerous production facilities. Closing
additional sales were 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 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.
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
on-line 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 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. By the way,
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 report to Laura at the client
company. Laura had 15 years with this
client and was responsible for working with Sean’s company over 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 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 persons
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 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 consultants.
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, the 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 any fraudulent transactions taking place 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.
Very 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 build of the
original order processing system. In
brief, Laura knew it all. However, to
get her to share any information was near 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 had not got 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, visited them, setting out to understand the differences in data processing between the existing system and the proposed SAP system. The person I met with 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 very similar way, I got scolded because I took the initiative
to talk to the proposed company, who were 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 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 get text
messages from Jody and Laura requesting me to 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 did connect with me. She had a message from Laura to tell 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 my calling
Laura at 7:00 am to get her permission would not earn me any Brownie
points. Laura generally 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 that riled me up was that Laura did not have the courtesy to call me and discuss this incidence 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. Robyn made it to a
position of director of marketing operations for a multibillion-dollar discount
retail organization, and Sean to senior vice president digital for an
advertising company reporting to the CEO.
Even if the kids do not admit it, I believe that I set the groundwork
for them to be successful, and I readily accept it was their drive and
determination that got them to where they are today.
When I was growing up, I did not have parents who discussed
business at the dinner table, as I did with my kids. 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 school work 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. For the most part, 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 States. Linda had to learn a new skill set, 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 the guidance from a professional company. Our taxes were more complicated trying to untangle personal 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. I believed 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 with their daughters.
Robyn’s twins at 12, have had several international trips. Sean’s girls have seen several seaside cities
in the US and to 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 the Microsoft Office products, and that stood her in good stead at the job interviews. Then to Linda has never been shy working with computers. Linda is an expert in Excel and Word. I have heard Linda offer advice to others on how to manage 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 ready yourself 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 experience 30 times over.
I can safely say that I escaped that trap. The constant moving 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, has
been worth it.
2018 will be a different year.
Its called retirement. My twin
granddaughters received my support facilitating their school book club. Sean’s oldest daughter had me talk to her 6th-grade
class about the water crisis facing 4 million people in Cape Town, South
Thank you for reading.
January 16, 2018. Updated April 15, 2018, May 2, 2018, July 5, 2018, and October 25, 2019.