Thursday’s Child Vlog – Episode 001: Roots

Before there was recycling, per se, you used to be able to get money. It’s not like there was a deposit back in those days. He just used to collect bottles and turn them in. That was one of his particular things and he was a little bit more of a, I don’t know, if you want to say, an early entrepreneur or…

Hey, good afternoon. It’s twenty-sixth of May, two thousand and seventeen, and I wanted to do something – I’m going to call this, I think, this particular episode “Roots”. Because, well, I was reminded while on the phone with my cousin – and I only have, let’s say four first cousins – which is really kind of strange I mean, I think that’s OK. I do have a pretty good extended family. But, only four first cousins and we were pretty tight for a long time because we only lived about a mile from each other.

And they were here and in Fort Lee, in case you’re wondering. I am at Madonna Cemetery. Here today it’s kind of a little bit cloudy, a little bit sunny, and I figure I’d take advantage of the sun.

I got to see my cousins a lot because of the close proximity. What is it? I think I’ve heard it said that the cousins are like brothers and sisters you didn’t have. Well, we’re kind of that way. They’re all girls, and there were us four boys – my brothers and I. I was talking to one of my cousins who lives down in Charleston, South Carolina, and during the summer they’ve got a place up in Vermont.

Anyway, she gave me a call, and we caught up a little bit. We’re just talking about things – reminiscing a little bit about the family and all and I’m just going to give you a peek back here.

There happens to be mausoleum with my name on it. Well, at least my last name and it’s kind of a big deal because here in the cemetery, there are a lot of headstones but not a whole lot of mausoleums.

My great grandparents are interred here Silvestro and Eusebia. When we talk about being an immigrant country – and believe me I’m not getting political or anything like that, because that’s a very hot topic – but yeah.

All of my immigrant relatives arrived here in the 1880’s, 1890’s, and so. But Silvestro, on my father’s side – he was kind of like, you can’t call him an ‘anchor baby’ because I think when he was a teenager – and I know somebody in the family or correct me if I’m wrong – when he was a teenager, he was sent by his father Michele, over here to the United States and took up residence in what is now East Harlem, Spanish Harlem, up in the 110’s in that area and all and they did whatever they could and he made somewhere around twelve trips back and forth between here in the United States and back to Italy because there are just, maybe, thirty five miles or so northeast of Naples, it was a pretty big deal.

He would come up, go back and forth and he sponsored a lot of people my great-grandmother, Eusebia, she is interred here. But my grandfather and many of his other sibs were all born here in New York City and what have you. They came across in 1915 to Fort Lee and that became where they lived.

My grandmother’s side of the family, they also were in Fort Lee and believe it or not, that side of the family – they were friends back in the “old country”.

Anyway, how does this all work out to roots? There I was in, I forgot where the house exactly was, might have been Ho-Ho-Kus or something. Somebody had a picture of Yankee stadium being built. Now on my grandmother’s side of the family, they owned a stone and gravel and sand company, like all Italians, right?

My grandfather had the distinct honor of driving in the second truckload of sand to what’s being built at that time, Yankee Stadium, back in the 20’s.

Every time that I would hear something like “The House that Ruth Built”, he was to say hey what about Grandpa Albert? Well, that was the deal, he drove it in and I saw this picture and I’ll throw it up on the video here so you can take a look at it.

Everybody’s got a story as to where they came from. When I went back to see some of the things that my grandfather or my great-grandfather had done – I mean he used to collect bottles long before there was recycling, per se. He used to be able to get money; it’s not like there was a deposit back in those days. He just used to collect bottles and turn them in. That was one of his particular things. And he was a little bit more of, I don’t know, if you want to say, an early entrepreneur. My grandfather – not so much he was more of an employee type. And my father he was a little bit of both because while he was an employee, he was doing the dutiful thing every so often he would venture out and try a little something on his own.

So, I think that I probably have a little bit more of my great-grandfather – at least, on my dad’s side of the family.

I mean it doesn’t really matter where you start, or how old you are. Take a look at Silvestro – he was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old? Me I’m fifty seven. You can keep on restarting, it doesn’t matter how many times you restart. It’s just that you keep on going for it, and that’s important.

I’ll leave you with this on this Memorial Day weekend, a little thank you to all of the people who have fought for our country. I even saw my great-grandfather – and if I go on Ancestry.com – he had signed up for, I guess. He was eligible to fight in the Army. This was his new place. Wasn’t so happy about coming over but I think once he got here, he made the best of it.

There’s a lesson to be learned there. Have a wonderful weekend, thank you for taking your time, and I’ll see you next time around.

The Force Re-Awakens

It was early Friday afternoon just before Father’s Day in 2001.

I just got a call from my daughter’s school. The nurse told me that Julia was not feeling well after lunch and needed to be picked up. Because my wife was a principal at a school herself, she couldn’t leave and I was the only obvious choice. I was a general manager of an industrial supply about 45 minutes away and knew I had to leave ASAP.

Since 1992, I worked for a former client and friend of mine. I was the outside programmer for the company and he was their executive VP. We first met in March of 1982 and installed their first company computer system. Back then, it was a big deal. I was only 22 years old and looked younger. Business cred was hard to come by in you looked like Mark Zuckerberg in the early ’80s.

From the time the computer was installed, my friend and I enjoyed a wonderful working relationship. He was 20 years my senior and was polished like a Don Draper character. I considered him a mentor and confidant for the next 20 years. As our business relationship grew, so did our personal relationship. He saw me get married, we had many dinners and was a friend to me in good and bad times throughout.

My friend encouraged me to start my own computer software company and he was one of my first clients. He watched my little group grow from 1 to 4 people and revenue of a whopping $125,000. (Hey, I was just a kid!).

Then came 1987. The stock market plunged, housing crashed and the good economic times came to an abrupt end – well, for me, specifically. My little company was reduced to me and my part-time bookkeeper, Patty. Clients trimmed their computing budgets and my invoices were paid after everything else. In the later 80’s, computing was still a bit of a luxury to small businesses.

I hobbled along until late 1991. My core business clients had dwindled to a scant few and I was looking for some safe harbor. Coincidentally, in November that year, the majority owner of the industrial supply company passed away and my friend was given the opportunity to buy out the heirs. Knowing that my friend was a solid #2 behind his partner, I suggested that we talk about our ‘options’.

We had a meeting in January just after the New Year. I asked my friend for a job, for lack of a better word. I was still able to do some consulting on the side to supplement my income but my main focus was going to be my ‘job’. It didn’t take more than a few months to see that my consulting was only providing me 5-10 hours a week and I was spending 40-50 at my job. I asked my friend if I could go full time. After some convincing, he agreed.

I saw the company grow under his leadership from a $15 million to a $26 million company. Personally, I moved up into the #5 spot as the general manager of administration and accounting. The big turning point for me was 1994.

My friend and I usually had an early breakfast meeting once a week at a local New Jersey diner. The topics were wide-ranging from personal to business. Later in the year, I had a frank conversation with him. It had to do with the technological vision I had for the company. Since 1982, I had been the programmer of all apllications. I was starting to see a shift in the computing landscape.

‘We need to consider hiring an outside programming company. I can’t effectively do this anymore.’

My friend said that I was a great programmer and if I was sure that’s what I wanted to do.

‘In the not-too-distant future, kids half my age will be programming with pictures. We need something that’s more comprehensive to run the business.’

I didn’t realize it then but this was the dawn of networked computing. (One morning, we were reading the papers at the front counter and I saw an advertisement. It was for Sony. At the bottom in large letters was “http://www.sony.com”. I picked up the full-page ad, turned it to him and pointed out the URL and said “This is going to replace toll-free numbers.)

My friend said, ‘Mike, I trust you. Find some companies that program for supply houses and we’ll evaluate them.’

12 years earlier, I was the software vendor for the company. Now, I was the employee shopping for the next software vendor.

Over the next several months and into early 1995, we saw many demos, went to vendor’s meetings and even dropped in on clients of the select vendors. We chose to work with a company who had a great deal of supply house technology experience.

After months of conversion, preparation, training, installation of hardware and the headaches the come along with a new software system, we were ready to go live. It was Monday, July 3 1995. In all candor, it wasn’t the smoothest or most perfect scene, but we all hung in and made the conversion to the new system. I survived the onslaught of criticism and profanity hurled at me and even picked up a convert or two along the way. Nothing tests your mettle like adversity.

Months had passed and the new system was humming along and my native co-workers were fairly calm. I succeeded in this year-long odyssey of moving the entire company over to a new way of doing things that put more responsibility in the hands of the user rather than a top-down hierarchy.

I also did something less-apparent: I obsolesced my position.

On December 22, 1995, I walked in my friend’s office. It was his tradition to call the company employees in one-by-one and give them their bonus checks. I was the last one.

After he gave me my check and I thanked him, he stated:

‘Well Mike, now I suppose you will be leaving to get a job with [our new software vendor]?’

‘No, I was looking for something more challenging. I want YOUR job.’

He was startled.

‘What would I do?’

‘You own the company. You could do whatever you want.’

He thought I was crazy, or kidding – maybe both. The wasn’t any response.

‘I will let you think about it. I have no intentions of leaving – just looking to take on a greater role.’

We shook hands and I wished he and his family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

This brief meeting set the tone for the next several years to follow. I found out that my friend, while well-intentioned, was an autocrat. Always a gentleman, but every decision stopped with him. He’d ask every person he met for their opinion but always chose his own in the end.

In summer of 1998, he was diagnosed with a case of double pneumonia that nearly killed him. As he convalesced in the hospital in our town, I visited him with paperwork, reports or just to say ‘hi’. More than just a boss, he was my friend and long-time confidant. About a month after he left the hospital, we were having a light dinner in town.

As a person with a strong Germanic background, he was not one to get all wishy-washy about anything – ever.

After dinner, we took a short walk.

‘Mike, throughout all this ordeal, you have been my one true friend. I know that I cannot continue forever, and you will have a greater role in the company when it’s your turn at bat.’ I thanked him but said that given our long-term business and personal relationship, I felt it was incumbent of me to to the best I could for him and the company.

In the following months, his health improved and strength increased. His words to me became platitudes and he reverted back to the same person he was before being afflicted. I found my interest in doing better starting to wane; I felt like an ’employee’ rather than an ‘entrepreneur within a company’ for the first time. Morale slipped and sales declined. Personally, I had high blood pressure for the first and only time in my life.

With all the new challenges to the business, my friend exerted greater control of the business and decisions lingered on his desk for months without resolution. I made a plea to take some of the burden. So did his VP’s, seeing that the business was lagging.

Knowing that it had been 15 minutes since the school called, I waited nervously in front of my friend’s desk. He was on a business call that did not show signs of ending. Because only he could ‘dismiss’ me, I continued to wait. My friend’s desk was in the center of the sales office and my presence before him was noticed by all the salespersons there.

At the 30 minute mark, his #2 man came to me and asked what was wrong, so I told him. ‘When he gets off the phone, can you tell him I had to get Julia?’. My co-worker agreed, but I knew it was an awkward request to come late on a Friday afternoon. I quickly hopped in my car and took off for my daughter’s school.

16 years ago, mobile cell signal was patchy in some areas. I came out of an underpass and my voicemail indicator went off. I knew what it was about even before I pressed the voicemail button.

‘MICHAEL! I AM HERE AND YOU ARE NOT. CALL ME IMMEDIATELY!’

I have rarely ever hear him this angry. The traffic was building quickly like most Friday afternoons in the summer, so while stuck in traffic, I called the office.

His secretary picked up. ‘It’s Mike, can you put me through to him?’

‘He’s on the phone. Do you want to hold?’

‘I better.’

His secretary checked back with me after 5 minutes and said ‘He’s still on the phone. Do you want want to hold?’

My cellular plan included 30 minutes for $49 per month.

‘I’ll call him back in a few.’

I was in standstill traffic and realized that I may be late to pick up Jules for regular dismissal.

Less than ten minutes passed and I redialed the office.

‘Is he off the phone yet?’, I asked his secretary.

‘Yes, I’ll put you right through.’

My heart was pounding through my chest.

‘WHERE are YOU!?’

‘I was waiting for you to finish your call. Julia is sick and the school called me to pick her up.’

‘BUT I DIDN’T LET YOU LEAVE! YOU SHOULD HAVE WAITED. WE WILL TALK ABOUT THIS ON MONDAY!!’

He slammed the phone down.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. In almost 20 years, he had never been that angry at me. I was shaken, not so much by the yelling, but by how he treated me. I felt that all of my heart and soul poured into my work for him and the company meant nothing. What made it worse was that he couldn’t see my point of view as the father of a sick daughter.

My next two days were awful as I was consumed with doubt, depression and disbelief. On Sunday, Father’s Day, I went outside to take care of the lawn. It gave me time to think and reflect on the events of Friday.

I was raking up small piles of cut grass, cursing under my breath. And then it happened – I just plain snapped. I took the rake and flung it with all my might across the lawn, like a golfer that duffed a shot.

“BY THE TIME JULIA GRADUATES MIDDLE SCHOOL, I WILL NO LONGER BE WORKING AT [the company]!!!”

I remember it like it was yesterday. I had one of those Tony Robbins moments. I decided to take massive actions.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my inner entrepreneur was being pushed around like an employee. That was completely unacceptable. It put in motion the events that led to my resignation on January 6, 2003.

From the first fling of the rake to that day, every decision I made was for me and in my best interest and that of my family. If my inner resolve were not enough, working 1 mile across the river from Ground Zero on September 11, 2001 changes your life like few other events.

I was on the road to re-becoming an entrepreneur, a fighter, an independent…

“Me”

Thursday’s Child Vlog – Episode 0: Pilot

It’s Earth Day 2017, we’re in the midst of spring here and  I guess this is like my first crack at some video, some sort of content. I’ve been in this neighborhood now  22 years and although I just saw two cars. I used to kid when people ask you, what’s your neighborhood like? I said it’s the kind of place, because, it’s not exactly a cul-de-sac, but there were more people who are runners, joggers, walkers, and they’re taking their bikes out and strapping up their roller blades and stuff and it’s really like, it’s a quiet place to be.

But, seeing it’s April 23rd , there’s Earth Day stuff going on at the park in the center of town. Everywhere I went, I mean I showed at a couple of houses today and I mean celebrations, it was I think a daffodil exhibit up in town.

For me April 23rd is a little bit different you say because it was 30…38 years ago. Get that right? In ’79 yep, April 23rd, 1979, that I got my first job in technology and it kind of changed my life. I was watching this video, hold on – I got to roll it back, I wasn’t watching videos, I was watching TV. What was it? It was Twilight Zone, that’s what it was.

Twilight Zone, late at night, this was the summer of ‘78 and what happened was, this commercial comes on, it was kind of cheesy, it’s like ‘you want to get into the exciting world of computer programming?

Have you been reading help wanted ads lately? Men and women trained as computer programmers and data processing technicians are in big demand.

The Albert Merrill School can prepare you for an exciting computer career in just six months. All or part of your tuition can be covered by government grants or low-cost loans if you qualify. The starting salaries of Albert Merrill graduates ranged between 10,000 and 14,000.

Call for this free career booklet. Learn how you can train for a computer career only six months. Call 246-7130, 246-7130.

And it was up-and-coming, we knew about computers, but it was like in its infancy. I was like ‘oh man I could do something like that’ they said all you have to do is come in and take a test. Well, wouldn’t you know I did and I got all of the answers right except for two and they said ‘yes, if you want you can be a computer programmer’

Well, long story short, I went from just being a guy who passed a normal aptitude test to seven months later I was graduating on the Ides of March. I’ll tell you more about that another time.

Well, it wasn’t more than just five or six weeks later, I had my first interview, a place in Lodi, New Jersey called Home Decor and I got a job. The funny thing was that yesterday, especially with all the spring stuff going on, everybody’s got spring fever, we’re doing some spring cleaning in the house.

Well, I hadn’t thought about this in forever. One of the first things that they teach you in computer school is flowcharting. Well, in going through the attic, there’s book, it was my flowcharting book. I said ‘oh my goodness here it is, 38 years to today’, well one more day.

38 years and that was like the first thing I did, I said you know what, I got to do a video for it, so I decided to take the plunge. Everybody has an origin story, I know that during the spring, every day it’s like a renewal. I wish they wouldn’t do Earth Day is just one day a year, you see how beautiful it is.

Down one of the streets that I live here, and really been kind of blessed being in such a nice quiet pastoral neighborhood. It’s just like a regular home, post-war home. But you get to do this, like this’s where we live. It doesn’t seem like it’s 15 miles from New York City…this quiet neighborhood. Yes, every day should be Earth Day, it shouldn’t just be once a year.

For me, it’s kind of like this constant renewal thing, so one of my stories begins. I have a lot of them, but this particular one because of Earth Day, I think should have a little bit something more special, that’s where we’ll start.

I’ll see you in the next one.

Day 42: The Rover

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I’m starting to get the hang on my personal new world order. I’ve heard “As long as I’m here, it doesn’t matter where here is.” So, as long as I have my bag of tricks – tools ‘n’ tech – I’m all set to continue on this rover life.

One of the things that my current office teaches is “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” Well, I would like to add a codicil: “Change the way you look at people and the way people look at you changes.”

Situated in a mobile office, per se, allows me to interact with my environment that cannot be equaled by sitting in an office all day.

This is not a new idea. However, if you couple it with a new business approach, it’s dynamic and my personal growth is exponential.

I’ve been to London, seen seven wonders. I know to trip is just to falI used to rock it, sometimes I’d roll it. I always knew what it was for.
~ Jimmy Page, Robert Plant from ‘The Rover’ by Led Zeppelin

Other than the physical aspect of roving around is to allow my mind wander a bit. A little creative daydreaming isn’t a bad thing, but one caveat is I have to treat it like a balanced diet: everything in moderation. I have this hunger for thoughts and ideas to a point of obsession so I find that it’s better to spend my ‘daydream calories’ wisely.

Day One – My New Office

1 June 2016, 10:01 EDT

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Since March 13, 2012, I have had a single location for my business digs: my brokerage office. I was fortunate to team up with an agent with 27 more years experience in real estate that I had at the moment – which was zero.

It was a great match: I was technical and she was real estate savvy. We both connect with people well, albeit different ways. I worked alongside her desk on a makeshift printer table. And so it went for the first few months. As one of the agents gave up her desk in the 2.5 person office, I took her place for the next 3 months.

Working in an office for the first time in 9 years gave me structure in a somewhat unstructured business of real estate. Each of the agents are (mostly) friendly rivals. My new partner and I were a 2-person team and the duo concept fit me to a ‘T’.

I learned as I worked and it was a steep curve. The first listing that my partner had was a $2.5 million home in a desirable part of town. The first test of my mettle was when my partner said, “I’m going to Vegas for training for 5 days. I need you to coordinate an invite-only party for luxury agents and brokers. Figure about 50 people. Can you do that?”

I simply said “No problem.” and asked for a budget and some basic details.

Seriously, I thought she was crazy. We were team for only 2 weeks and she’s asking me to do an event at this new listing. I wasn’t totally worried because in a previous life, I owned a restaurant and to do an event for 50 people was a slam-dunk. Only this time, if I screwed something up, there would be some hell to pay.

My partner came back from Vegas, all trained from class and tanned from hanging out at Aria’s pool. In less than 24 hours, the party was on!

As much as I’d like to say about the broker party, it can be summed up in 2 words – home run.

Over 50 showed and no one wanted to leave. The two hour event stretched into three and my partner and I couldn’t have been more pleased. After around 40 showings in two months, the home sold. This set the tone for our new partnership for the next few years.

As I was clearing out my desk and file this morning, I saw some of the original paperwork for that property. My, have things changed since then. The song in my head is ‘Yours Is No Disgrace’ by Yes; it actually should be ‘Perpetual Change’.

That’s life. That’s progress.

So, Day One’s office may be my neighborhood and I am looking forward to what the rest of today has in store for me.