INCOME AND DISPARITY – PART VI – AMERICA CONTINUES TO BURST WITH OPPORTUNITY

Contrary to the disparity advocates, this country has now and will continue to offer unlimited opportunities for those who prepare through at least a high school education, want to seek out opportunity, and are willing to work hard enough to make it happen.

We’re not talking about Google and Facebook, or Twitter, who just created 1,000 or more millionaires with their IPO. These big guns will still continue to exist, but the huge numbers of opportunities we’re thinking of are for Small Business Entrepreneurs (SBE).

This is in addition to the steady growth careers like policemen, firemen, teachers and salaried personnel in a hundred different careers. You see, everyone, whether they own a business or not, are, in fact, the entrepreneur of their own life.

Two representative examples of SBE who created opportunity with no money are your two co-authors in this series—Gary Wechter and Art Schwartz. They did what thousands have also done and many more thousands can still do. We have similar backgrounds. We came from lower middle-class homes in Queens, New York. We attended public elementary and high schools, and benefitted from no special privileges.

I went on to finish college, concentrating more on the non-academic side of college life while Gary dropped out during his first year at St. John’s University. Our stories then began to take different paths, but all in the same direction. With many doubts along the way, we kept striving to achieve more. We were both, along with dozens of people we have known, the beneficiaries of America’s opportunities.

Gary’s first job started with a lead from an employment agency which sent him for an interview to a company named only as “National.” Gary assumed National Biscuit Company. When arriving for the interview, Gary was surprised at the name on the building, National Cash Register. “I guess it doesn’t really make any difference. I just need a job.’

Gary got the job as a Mechanic Apprentice and over the next seven years, through NCR’s extensive training, Gary learned not only how cash registers work and how to fix them, but also what’s expected in providing exceptional customer service. In 1969, Gary requested and was transferred into NCR’s computer division and that became the foundation for the rest of his career.

After moving to California in 1971, Gary went to work for Nixdorf Computer, where over the next five years he worked hard learning how to program, design and manage computer projects. After a brief, unsatisfying stint with Citibank bringing ATM’s to the marketplace, he decided it was time to hang out his own consulting shingle and founded Summation Data, Inc.

Over the next 16 years, the business grew into a prominent computer sales and service organization in Southern California focused on IBM’s range of small business computers (System 32-36 and AS400). During this period, Summation’s staff grew to over 25 professionals earning head-of-household level salaries. Then in the early 1990s, market forces (i.e., arrival of PC networks, Unix systems and IBM’s retreat from the small business market) forced Summation to end its run.

Undaunted, Gary moved on as manager of a computer project for Freedom Furniture, the largest furniture retailer in Australia. After a year living in Australia and a successful implementation, Gary came home and founded another computer sales and service business, Strategic Selling, Inc.

Strategic Selling sold, tailored and implemented a program called GoldMine that runs on laptop and PC networks and helps companies manage their sales force and marketing efforts. For the next 15 years in this “work from home” consultancy, Gary “paid the bills” while giving perhaps a dozen professionals short-term, well-paying contract positions. Now semi-retired, Gary has started flipping (buy, renovate, sell) residential properties, providing income for himself and for the myriad of necessary subcontractors.

And now back to our other story…

Even though Art wasn’t able to come up with a definition of management, he was hired by the Electrical Industries Association of So. Calif. back in the late sixties.

The mission of the EIA was to promote the increased use of electrical energy in the existing home market. To do that, we worked with some 400 or so appliance dealers in Southern California to put on promotions like “Waltz Through Washday,” “Freeze Your Food Costs,” and “Snow Balls in June.”

We worked with other facets of the electrical industry as well to promote commercial lighting and electrical heating. Our activities were financed primarily by the electrical utilities, as well as dues and fees from our 600 plus members. There were about five of us on the full-time staff.

About the time of the first U.S. energy scare in 1973, the utilities were being pressured to start promoting conservation instead of increased use. This left the EIA with a questionable future. After considering several options about my future, I decided to form a management and promotion agency. I nurtured this idea with the EIA ex comm. and board. After nine months, I got their agreement to help me set up my management business with the EIA as my first client. I sold them on the idea that it would provide a flexible future benefit for both of us.

I didn’t know how to establish fees, so we sat down and divided the budget. The EIA would pay me for everything in the administrative budget—rent, salaries, etc. That was my fee. The program and promotion funds would stay with the EIA.

It wasn’t hard to figure out this was a fixed fee that would need some way to be adjusted. If inflation hit my costs and salaries would keep going up, I had to find a way to utilize a different kind of fee.

During the first year or so, I didn’t solicit any new clients and spent some time searching out an adjustable fee arrangement. I found some people in similar businesses who mostly negotiated a fee with their clients based on an estimate each year of how much time would be needed to accomplish the program and services the organization set as their action plan.

Along the way we created something of a niche approach to some promotional projects like trade shows and publications. We would propose creating an exposition for a client, for example, and because they didn’t have any substantial capital reserves, we offered to finance the project and pay them a royalty. This eventually became the biggest and most profitable part of MAS.

We did okay with MAS and built what I called the smallest conglomerate in the world. We had four related activities under our banner: association management, trade shows, publishing and consumer expositions. We employed as many as 30 people. When it came time for me to slow down and ease toward retirement (a little too soon, but that’s another story), I set up two of my people to take over the activities they were already managing.

They put up no money because they didn’t have any and paid me a small percentage of their revenue over a number of years. They both did so well that they bought me out about half way through the payout period.

Our major trade show was sold a few years later and I was off to becoming a happy has been.

Gary and I were not alone in pursuing this kind of business creation and opportunity. We were people I call successful opportunists. Some with college degrees, some not. None of them, like both of us, had any real money. They certainly weren’t part of the 1%.

So, when we hear the proponents in academia and the far left decry the wealth and income disparity as justification for their carefree calls to spend unlimited money we have to print or borrow, I say get out in the real world and see the wealth of opportunity that still exists.

You should not be surprised to learn that Entrepreneur Magazine has well over 650,000 readers. Ever watch Shark Tank on ABCTV? It’s a popular show in its fourth year which allows budding entrepreneurs to present their business ideas to five potential investors.

There may be more obstacles to starting a business today, but these are all people like Gary and I who believe the American Dream is still alive.

We all were children of the lower middle class who created an opportunity and had the drive and motivation to make it happen. Please don’t tell me the American dream of opportunity is dying. It just ain’t so.

ArtSchwartzSig

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