A BRIEF INTRODUCTION

Please allow me to introduce you to Bernard Olcott, 1918-2006, a man who led a legendary and iconoclastic American life.

Welcome to my blog.  My goal is to provide you with stories from times past by which you might catch glimpses of yourself, or of someone you know intimately. Bernard Olcott touched the world, from Japan to England to Egypt to Kansas to New Jersey. Maybe you know some of these places, too.

Every Thursday afternoon, I’ll present you with a new story, some new adventure or insight, dusted with more than just a little modern context and quirky cultural references. Dad loved screwball humor; although he took himself seriously as an attorney, he wouldn’t stop laughing if you called him an ‘ambulance chaser.’  You see, this is the point: we can’t pick our parents, but we sure as hell can cherry pick their best qualities. And that, my friends, is what will set you free.

PANOPLY OF SWAGGER, PART 3

The third of the PANOPLY series.  Actually, it continues from my post “PAIR OF DEUCES, PART 4

So, I zeroed in for the kill. This was gonna be a drop kick in my local Kangaroo Court. There was no way I was gonna lose this case. My first victory. Imagine that!

“Dad, that’s a Drop-Down button,” I corrected him sternly. Precision was more than past due in our software efforts.

“Pop-Up button,” he countered.

“Drop-Down!” I said again, loudly and more stridently. I pointed to the button on the screen, next to the Prior Art field (see my post last week for a discussion of screen elements — if you’re really interested). “We need to be more precise about our language if we are going sell this product,” I added.  My turn to give the retribution: he was wrong and had it coming.

“James,” Dad shouted as he pushed back on his chair, standing, “again you show no common sense!”

‘What?!’ I asked myself. Is he going to try to humiliate me again, this time in front of Steve and Peggy? No way, I said to myself.

PANOPLY OF SWAGGER, PART 2

THE CALL will be ready to go next week.  In the the meantime, please enjoy this continuation of the PANOPLY series.  This part 2 elaborates on my post, “SCRATCH ON THE POOL TABLE OF LIFE,” and goes on from there.

People who marched to Dad’s doorstep with investment ideas, at first, were either extraordinarily interesting or entertaining.

Take Huntington Hartford, for instance. Though unknown to me, he was the storied scion of A&P. When I met him, I wasn’t aware of this, I thought he was just another eccentric inventor. Apparently, the world is full of them.  Huntington’s investment idea was a tennis-type game he had invented called “tennet.” As recounted in my post, “IN DEMAND, AND THEN NOT,” Dad and I drove to his apartment at the River House on Manhattan’s East Side. I played a game with Hartford (set in a squash court); he apparently made a pitch to my Dad to invest in his game. Dad said no. I forgot about this meeting until many years later, when I started writing this blog.

Ever heard of tennet?

I didn’t think so. Good thing my Dad passed on it.

PANOPLY OF SWAGGER, PART 1

A big task just fell on my desk, which will take up all of my spare time for the next few weeks.  So it’s back to the repeats.  My next story, THE CALL, is in my head, I just need to find the time to write it.  in the meantime, I will rerun THE PANOPLY OF SWAGGER stories as a sequential series. They are important to The Bernard Olcott Story.

Pictured above, beautiful Stockholm.

Last week in my post “OF GIANTS AND DWARFS” I took you, the dear reader, back to 1966 to meet Lenny the check-forger.  But Lenny turned out to be a mere piker.  Compare him to Herby Fischer¹ – the stockbroker from American Express who churned Dad for over a million in the late 1980s.  Now that guy had a plunger.  A big one.

Strange thing was, after Dad took him to court and won, inexplicably, seeking no one’s advice but his own, Dad reinvested with Herby!  Everyone can get taken once.  But to go back to the same guy afterwards?

But Herby was ultimately not the biggest plunderer.  More about him later.

Neither gentleman made it to the letterhead of Olcott International, my employer as of 1983.  Based on the amount of cash they carried away, however, they should have — at least as cost centers.

Steven Sites¹, however, did make the letterhead.  He was on the famed pantheon of “Associates” thereon.  That meant he was a BIG, the real deal.

Soon after I started my first job, I mean, not simply a first job but one at the family business with Bernard Olcott as CEO, efficiency expert, attorney at law, certified engineer in three states, computer consultant, construction foreman, automotive engine and air conditioner mastermind, ladies’ man, and unfortunately, easy mark, a pudgy man waddled over to my desk on the lower level.  He extended his hand.  “I’m Stevie Sites,” he said.  I recognized the name immediately and stood up.  A giant had graced my stoop!

I told him that I recognized his name from the letterhead and asked him about his accounts.  I had no idea what he was about to tell me.

MESSAGES FROM THE UNIVERSE

Life goes on. Several months later, on May 18th, 1995, I was in my Ford Escort wagon with Peter Fennel, Chief Patent Counsel of Robinson Proprietary Limited, a new potential client based in Sydney, Australia. He was one of the many leads I had developed from the annual International Trade Mark Association (“INTA”) meeting held every Spring.

Robinson had a medium-sized portfolio of patents to renew in some 35 countries every year. We had sprung up a conversation during the INTA meeting a few weeks earlier and, as it turned out, he was actively looking for an outside service such as Olcott International to outsource his renewal hassles. A couple of e-mails back and forth made clear that he was soon be in New York; he asked “would my Dad and I be available for a meeting?”

Of course! I invited him across the Hudson River for a meeting and then lunch. Peter even brought us a copy of his patent inventory which allowed us to provide a precise quote for all Robinson renewals starting the next year, in 1996.

Dad was his usual uneven self, asking many questions that struck me as needless. Much time was spent on revising the quote simply because, as I surmised, I was the one who had prepared it (which meant it had to be suspect in his eyes). The changes provided zero value added, from our point of view as well as Peter’s.

PANOPLY OF SWAGGER, PART 3

Continued from last week’s post “PAIR OF DEUCES, PART 4

So, I zeroed in for the kill. This was gonna be a drop kick in my local Kangaroo Court. There was no way I was gonna lose this case. My first victory. Imagine that!

“Dad, that’s a Drop-Down button,” I corrected him sternly. Precision was more than past due in our software efforts.

“Pop-Up button,” he countered.

“Drop-Down!” I said again, loudly and more stridently. I pointed to the button on the screen, next to the Prior Art field (see my post last week for a discussion of screen elements — if you’re really interested). “We need to be more precise about our language if we are going sell this product,” I added.  My turn to give the retribution: he was wrong and had it coming.

“James,” Dad shouted as he pushed back on his chair, standing, “again you show no common sense!”

‘What?!’ I asked myself. Is he going to try to humiliate me again, this time in front of Steve and Peggy? No way, I said to myself.

PAIR OF DEUCES, PART 4

Nine months after the botched installations at Mark Chapman’s Trade Mark Office and Molecules R Us, Inc., it was a chilly late February morning in 1995. I was sitting at my desk on the second floor back at the Weehawken office. During this period, I was responsible for marketing with no, as in zero, authority to actually get much done.

Suddenly, I had developed a new-found interest in curing our software defects large and small.

Behind me, Steve was tapping away on his keyboard, probably writing code for the Olcott Intellectual Property Management Software (“OIPMS”). Peggy was around the corner, attending to some marketing follow-up. Yoshi was downstairs in the Computer Center, which was a large room featuring several PCs, a mini-computer, various computer parts like mother boards, dead mice, shells, and, bizarrely, in one corner, a portion of Palisades’ basalt protruding through the cement slab floor.

With no warning, Dad rolled into the room and announced, loudly, “Steven!” This was his way of saying that he wanted to meet and review OIMPS. Occasionally, this included major design changes. Which presented, at times, some very tough engineering challenges.

These review sessions were typically dreadful and sorry affairs. Frequently, they started by Dad walking in and offering “on-the-spot guidance” only to end by shouting insults to the computer department staff for errors mostly (but not always) provoked by him.

IN DEMAND, AND THEN NOT, PART 2

Off the north shore of Nassau, capital city of the island nation of the Bahamas, sits an island formerly known as Hog Island. Up until 1959, it was a private estate belonging to a Swedish entrepreneur named Axel Wenner-Gren.

Wennergren

Axel.  By http://www.ericssonhistory.com/templates/Ericsson/Article.aspx?id=2068&ArticleID=1336&CatID=366&epslanguage=SV, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4105629Axel’s may not be a recognizable name today, but in his time, he was one of the world’s wealthiest men. Born into humble means in 1881, he was one of six children, of which three had died in childhood. After spinning his wheels as a salesman of agricultural machinery in fin de siecle Germany, he wandered past a storefront in Vienna in 1908 to marvel at a new device called a “vacuum cleaner.”

The sucking machine obviously intrigued him.  Clearly, in this case, he was thinking “outside of the box,” especially when you consider that his past business experiences was in the spice trade or the aforementioned farm equipment. When his attempts to become a distributor were rebuffed, somehow he managed to purchase a 20% stake in the company. A few years later, he made his coup when he persuaded Electrolux to buy the underlying patent in return for shares of the Swedish company’s stock.

That was the winning ticket!