Saturday, April 19, 2014

Could I do it again? Was this summer luck? Gulp, I'm gonna keep going. PART 11: "From Classroom to Pump Room"

So, the way it all went down, we already had signed contracts for the next summer which was a couple months away. I was saddened at my friend's demise, I was sick to have witnessed a great guy completely implode due to alcohol dependency and...I was freaking out about the business. I needed the money. Two daughters soon to enter college, two future weddings to look forward to funding, deteriorating health on my part, more and more hours spent doing what I really love, working with kids, and I was forced to literally put my big boy pants on and see what I could do alone. I felt a little responsible to a couple of our employees and a lot responsible for the state of our company. My reasoning was simple. I had been pretty much running the company the last couple years around Jerry and succeeding in spite of him rather than because of him. I learned so much overall that I thought, if nothing else, I'll try it this first summer and the worst that could happen is I stumble and lose all my contracts, but still make one last little pay day. My reasoning, hell, the worst case scenario was they wouldn't fire me until I had repeatedly messed up, based on our reputation alone. And the best case scenario was I succeeded and now pocketed all the profits, rather than the 50% I had been. So, I began thinking like a sole proprietor. It was actually refreshing. I had only myself to answer to and I answered myself a lot. I answered in my sleep, while I was driving, sitting, not really relaxing, that's all I did was talk to myself and answer. Then, without really consciously realizing it until much later, my business tendencies and decision making traits were nothing more than my teaching and administrating tactics with high school students, parents, teachers, support staff, only in a capitalistic environment. Additionally, I noticed myself going back to my twenty years of coaching high school basketball. The whole thing was to form a team, train them, coach them, support them, and then, wholly crap, charge money for their efforts! If I found the good to great players and coached them, they would perform accordingly. The one caveat, I completely went to hiring, "Nicks." No more high school kids, ever, no more college kids, ever. Well, thats not totally true, I have and do employ one or two high school/college athletes to deliver the chemicals to our pools. I realized the obvious, like sports, the more you anticipate, the more you plan for  all kinds of defenses (obstacles), the hungrier you are, the more conditioned mentally and physically you are, the better your team plays. The better they play, the more we (our customers most importantly) win.
The first thing I did was I made sure old Don, the handy semi-retired school custodian who had been moonlighting as our repair was on board for a few more summers. He's a great guy, taught me a ton about a lot of things, couldn't be a handier guy, builds and shows antique pumps and motorized things and though he has long since retired, I can find him any time I need some advice sitting there drinking coffee and telling stories at the McDonalds, with all his old buddies, from 6am to 10am every morning. Once I knew he would literally make all the repairs all I had to do was find more "Nicks" to fill my roster. I intentionally began searching for and hiring "old guys." I can't lie and say every one of them was terrific, but I can say that my worst "old guy" was still better than my best young guy. Along the way I've employed some really interesting gentlemen. That's a key word, I hire gentlemen. If you are reading this and you don't actually get what I mean by they are gentlemen, bless you, your'e probably young! I'm not talking holding doors open for females, of course they would do that as well. No, I'm talking about men who served in the military, grew up in poverty, some are educated, some are the smartest people I know sans college degree. There's a fairly famous band, Big Head Todd and the Monsters. The drummer's dad worked for me for a couple years. I remember him telling me his son was in a band and they were getting a little popular. After a couple of summers, he resigned. His son was famous! I've hired a tough, old, retired railroad worker. Great guy, Marv, was. Our phone conversations were hilarious. He was as close to completely deaf as you can be. I would be literally screaming over the phone, repeating myself, over and over, but his pools were pristine. I have another guy who's worked for me for years, he told me his wife is finally retiring and so this will be his last summer with me. Way back in the 60's, I'm talking Richie Cunningham and the Fonz, this guy, Tim, is one of the original north Denver car/cycle club members. In fact, there's a locally famous decal you still see today on vintage cars in Denver of a lion. It became the official decal of every one in north Denver who was involved in car clubs. I'm not talking gangs here. I'm talking the James Dean types. Sure they were rebels without a cause, but really they just liked their hot rods and liked cruising 16th Street before it became a trendy open air mall. I could go on, maybe some day I will write something completely about dealing with old guys for going on 26 years. What's the connection? Every once in a while someone will comment or email that this post or that post were misleading in that they veer away from the business of running a small business. My response is, hell, I'm just telling my story. I have spent many years formulating, perfecting and repeating my process. I'm certain I could show the right people; the motivated, hungry people, to follow my formula. My point with this post was merely to talk about  my "teams" over the past 25 pool seasons. And, all but one of my guys from last season, is coming back this season. The one not coming back has some family health issues, wants to stay involved, and asked me to please call him during the summer if we need an extra hand, or a pool needs a little extra TLC.
I proved to myself I could go it alone. I pocketed 100% of the profits. I continued to do things the right way. While other pool companies, to this day, pay "contract labor" in order to save on matching Social Security, Medicare payroll taxes, I have a payroll company do all my payrolls, quarterly reports and the like. I run an above board company. I feel good about my little contribution to our nation and the medicare, social security benefits to which I contribute. Could I do it again? Was this summer luck? Gulp, I'm gonna keep going...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Jerry, is on life support, doesn't look good." My business story.

Well, what just happened was, Jerry's wife had been more and more angry at him for his drinking. At first, looking back, I didn't notice anything. Now, my wife will tell you, I'm a guy. I don't notice much. But, slowly, Jerry's wife began to get more and more antagonistic toward me and certainly, Jerry. So when she was called from her job to the hospital, she was immediately angry at him. Still, the anger I felt was more of a selfish "now you've gone and embarrassed me", than a holy crap, my husband could have died. Just my opinion.

Jerry survived, he returned to work, was "clean," I think, for a while. Come to find out, Jerry, damn, I get emotional writing this, wanted so badly to kick his drinking that on his own, with no medical supervision, he went cold turkey starting a couple days before his first day back to school. His body was so conditioned to exist with a high percentage of alcohol, that he literally had seizures as his withdrawal  time increased.

Jerry proceeded to teach his classes, at least show up and pretty much weather his days at school. His pilot light was going out slowly. He laid low at school, did what he thought was a good job of hiding his behavior and continued his weak performance with our company. Our friendship was terribly strained. A complete reversal had taken place. It was Jerry who was the leader, the head coach, my "big brother" leading the way. It was Jerry on his way to becoming a high school principal, then just like an unexpected pH bounce (sorry) I was the big brother...

People say, "you just never know," and they are so correct. It only got worse. This is very sad for me to write about, but it was the turning point in my career/business. Jerry went on to drive drunk through his neighborhood, miss a turn, and plow into a neighbor's front yard tree. He was pulled out of his truck by a friend of mine who happened to live across the street from the accident. He also happened to be a police officer.
 Then, and I'm jumping ahead a bit because this isn't intended to be a melodrama, Jerry showed up drunk at work one too many times. He was reported, the principal, thankfully, didn't have me involved, personally went and got him out of his classroom. I saw him as he walked past my office door. He looked dark. She told him what was going on, had our school resource officer administer a blood alcohol, suspended him with pay temporarily and took his car keys so he couldn't drive home. Strangely, I can't remember if someone took him home or he walked. Either way, he returned with another set of keys and moved his car out of the teacher's parking lot.
That was, as I recall, and a lot of conjecture, the final straw for his marriage. Though there wasn't talk of divorce, at least not that I heard. Jerry moved out and was living in an apartment. I didn't have much to do with Jerry after that. He sent me an apologetic letter telling me he would love to drive around with me, since he lost his license, and check pools. I continued to split the profits 50/50 with him because it was the right thing to do, but he had cost us so much money and credibility I could not bring myself to encourage any involvement by him in  our business. Business wise, we were still profitable, but for the first time, had we not had such decent employees, we would surely have been out of business.

One day, I answer the phone and a mutual friend and teacher is on the other end. He says, "Jerry, is in intensive care and on life support. It doesn't look good." Dammit!!!! He did it again. He went cold turkey trying to kick the disease. This time, though, he had done it in his lonely, sparsely decorated apartment. He seized and laid there, alone, on the floor. I can't even remember now exactly who found him. Our mutual friend and I went to the ICU. Jerry was unconscious, his wife, daughters, and parents were at his side. I went over and whispered into his ear. I doubt he "heard" me, and only he and I know what I said. Ultimately, there was no hope as he was brain dead. They pulled the plug and my partner, my friend, my big brother, died.

I have explained Jerry's demise partly to honor him, but mostly to establish that if I've learned anything in 26 years of business it's that resiliency, resolve, hunger, desperation, greed and pride will all be tested and displayed at some point, sometimes foreseen and others completely out of nowhere.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Huh, what just happened? Part 9 of "From Classsroom to Pump Room"

I've alluded to having to go it alone. In the long run, it was a blessing in disguise for me. I didn't want it to happen. I sure didn't think it would happen. But, here's what happened...
After a couple of summers with Jerry, which I have somewhat summarized, I was a complete mess. Our daughter was born with a serious health issue, would need life saving surgery at eight years old, and what I thought was indigestion was a heart attack, complete with emergency, quadruple bypass surgery. I mention this because these events preceded Jerry's path. Please understand this next sentence or two. While I was recuperating from open heart surgery, Jerry kept us afloat. It was killing me, being in the hospital knowing what Jerry was probably doing, or not doing, having seen his contributions. But, bless his heart, he stood tall and did the best he could. Was it as good as the way I deal with things while giving myself a heart attack from stress? No, but, given Jerry's condition, and, umm, his wife who had had enough at the time, he manned up.

You see, when we started this little venture, Jerry and I would occasionally drive around together checking pools, trying unsuccessfully mostly to make repairs, and...always stopping for a few beers. We coached together, golfed together, socialized together, his kids taught mine to swim, but from where we started, I watched firsthand, how alcohol is a vicious, relentless  disease.
In the span of a couple of years, Jerry went from admired, loved father, teacher, head  basketball coach, interim assistant principal, pool business owner to living, isolated and alone in an apartment.
The first time I actually realized Jerry had a serious problem was the first day of school one year. Jerry had fallen from respected teacher, interim assistant principal to the teacher who has parents and students whispering about vodka on his breath. Somewhat embarrassingly, Jerry completely screwed up his interim administrator job. I say embarrassingly, because, geez, I keep saying this, no one was more surprised than I when they came to me and offered me the job. Not, an interim, I was full time administrator. And Jerry went back to his classroom.
So..I'm a new administrator, I didn't mention, at the same school we were teaching and coaching together. It's the first day back for teachers. Always a fun day. We had a new principal. She injected a much needed enthusiasm into the school with first day team building activities, games, catered lunch, etc. I vividly remember being in the main office hearing all the returning teachers and staff out in the commons area when a teacher runs in and yells, "Call 911, Jerry ***** is convulsing in the commons!"

I followed the ambulance to the emergency room. The principal knew we were close and I was his friend. I sat out in the emergency room, adrenaline blasting through me, hoping he's not gonna die and leave a wife and two kids. I kept waiting for his wife to show up. Eventually, they had him under control and he was unconscious but looked okay. While I'm standing over him, his wife walks into the curtain cubicle. I'm expecting a grieving, sobbing wife. Instead, she walked in with a cold look I had never seen, and haven't seen since. She looks at me, gives me a dirty look, asks the doctor if he will be okay and when he says, "Yes, with rest." she did an about face and walked right back out the door.
Huh??? What just happened here??