24 Nov

At slightly over ten years in the military, I decided to try civilian life again. Rumor had it that decent jobs were few and far between, but I put together a résumé, and mailed out twenty two copies, to headhunters in Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia. Five days later, I got a call from Virginia Benton, one of the agents I had selected from the Dallas phone directory.

“Doc,” she started, “This is really weird! I just came in from lunch, and found your letter and résumé on my desk, as well as a new opening with one of my client companies. You’re made for each other! Let me give you a run-down…”

She outlined a job description that was right up my alley, and a salary and benefits package that made my mouth water.

“Are you interested in talking to them?” she asked.

“Absolutely!” I answered. “Where and when?”

“Let me give them a call and set up an appointment. You’ll probably be interviewing in their Atlanta office. When are you available?” she asked.

“For an interview, virtually any time. As far as a start date, I’ll be free of the Navy on February 2nd. I’ll just need time to move to Dallas.”

She called me back in thirty minutes, with an appointment the following week, asking me to call her right afterward and give her my impression.

I walked out of their office confident that I had the job, even though the regional manager had indicated that he would call me in the next few days. I called Virginia and told her as much.

“Great!” she intoned. “Now, we just have to wait.”

Thirty minutes after I walked into my house that afternoon, my phone rang.

“Doc…Virginia. Listen, they want to make you an offer. Will you accept…?” She laid out a very fair package, and I added a couple of minor details, accepting their offer under those conditions. In less than an hour, she called me back and told me I had the job.

Five days after my discharge, my family and I were in Dallas, staying with some friends, while we looked for a house. Three days later, we were moving into a three bedroom rental. I picked up my company car, and we began getting on with our lives.

My job required extensive travel, often on the spur of the moment. This made family life a little difficult, and my wife and I began to have our first real difficulties since our marriage. I tried to make her understand that I was making more money than ever before, and building a future for us and our kids.

“Bullshit!” she retorted. “You’re just enjoying the hell out of all the traveling!”

Though I argued that living out of a suitcase, in a different hotel room every night, was no picnic, I guess the truth is, I really was enjoying it. Whenever I was gone, I missed my family, and I called every night. I also really looked forward to getting home after each trip. The problem is, I was always going, and my wife was always stuck at home. And with two kids in elementary and junior high school, I could hardly take her with me. Finally, after seven or eight months, I started looking for something else.

One of my regular clients was Bob Rankin, an engineer based in Austin, TX. Every Christmas, Bob threw a party, Texas-style, for five or six hundred guests, at his ranch in Dripping Springs, TX. When I received my invitation to the party, I knew something was right. I called Bob and asked him if we could meet at his home the day before the party. He was surprised, and a little curious, but in spite of being busy with all the preparations for the party, he agreed.

We drove down to Austin that Saturday morning, and I had a lengthy visit with Bob. When we left that evening to head for our hotel, I told my wife I was sure I had the job.

“What job?” she asked.

I had approached Bob on the basis that he was a hell of a good design engineer, but not much of a salesman. What he needed, I told him, was a full-time sales and marketing manager – me!

The next day, we attended the party, and when we departed, Bob said he would be in touch early in the week.

Monday morning, Bob made me an offer, which I accepted, and although I had given two weeks notice, company policy dictated that my boss in Atlanta fly out that week to give me my termination interview, and collect company property.  The following Monday, I started at Bob’s company.

The job was challenging, exciting and enjoyable. Great people to work with, and although Bob and I had a few heated discussions, we got along well, and worked together well as a team. The travel required of me was much lighter than before, and the money considerably better. We bought a small 7-1/2 acre ranch in the hills, about 50 miles west, and bought some horses. Things improved dramatically, both for us, and for the company.

About two and a half years later, Bob and I had a minor falling out, over my proposed marketing strategy, so I decided to leave the company. Some months before, I had purchased a ten percent interest in a small publishing company, near home, and it had become evident that since I hadn’t researched my partner’s past sufficiently, I would either have to write off my interest, or buy him out. I made him an offer, and we quickly came to terms. The bank in Dripping Springs fronted me the down payment, and suddenly, I was in business for myself!

When I had bought into the business, it consisted only of a weekly tabloid magazine, with a free distribution of less than 2,000 copies. It was totally supported by advertising sales, and usually fell slightly short of making costs. My wife pitched in like a real trooper, working sixteen to twenty hours a day, seven days a week, and within a year, we had expanded to include a weekly newspaper, and a monthly, full color magazine.

The changes we had made to the format were tremendously successful. We had in-depth interviews with people like H. Ross Perot, Governor Mark White, Governor Ann Richards, Manny Gammage…a long list of movers and shakers in Texas society, business and politics. Our distribution on the original weekly magazine topped 40,000. The weekly newspaper, a modest 8,000. The monthly magazine’s first run was 40,000, and the second edition was 75,000!

If only we had managed our growth as well as we managed our content! After two and a half years, we still couldn’t afford to pay ourselves a salary, and a couple of financial missteps took us into bankruptcy.

I ended up back with Bob, heading his new engineering department. It felt good to be back, but I still had a desire to have my own business…and now I knew a couple of mistakes NOT to make!


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