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.
After a pleasant lunch on the Hudson River waterfront overlooking Manhattan, and a wrap-up back in the office, it was my job to drive Peter back to his hotel. As I lived in Manhattan (and still do), this was on my way home anyway.
It was our first time together alone, after a lengthy set of meetings with Dad. I thanked Peter again for taking the ferry across the river to visit us.
Peter’s reply surprised me. He was glad to come over but found, in his honest opinion, that my Father’s behavior had been erratic. Specifically, he found that Dad’s questions and topics of discussion had been, in his words, “meaningless.” I was immediately reminded of Mark Chapman’s similar comments the previous year.
Then Peter asked me if I was a part owner, or shareholder, of Olcott International. “No,” I had to admit. “That’s too bad,” he said, driving home the point that I was not really in a position to provide a current or future remedy to a big problem that others — not just him — had noticed.
After dropping him off, I had to reflect upon our conversation. It had already been a long and grinding road at Olcott International since 1982. I had been involved in both operations and marketing & sales. Robinson would, in just a month, become a new client, adding another new account to my credit, a modest number notwithstanding my limitations.
Clearly, those wins were career highpoints. But the low points were far too numerous and profoundly disturbing. Tallying up the pluses and minuses, I had to admit to myself that the negative moments (and feeling of despondency) outweighed the joy of the highs. By any measure.
Was the universe trying to tell me something?
As my Dad’s attorney, Frederic Gund, would tell me many years later, “Some people don’t want you to succeed.” Is it conceivable that “some people” might include the very same one who sired and hired you?
One of the most enjoyable aspects for me of working at Olcott International was learning various aspects of computer systems – both hardware and software. I had become computer literate at Columbia Business School and, sure enough, my career track relied heavily on that preparation. And not just at Olcott International!
By 1995, I noticed that friends and colleagues of mine had started to ask me for assistance with various generic computer issues like:
- What kind of computer should I buy?
- How do I create letters in MS Word?
- How do I convert my Casio Digital Assistant name and address list into a computer file on my PC?
I found that responding to these questions was an interesting diversion. It was really just a matter of solving logical puzzles
At some point that June, I realized that this activity, one that I found extremely positive and rewarding, was actually another message from the universe to me. This Personal Computer (“PC”) device was big. And it was only going to get bigger, way lots. As they got cheaper, PCs were moving from big company offices to both homes and small businesses. Everybody wanted one, but very few knew where to start. It registered with me that I was one of the few who did.
Just like the lesson that my professor, Jimmy Rogers, had pounded into us in class, the secret to workplace success is to find a place where the demand for your services outstrips the supply.
The PC revolution could very well be my ticket out of what was an unhappy (and potentially damaging) work situation.
The next challenge was, “how do I find enough customers to make this business viable?” Advertise? The New York Times offered a technical section in Tuesday newspaper, together with a Services advertising section. Being somewhat of a writer, I drafted a small classified ad offering myself as a techie for hire who would buy the perfect PC matched to the needs of my customer, and then provide the initial training and support to get customers productive, whatever their business. “Your hands on the keyboard,” was my tagline.
If I couldn’t get my Dad’s fingers on a keyboard, maybe I could get paid to put others on QWERTYUIOP. It was a gamble!
You gotta know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.
I placed the ad in Times and waited. Would I get any calls?
NEXT WEEK: I got a call!