Growing Up In The Biz
I like to think of myself as a boy raised by a small business. My dad was, at the time, the owner and operator of a small electric sign company. A converted laundry room served as the headquarters of the business. I recall hanging out there in the mornings before school as 1 or 2 of his employees met to get information about the day’s assignment. My dad worked really hard and often arrived home late, dirty with saw dust and paint on his knit crew shirts. While he worked a lot, he had a certain amount of flexibility to his schedule that other dads did not. One day, my siblings and I arrived home from school to find my dad in the backyard putting the finishing touches on homemade go-cart built from an old, green lawnmower. We were overwhelmed by the surprise. My dad’s schedule also made it possible to regularly travel the back roads of California on family trips. All of these trips however, included some sort of stop for work, whether it was to take pictures of a recently completed job, or to pick up some neon that my dad would tape to the hood of the truck. Memories like these made me idealize the life of a business owner because of the flexibility and the notion that hard work was directly rewarded.
A Geek Is Born
In that same laundry room office there was also a computer my dad purchased for accounting. I still remember everything about this computer–16Mhz and a 40Mb hard drive. It was top-of-the-line and I think it cost about $2,000 (1988 dollars). You could not keep me away from this computer. I instantly learned DOS commands and was surprised to find a host of games loaded by the shop that built it. This was the defining moment of my geek career. Over the course of the next 10 years I would convince dad buy new computers “for the business” so that I could play the latest games. Many times we would drive down to San Jose to buy these computers and other parts. I would see signs for well-known brands of hardware and software and I thought it was so cool to live near where this technology was developed. In my early teens I decided this is what I wanted to do for a living. I recall saying that Bill Gates was my hero and I recently found a journal entry from middle school stating that I wanted to major in computers and business. I guess I am doing what I set out to do, though it is interesting that it does not always happen in the way you imagine.
My career path has since led me through a degree in computer engineering, with a subsequent job at Micron Technology. While working, I attained an MBA and landed a job at HP. So far, my career has been rather safe. I am naturally risk adverse. I usually go toward the guaranteed, which is why I have worked for large companies. At the same time though, I still harbor dreams of running my own business and seeing the direct benefit from my own effort. I often wonder if building up something of my own, where I don’t report to anyone but the customer, would provide the passion that I seek in my work.
As I have worked at these many large corporations–APL, Walmart, Micron and HP–I have come to realize that big companies are just a collection of small businesses. Most of what I have learned at these places can be applied to any business setting. I also tend to focus on a more theoretical approach to business, which will contrast nicely with my dad’s practical point of view. As you follow this blog, please feel free to make comments and ask questions. Email us with ideas and propose new topics for us to explore. I will also be inviting other distinguished entrepreneurs to share their stories in this forum, so please stay tuned. Consider this your sanctuary for getting into the Business State of Mind.