Cat Tales - stories from my 8 lives

I feel I'm on life number 8 out my 9 cat lives. My eight lives started with my humble beginnings in Minnesota and continue to my current retirement. Here they are:

Number One -Life on the Farm

Number Two - College Days

Number Three - Working in Africa

Number Four-Failing in Business

Number Five - Grant maker

Number Six - Teacher

Number Seven - Teacher Mentor

Number Eight – Retired to the Thai jungle and bought an elephant

Number Nine – The Best Is Yet To Come!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Buying a business - Life Number Five

Dude... what were you thinking!

I hate telephones. Have never liked talking on them. So why on God's green earth did I buy a business that involved my being on the phone all day long? Didn't make sense then and still makes no sense now. Makes no sense, unless one looks deeper into the underlying rational for this, excuse my French, very,  stupi

If I am honest with myself, I think it was a combination of perceived desperation, a sense of cockiness, and good old fashioned greed. What a terrible trio from which to seek life changing guidance. These three pack a powerful punch. Three motivating factors which can, and in my case did, take me down.

It was the holiday season. I was returning home to California following a very long, but productive visit to the newly launched Freedom From Hunger Program in Mali. Unbeknownst to me, the PVO I worked for had been brought to its financial knees while I was out of the country. This was 1987 and instant communication had not yet come into vogue. Email, twitter and Facebook, to name but a few, were not part of our vocabulary.

My feet touched the Sacramento tarmac, after flying for nearly twenty four hours. I was exhausted, but felt triumphant from what had been accomplished on this trip. I was indeed excited to be home. Plus it was Christmas! I loved this time of the year, what with all the twinkle lights on people's houses.

Walking into the arrival area of the terminal, I was met by my new boss. As Chris shook my hand and congratulated me on a job well done, he went on to say “I'm sorry I have to tell you this, now, but you no longer have a job.” Then as a kind of after thought, he noted “We can talk all about it on Monday.” And with these few words, he was gone.

Wow! What a welcome home! I stood in the terminal, trying to absorb the shock of what I'd just heard. I'd worked for the Foundation for ten years, and now I had no job?

Thankfully, my dear friend Pat Hayes was waiting in the wings of the terminal. She scooped me up, took me to their home in Davis, where Mike met me with a bear hug and a glass of Jack Daniels.

Hours later, I had an overview of the financial crisis the organization was going through, which had resulted in 80% of the professional staff being laid off. My international development career which had spanned some 18 years, felt as though it had come to an end. Needless to say, there was great bitterness on the part of the staff who had been laid off. We all lived in the same town, got together frequently, and this sore of bitterness festered for months, if not years.

Given that the Foundation's Africa program with six projects in five countries was it largest regional program, and I was the Africa Regional Direction, I was kept on for an additional six months. This gave me some breathing room to transition into something new.

It was during this six month period that desperation, cockiness and greed found their way into my thinking. With the blow of losing my job, my world cracked and my vision became blurred. Did I seek professional help as I traveled down this path? Nope! Didn't need any professional assistance.

Desperation was the first one to entrap me. I'd lost my job, I did not know which way to turn. Another international job seemed to be out of the picture. Why? Maybe I had my reasons back then, but now as I think about this, I have no idea why I didn't try to open some of those international development job doors. I didn't and I felt desperate. I started searching for businesses that were for sale in the classified section of the Sacramento Bee.

This is where the cockiness stepped in. Although I had a social service background, had never been in businesses in my life, I was going to show'm. I was going to show the Freedom From Hunger Foundation folks that they might have laid me off, but I would come back bigger, better and stronger. Yup, I was going to show them, alright. I was going to show them!

Problem with this was, my mentality was social service, not business. I had been in the caring and nurturing business my whole professional life. I knew zip about the cut throat practices of being in business. 'd never had to meet payroll, be in charge of running an office, or managing the day to day finances of a business. And yet, there I was searching out a potential businesses to buy.

Did I consult with anyone?  I did not.  My ego must have been so big at that point, that I did not feel like I needed to talk with anyone.  Why didn't I talk with Rich, my former supervisor?  Or his wife Beth?  They had opened their home to me on many occasions, to stay with them for months.......  I had my own room in their house. We'd shared so many conversations, prepared so many meals, attended many parties together, making Rich not only my supervisor but also a trusted friend.  So why didn't I consult Rich on this?

Lastly, along came greed.  I still remember seeing the classified add in the Sacramento Bee. “Make 75K per year” it read. What a deal! I could be earning nearly twice what I had been paid at the Foundation. It all sounded so easy. Just talk with people all day long on the phone. What could be easier than that?

Rather than hiring a professional CPA to go over the business' books, and paying a financial planner to help me think this through, I charged forward and took 75K out of my annuity and bought the businesses. Office Mates 5 was a franchised head hunter business for clerical staff, with the home office based in Cleveland. Simple concept, just call employers to find out if they needed a secretary or bookkeeper and if they did, charge the employer a fee to help them find the ideal employee. Oh yeah.... simple concept....

Things began to unravel almost immediately. Within a week, I knew I did not like making telephone cold calls. I did not enjoy being a telemarketer. I had a staff of six account executives, all but one of whom were new to the world of telemarketing. They didn't like making the calls either!  I took to being out of the office most of the time.  Officially to my staff, I was in the field, talking with busness owners about their clerical needs.  I didn't enjoy that either, so in reality, I was trying to figure out how to fill my days.

During the first nine months of business, I made money only one month. The other months I ran in the red. Moving into my second year, I knew I was in serious trouble and potentially facing bankruptcy. I was saved this fate of losing my shirt, by someone above me in the company stepping in at the 11th hour. Office Mates 5 was part of a larger company called Management Recruiters. The local owner of the Management Recruiters franchise in Sacramento agreed to pay off my bills if I would hand him back the OM5 franchise.

Only after my $10,000 debt had been paid, and I'd signed away the papers for the OM5 franchise, did I realize the reason I'd been saved, so to speak, is that the Sacramento Management Recruiters owner, did not want a bankruptcy attached to the name of the franchise he most likely would have gotten back anyway, had I gone belly up.

That aside...... I was a happy camper! I was by this time, nearly 100K poorer for having invested in this business, but I was free from it and could move on with my life.

The experience of owning my own telephone marketing business had been traumatic from the get go. I had felt like a fish out of water from the very beginning. I'd always believed in leading by example, so where did this leave me? Most times, feeling like an idiot. A failure. The final months and weeks of the business, as financial ruin loomed over my head, were hell. So when I was able to walk away from the businesses with no creditors chasing me down, I was a happy camper. Albeit a much poorer camper, but a happy camper just the same.

It still amazes me, however, as I reflect back to the beginning of this tale..... and as I ask myself over and over and over.....

Dude.... what in the world were you thinking!

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