After three years of wanting to play professional football and then the decision to start a family, my professional career really began in 1975 with a move to MN to join The Brothers Jurewicz, a Manufacturer’s Rep business, focused on the retail industry. It was a wise move since Target was around 50 stores at the time and Best Buy was a neighborhood stereo chain. The education and opportunities were boundless and a career was born.
As the name suggests, The Brothers Jurewicz was a collection of brothers, six in total, and we had a natural set of complimentary skills that quickly became a bit of a sensation, both because of the unique business assemblage and a company logo that reminded folks of the Smith Brothers cough drops. Retail was exploding in growth and we were getting our share of the market and establishing critical relationships with key manufacturers. However, family businesses present an additional set of hurdles and ours was complicated by the simple fact that our family motto was always, “the oldest one was the boss.” Being the youngest of ten put me in a precarious position, although the affection given to the “baby of the family” more than made up for any frustrations. There were significant lessons learned during those times that served me well in my role as a Business Leadership Coach, but in the short-term an obvious problem surfaced when one of our vendors asked me, “When are you going to start running this company?” That was the beginning of the end of my association, which lasted about eighteen months. The good news is we are much better at sharing the love of a family than we were as a business organization.
So, I branched out on my own as a Rep with an emphasis on promotional items to sell Target. Their growth provided a platform for my success and it was great fun, including meeting many entrepreneurs who developed products they wanted to sell to Target and other retailers. However, there were tweaks and changes in packaging or product-mix that uncovered what became the basis of my role, which I affectionately termed a “Developer.” I realized I was not a visionary, but had the ability and leadership skills to help theses businesses make the necessary developments that would earn shelf space and refill purchase orders that translated to significant revenue. I met many wonderful partners and quickly realized there was a complimentary business as a consultant to help companies that eventually expanded beyond the retail industry, while I retained my rep business.
As the decade came to a close, I met some people who worked with telecopiers (the first generation of a fax machine) and they were wanting to introduce this new device to the newspaper industry for reporting at sporting events. Given it took 6 minutes to send a single page, it was a challenge but by providing the equipment at no cost and charging per story sent, a service-business, SportsComm, was created. Technology improved quickly that reduced the send time to just seconds, but so did the newspapers when the replaced the manual type-setting equipment with electronics. So, we adapted the business model and introduced computer-clusters for remote data-entry and eventually portable terminals that could be purchased. This was pre-Apple, etc. but Texas Instrument and the like dominated the market and supplanted the service business model.
However, fax machines were here to stay and I ventured into creating a public-access service and raised over $1m to establish 300 locations nationwide. When it came time to close the deal, it was obvious this business was short-term and would suffer the same fate as SportsComm as the cost reductions would make a fax machine affordable to own. Although there was some short-term revenue to be gained, I made the difficult decision to shut it down. It was a good insight into my commitment to long-term strategies and an early lesson in “Life Is Perfect.” For it was then, in the early 80’s, that I met the man who invented voicemail, then known as FMX, Voice Message Exchange.
It changed my career! I was so enamored, I eventually sold my rep/consulting business and dedicated 18 months to learn this new industry and create a new company. The result was a service bureau, Eliot Voicemail, that rented voice mailboxes to industry networks and required raising over $3.5 start-up capital that would eventually be a public-held corporation. The goal was to establish 10 regional locations across the Midwest, that would eventually sell to “MaBell” when the courts would allow them back into the service business (this was the same opportunity that created Sprint and other service companies, since the phone monopoly was broken-up by Judge Green). Unfortunately after four years that established a profitable business ready for expansion, my Board of Directors decided to remove me as CEO/President, so as to not risk their investment. It was 7 July 1986 and my world may have been collapsing, but when the Board asked my why I was so serene and not going crazy, my inner voice said aloud, “I have given you the authority to do this and I have a job to do somewhere, so lets negotiate my departure.” Otherwise, seeing Life’s Perfections in absolute chaos.
In truth, the recovery took a couple of years and in the late 80’s, InnerVision was created, a unique consulting model based on the role of a Business Leadership Coach. The focus was on helping the entrepreneur get “unstuck” when they were entrapped by their own pursuit of success, regardless of the circumstances. The work centered on a management style driven to outcomes, rather than people, and an emphasis on leaders better managing themselves, their work and their resources from an expertise built on lessons learned from my A-Z learning experiences. Fortunately, the clients came from referrals and the industry did not matter.
In the early 90’s, a reallocation back to Milwaukee was made to accommodate being closer to my family after a divorce and an ailing Mother. The business did not matter where it was located and the return home brought significant opportunities to work with a wide variety of hometown companies including, Harley-Davidson, Northwestern Mutual, MMSD and many more over the next fifteen years. Around 2005, a unique opportunity surfaced to join GradeBeam, a web-based network serving the construction industry, that happened to be a start-up business created by my son. Over the next eight years, we built a network of over 500,000 contractors across North America, secured a couple rounds of necessary financing and, eventually, profitably sold the business that provided the final pieces for a formal retirement to my successful career.
Now I explore what my role is in the next chapter and evolving to that of a Business Leadership Coach’s Coach…helping the development of a BLC responsible for the infrastructure in Organizations.