"Just in case you haven't heard, the Wallenda factor refers to the fear of falling or failing. Shortly after Karl Wallenda fell to his death in 1978 (traversing a 75-foot high wire in downtown San Juan, Puerto Rico), his wife, also an aerialist, discussed that fateful San Juan walk, “perhaps his most dangerous.” She recalled: “All Karl thought about for three straight months prior to it was falling. It was the first time he’d ever thought about that, and it seemed to me that he put all his energies into not falling rather than walking the tightrope.”
Life is like traversing a tight rope. If you think you need a safety net, it won’t be long before you fall. Live your life without a safety net, or be prepared to live your life close to the ground.
Certainly as a business we have operated with a safety net, as dictated by the standards by which we must comply, SSAE16 and PCI compliance, but over the years, we have always sought to be a technology leader. We strive to offer "insanely great" software, to coin the phrase used by Steve Jobs.Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist says, “Pessimism is complacency." I think I would have to say at times I have exercised pessimism in certain situations. I can relate it to looking in the mirror each morning and thinking, “I’m not getting any younger or thinner, for that matter.”
Last year I spoke of challenges. This year, our 24th year in business, I believe anything's possible! Last year I spoke of good fortunes, we were fortunate enough to have earned another year in business. I said I was proud of the intellectual property (IP) and talent we had. This year I am confident our talent pool here is second to none. Everyone has bought into The Rational Optimist theme, “Everybody is working for everybody else.” Whereas last year I said opportunities present challenges.
We have faced those challenges. We have conquered many and we are prepared to conquer the future. While politicians in Washington scrum over the economy and jobs, free market goes out and creates 100 mpg cars, even driverless cars. We need to tell our politicians…anything’s possible. This year we will focus again on making our products easier to use, easier to install and cloud ready. Inside Integra, we will continue to concentrate on developing and acquiring better tools to do our jobs in a more productive environment. Last year’s message was, “Attitude is everything.”
Celebrating twenty-four (24) years in business March 7th, 2012, we will continue to encourage a positive attitude in the workplace, with our customers, partners and suppliers. Everybody is working for everybody else (click on the picture to the left for the video) because again.... anything’s possible. Finally, last year I predicted growth would be our next greatest challenge and we grew significantly. We remain well positioned to take advantage of those significant gains in 2012 and beyond. Alan J. Wiessner, President and CEO, Integra Business Systems, Inc.
I’ll leave you with a great although somewhat unsettling video (click on the photo) and when you feel that wave of pessimism coming on, remember anything’s possible, well almost anything...
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit." -- Aristotle
I'll be on a plane tomorrow on 9-11-2011. After enduring 10 years of security screenings do you think for one moment I would hesitate to travel on 9-11-2011?
God bless those who sacrificed their lives on 9-11, to their families and their friends on 9-11-and all of those who remain committed to protecting our freedom.
Below a tribute to all our heroes, then and now. Thank you!
I joined my Dad with his company, AC Forms as a sales rep in 1974. We were a force of two. My Mom was the part time administrative support person and the mother of six. I was the future. It was a shaky start. My job was to get new business. I used the phone to solicit appointments. I can remember my voice quaked and my message was ill-prepared. After exhausting all legitimate leads I was proffered, by phone, I hit the road.
My first cold call, “cold “ being the vernacular used for an unsolicited visit on an unsuspecting business to make a sales pitch.
I was one of the major contributors as to why there are so many “No Solicitors” sign on doors.
Like the polyester plaid I was wearing, rejection isn’t my strong suit. I have to admit there were days I could not face the day ahead without becoming physically ill, cramps and vomiting, anticipating the rejection that inevitably lay ahead.
For better or worse, most of the businesses I “solicited” on the south side of Chicago, were unaccustomed to a 21 year old young man in polyester and a “pleather” briefcase showing up at their door. My first “sales call” and I use the term loosely, required considerable surveillance. I drove around the block several times. In the end, it was a relief to just to be dismissed. To hear a simple “no thanks” was a victory, of sort. I had broken the sound barrier. I had made contact with the other side. Soon, I was making 20 cold calls in a day.
Thankfully gas was 30 cents a gallon! My father would get a call from someone I had visited and he would say, “Yes, that’s my son, he’s like manure, he’s spread all over the place.” The message was loud and clear, I needed to take the next step, get to the next level.
Speaking of manure, here's a great joke from Ronald Reagan, only takes a minute, during one of his speeches. Precious really. Good clean fun!
I needed to convince my prospects I wasn’t just another pretty face in plaid polyester. My contacts were bewildered, annoyed, amused, indifferent or thankfully, on rare occasion, sympathetic to my pitch. It’s simply amazing. I became accustomed to the word“no”. I managed to solicit a cadre of variations theme to the extent I began to expect and anticipate the response. I learned to take a “no” and solicit another. As my skin thickened and the manure piled higher, I was able to garner a “maybe” here and there and occasionally a yes! It was the “ying and the yang” thing, “Yes means No” to the extent a Tibetan monk would have been proud.
Later, as a regional director at NCR Corp. at the sage age of 28 years, where I managed more than 70 neophyte sales reps in 10 states, I became well known for the expression, “lose more orders”. My mantra was the more orders you lose, the more opportunities you have to win. Spread that manure! Well not exactly...
Anyway, my dad fired me. he put me out of my misery! His too. He said I needed more experience. He was right. I was keeping him too busy spinning his wheels. At the time, I was devastated. I finished the blueberry pancakes my Mom had made me. I left town to seek employment near my fiancé, in Racine, WI. I stayed with the in-laws while looking for work.
I painted their house for $70 bucks, but I painted their windows shut, so we were even. I found a job right before I was evicted. But there's more to the story...
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The number 23 certainly doesn't solicit much sensation. Not like 25 or 50, still a milestone all the same for many businesses, especially today on when we are all on twitter time. 140 characters or less now defines us!
From his book, Lasting Lessons from the Corner Office, Todd G. Buchholtz, quotes a line from a futuristic movie and someone saying, “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads, we just need people made of the right stuff.”
He goes on to say, “One of the statistics out there is that 33 percent of all new businesses fail within the first two years. That number is much higher when you look at the first five years.”
There are a lot of articles, books and blogs out there portraying entrepreneurship in the same sentence with risk, blind luck, or just plain foolish. Many of the pundits will never know first-hand the emotional roller coaster ride.
Well let me be your Garmin. I can take you there.
There are hundreds of thousands of small business entrepreneurs that are made of the “right stuff.” I formed Integra Business Systems, Inc. March 7th, 1988. Looking back, it was, the most frightening, yet most enjoyable year, I had experienced professionally, for some time. Funny, since I was unemployed and unemployable.
For more than a year, my corporate headquarters occupied the guest bedroom in the same house we still own and occupy today. When I look back on how I survived and managed to squeak out a living those first few years I have to say it had to do with confidence and faith in myself and the support of my family. Yeah, we were scared. I don’t want you to think I’m bragging. I have never done anything heroic. I have made sacrifices, but nothing on the same level of a police officer, fireman or soldier. Tongue in cheek, maybe I have potential? Maybe in my next life?
As is the case with many small business start-ups, entrepreneurs, I had to liquidate all my savings; then borrow from friends and family to make ends meet. I borrowed from credit cards, transferred funds from one card to the next, worked the low percentage offers, played the shell game with credit cards. Yet, I never defaulted on a credit card or a loan.
My experience at NCR Corp. and subsequently at a start-up, North American Business Supply (NABS), operating as a subsidiary of a small bank data-processing company, became invaluable, learning to make something from nothing at all; learning to trust my own instincts, even in the face of overwhelming doubt.
One of the important things I have learned after over 35 years in this business is “don’t burn bridges”. Often times the organization you dislike the most is composed of people you like the most. Many of my business associates from my NCR and NABS days kept the faith and helped me build a line of products and services for whom I hold undying loyalty.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Buchholz observed the CEOs who’s lives he explored all had one thing in common, “At some point they all tumbled into failure and heard trusted friends whisper, “Quit.”
Most small business owners and entrepreneurs will tell you the word “quit” just isn’t in their vocabulary. And that shapes the American dream after all, does it not?
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Kim and her family survived one major ordeal only to face new challenges landing on a small island short of the island of Pulau Bidong, Malaysia. Two days and nights later they would land on Pulau Bidong and begin an eleven (11) month odyssey on the island. Hard to believe their flight and their plight was perceived a blessing, but a blessing none the less.
There were thousands of their neighbors, friends and relatives who were less fortunate. Young children, who’s parents had bought their freedom fell victims to pirates, were raped, had their possessions stolen, were thrown overboard or perished from malnutrition or starvation. Those who remained behind in Saigon, with children too young to travel or couldn’t afford to buy their freedom met similar fates.
Pulau Bidong, one of the scenic and uninhabited islands off located off Kuala Terengganu, is often remembered as the temporary home of the Vietnamese boat people who fled their war-torn country in the 1970s. Out of the estimated 800,000 Vietnamese who left their country during this period, the biggest proportion, more than a quarter of a million, landed on their shores.
Although the island has the capacity to provide shelter for 4,500 refugees at any one time it took up to as many as 20,000 people at one stage, at the height of the arrival of the boat people. Pulau Bidong served as a half-way house for these people before they were sent to other countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and several European countries, and it took time to grant approval to those qualified to be accepted as refugees. Those whose applications were rejected were sent to the Sungai Besi Refugee Camp, where they were later forcibly repatriated back to Vietnam after the war.
In the early stages, the refugees, some with nothing except the clothes on their backs, ate anything they could find on the island including monkeys, frogs and squirrels. The wildlife population was decimated. To ensure the refugees got humanitarian aid and better living conditions, the UNHCR through the International Red Cross supervised the activities on the island.
Long-houses and offices made from wood from the local forest were built and the boat people were provided with better basic needs and amenities such as food, schools, workshops, electricity and water. Perhaps to make it just like home, the camp was subsequently turned into a bustling mini Saigon. It had the trappings of a township - post office, church, temple, tailors, hair salons, sundry shops and even disco and bar. One part of the beach was even named Pantai Cina - China Beach - after its more famous counterpart in Vietnam.
Later I had learned the aid ship following us was a World Vision Missionary ship. Approaching land, our boat had stopped once the propeller had stuck in the sand. The boat had begun to tilt. Someone had yelled “get off the boat as quickly as possible.” The boat was taking on water. The men got off the boat and assisted the women and children toward the shore. I remembered as I walked toward the beach, my head felt heavier than my body. Once everyone had gotten to shore safely, each family cleared an area for their family and settled on the beach. The women used whatever spare clothing they could find to cover the sand, so the elderly and children could sit down. While everyone was busy setting up camp for the night, I looked out at where the boat had been. Within minutes, it had sunk tail first. I could not believe it. We were all stranded on this small island with limited food and water supply (of course, I was too young to worry about food or drink, I just thought of how lucky that I did not drown). Some people from our boat started to look around the island and search for help but did not see anyone else on the island. The men continued to look around the island and talked among themselves. The women were asked to occupy the kids. Our caretaker, Anh, told us stories to help us sleep but I could not sleep that night. I heard too many strange noises close by. I stared into the sky. It was clear with plenty of stars out. I looked again to the horizon. There was no remnant our boat had ever existed.
As the sun rose a boat with Malaysian soldiers approached. The soldiers told everyone on our boat to surrender all of our gold and valuables to them for safe keeping. They assured everyone that these items would be recorded and returned to us, once we had been accepted by and ready to depart to a new destination. Most of the people on our boat were skeptical and didn’t want them holding their valuables. Finally, the soldiers demanded that if no one surrendered their valuables, we would have to stay on this island until they got what they wanted. So families started to bring a few pieces of gold to the soldiers. My dad quickly told my sister, My, and other sisters to keep some gold hidden under their clothes. My family gave up approximately 50 pieces of gold to the soldiers. At the time, we didn’t know the exact value of the gold. The soldiers wrote something down (in Malaysian) and had each family sign. We had no idea what they had written on those documents. We believed that the gold pieces were as good as gone. My dad just considered it payment so we could leave the small island in peace, a down payment on our future.
After this, they left us alone and told us that they would call for assistance. At that moment, everyone was just relieved, happy and excited that everyone had found FREEDOM. Later that day, someone was stung by a poisonous sea urchin. The poison spread so quickly that she went unconscious. The soldiers called and asked for immediate rescue. That evening, the rescue boat came. It only took her and her family and to leave the island first. They would not take anyone else who had been stranded. The soldiers pushed the others away from the motor boat. Someone explained that more boats would be back tomorrow for the rest of us. That news calmed the remaining people. One more night, we spent on this isolated island. The next day around noon time, several boats arrived. We all packed whatever belongings we had left and we headed toward these boats. I remembered treading through the clear blue water and attempting to avoid stepping on jelly fish of all colors and sizes that had covered the island’s shoreline. Luckily no one else got hurt that day. It was a short ride to a larger island called Pulau Bidong, where my family would reside for approximately 11 months. There were plenty of adventures and obstacles to come.
As we approached new land (Pulau Bidong), we saw the wood dock. We could see the people on the beach that were Vietnamese by their clothing, which got us all very excited. Side note: We all had thought the boats were taking us to main land of Malaysia. Come to find out, this new home for us all was a refugee camp. After all of us had gotten off the motor boats, each family looked for a spot for our family on the beach to settle. Hunger finally hit my family fast and hard. We were starving. We hadn’t eaten food in several days. We had only drank water or something close to it.
There was very little rice left to feed my family of 16 members. We had to cook rice in a broth to have enough for my family to share. We shared a small half bowl of white rice soup between us. We passed the bowl to each family member in turn to sip. My family had never suffered hunger. This was a very humbling and frightening experience. We were a proud family living comfortably to a family starving within a span of 4 days.
Since the boat that transferred us to Pulau Bidong was the 23rd boat that had arrived at this camp, it was labeled number 23. The population on Pulau Bidong Island at that time was roughly 40000+ people. Our boat was assigned to the D or B area of the island. This was how the island officials would divide and find the families. That night we slept on a bank along the shore of the island. The next morning, each family was shown to where we were to live. When we got to our new home, it was just a patch of dirt. It was up to us to build a shelter. Unfortunately for my family, we didn’t have the skill nor the know how to build a structure of any kind and we would rely on other refugees to assist us. We were tired, fatigued and hungry. We slept with a plastic tarp for cover. That 2nd night, thunder and lightning woke us, the rain water soaking us beneath the tarp. We picked up our belongings to avoid the rain from ruining them. The rain was so heavy, it poured down the hillside. We all stood till morning and then we had were provide help to start building our new home.
My dad and brothers went up the hill to gather woods and branches. My family had many restless nights in the beginning. To top it off, I had chronic Asthma attacks. My family could not get me immediate medical attention. We had to wait until our family was officially registered into the refugee residential list. It took two days for the process to be completed. We were helpless. We went from a well-to-do family to doing things for ourselves. It was very difficult life-altering event for our whole family. Though time was all we had, my family was forced to quickly adapt to our new lives.
My family life on Pulau Bidong:
My siblings and I shared one bed. There were 3 beds total in our home. All of our beds were made with multiple and uneven branches tied together. But it was better than the dirt floor. It was very difficult for my elderly grandmother. She could not sleep on these beds. Later on, she bought a wood plank that came from a wrecked boat. This was used to make a more comfortable bed for her to sleep on. For cooking, we dug a hole and mounted several rocks for a fire pit. Other appliances and supplies, we had to buy with gold or money depending on the sellers. All families received some supplies from the United Nations like rice, instant noodles, and beans. Note: This is why I dislike beans, especially kidney beans. To earn a living, my older siblings would buy and sell fresh fruits and others products from a lady, whom was the longest survivor on this island. This lady would buy her inventory from Malaysian civilians that sail by our island. The island was deemed a gold mine; for without gold or money no one would survive the hard life. There was plenty of price gouging. For instance, one bottle of Coca Cola, which cost 34 Cents, was sold for a $1.00. This was just a small example. There was no employment on the island. So, people created their own jobs.
Some climbed the hill and cut trees for trading with those in need of lumber for shelter or for firewood. My oldest brother, Jimmy, took on a risky business. He swam offshore to where Malaysian fishermen boat drifted by. The fishermen would bring different items to sell items such as axes; hand saws, tents, even cookies, which were in demand in our camp. Malaysian police patrolled and would beat or kick the sellers and the buyers of these goods. They would chase off the fishermen. One time, Jimmy had bought 20 axes as the policemen’s canoe was approaching. Jimmy had to jump off the fisherman boat. The weight of 20 axes sank Jimmy to the bottom of ocean floor. He panicked but would not give up. He managed to drag the axes to shore. Lucky for Jimmy with the weight of the axes he sunk quickly, otherwise the policemen would have beaten him with their sticks regardless if he had surfaced too quickly.
For drinking water, there were only a few public wells which supported the large population on the island. We would travel for miles, stood in a long line. It could stretch for miles and we waited our turn. Once we reached the well, we would gather a bucket of water. Public wells soon went dry. People started to dig their own wells. Before the water system was built, most private wells were only used for bathing and washing. The island was undeveloped and not ready to handle people especially large populations. No sanitary system existed. Heavy rain would contaminate the water supply and jeopardize the fresh water supply, which made everyone’s life more miserable. Later on, the United Nations brought in piping and helped build a water system that transferred fresh drinking water for everyone on the island.
My family tried and gradually adjusted to the lifestyle on the island. Yet we would continue to pray and hope for a miracle that some country would sponsor us. My family was low on the list for sponsorship for several reasons. We were not a part of US military services or affiliated in anyway. My family was not classified as a priority at that time, the US delegates could not process the sponsorship right away. My family could only hope and wait for acceptance based on a religious sponsorship. The biggest problem was the size of my family. Most groups did not have the financial funds to sponsor 16 people. Our lives on the island were like the movie Groundhog Day and seemed hopelessly mundane. We all lived day-to-day as best we could. Churches and temples were built. W donated wood, tree, and tents. My brothers, sisters and I would spend our spare time by studying Basic English at any church or temple that offered free classes.
When the last of these boat people left the island in the early 1990s, what remained were mute reminders of recent history: charred wooden buildings and rotting huts which once housed about a quarter of a million boat people since their first arrival in 1978.
Today, the only welcome for visitors to the beach of Pulau Bidong is a barren beachfront stall and glimpses of buildings heavily hidden by overgrown brushwood and bushes. Only emptiness, signboards with Vietnamese characters and names are still on display – ghostly reminder of the past.
My wife Terri and I were joking about having dinner out tonight at 4 PM. It was great! The food, the wine, spectacular! As we left the restaurant, the parking lot was full. The crowds were gathering. How old are we?!!
We reminisced about how we'll miss all the dress up, all the glitz, all the kisses and hugs tonight from friends and revelers, alike. For those of you old enough to understand the term, we are just "fuddy-duddy's". Yet, there's still hope. We have set the alarm for 11:59 PM tonight to wish each other and all of you a Happy New Year!
Business is improving, despite all the obstacles in this unpredictable economy that remain and those ahead of us. This is largely self-fulfilling prophecy as our engine runs on premium personnel and our management team isn’t half-bad either.
We have invested a great deal in new products and new markets. I’m a big fan of Alan Kay’s expression, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
I guess you could say this message comes somewhat diluted by the BP oil spill. Accidents, like the BP oil spill and natural disasters are unpredictable but they are going to happen. I can see the raw and gut-wrenching effects as they unfold for our neighbors in the Gulf States and the Florida Panhandle. We are certainly not exempt from the fallout. We are also far more fortunate.
There’s little one can do in the moment but there is much that can be done to either prevent an occurrence or deal as effectively as possible with the results. Unless of course, your government gets in the way. That’s a whole other topic.
I believe we are as well prepared as we can be to limit the impact of most natural disasters. Arguably we are and will be impacted on a financial and personal level as well. To what extent will be born out by the actions, performance and lessons learned by others. Certainly, we are far more fortunate.
There is still no consensus on when and where the economy will improve. I spend a great deal of time measuring and evaluating circumstances as they may affect our business.
You can watch Fox News or CNN but our success or failure has little or nothing to do with the economy, politicians or other outside factors. It has to do with you and me. It has to do with the quality and functionality of our products and services. It has to do with how we deliver our products and services! It has to do with how we choose and treat our customers and our partners.
We are nothing to big business or big government in terms of our success or failure. We are everything onto ourselves. We will not succeed or fail due to outside influences. We will only fail if we are cannot deliver excellence on all levels, products, customer service, implementation and ongoing support.
Conversely, big business and big government need us to succeed. Theirs has become a global problem. They have simply ignored the entrepreneur; unless, of course, the entrepreneur is holding the glass slipper. Small businesses are mostly carriages of pumpkins and mice out there delivering the goods. There are very few Cinderella stories. Once delivered, even when the glass slipper fits we continue working well past the ballroom festivities which has become, as intended, a fantasy. We are soon forgotten. When the carriage of big government and horses of big business are stabled and their cats are away, the mice, small business people, you and I, will come out to play. Small business can be very resourceful, if left alone.
It’s time to put the brakes on government spending. The road to recovery lies with the success of small businesses, not with behemoth car companies and big labor. If we were going to bailout anyone, we should have bailed out the car dealerships and auto supply companies to allow them to remarket, retool and invest in new technologies. We should be growing our tax base, which is only going to happen if we fuel the small business private sector. Speaking of which, why are we not doing more to grow and keep promising small business technology companies and their technology jobs in the USA, where our best talent and our best jobs can remain right here at home?
"You will find men who want to be carried on the shoulders of others, who think that the world owes them a living. They don't seem to see that we must all lift together and pull together." Henry Ford
We have Bill Gates and Microsoft, Larry Ellison and Oracle; and Eric Schmidt and Google, not to mention a plethora of phenomenal technology and software companies that started from nothing and today generate thousands upon thousands of high paying private sector jobs and tax revenues, all “Made in the USA.”
What’s more, most technology companies, in particular software companies, do little to harm our ecology (true green); they do not tax our ports, our roads, our bridges or our rail. This reduces our carbon footprint, while not adding to the tremendous and costly burden on the seemingly never ending and costly construction of our roads and our beleaguered transportation infrastructure.
Competition is increasing dramatically from foreign countries who wish to attract our talent, both foreign and domestic grads educated here in the USA, many getting their higher education with the help of US taxpayer dollars. The number of “propeller heads”, a.k.a., the savvy entrepreneurs and highly skilled workers “Made in the USA”, are leaving for a more favorable business climate or jobs overseas.
Our foreign competitors are offering much lower tax rates and hundreds of thousands of dollars in incentives to technology business startups and to their highly paid - highly skilled employees. They are advertising a better quality of life, improved infrastructure and a lower cost of living. Our foreign competitors recognize what we increasingly take for granted, which is the huge tax and revenue potential from small business startups, in particular in the technology field; with their disproportionately high numbers and high salaries as it pertains to job creation. This is coupled with the minimal impact on their country’s costly transportation infrastructure.
The now and next generation of Bill Gates’, Larry Emerson’s and Eric Schmidt’s may find our politics too ambiguous, too costly and too unimaginative to breed success here in the USA. There are hundreds of thousands of small businesses and entrepreneurs right now who are losing the battle against a poor economy accentuated by high taxes and ever increasing regulation. There are hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurial ventures not even born yet that will never pass the incubation period.
Where should we, the United States of America, concentrate our efforts to keep our existing technology gurus and attract the next generation of “byte heads?” We need to provide education and programs that offer immediate and future tax relief to small businesses and their employees, like a payroll tax holiday. To do this we need to elect government representatives who want less government, who do less for Wall Street, who care less about big government and big union.
We need tech savvy, forward thinking, feet on the ground, “been there, done that” politicians who have missed a few paychecks like the rest of us and who want to do more for small businesses and the working class. Get started by offering existing small businesses and their employees, tax relief with a payroll tax holiday of 6 months or more. Offer new business start-ups, especially technology and software businesses who are Made in the USA and who are 1) less impactful on our transportation infrastructure; 2) provide green technologies; and 3) provide the high end wage earners, which is our future tax base, lower taxes and less government to stay and grow their businesses here in the USA.
"What's right about America is that although we have a mess of problems, we have great capacity - intellect and resources - to do some thing about them."