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Another Milestone

March 8, 2011

It's lonely at the top!

Twenty-three (23) years in the making.

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.

Some of the gang outside our offices

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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7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 8, 2011 3:37 pm

    Even though I was half a country away I remember those early years, Al and heard a bit about what you were going through. I know it was tough, but I bet that make your current position even sweeter! I know Dad would be SO proud of you – he’s probably grinning ear to ear in heaven right now, wishing he could tell you! So I’ll say it for him – We’re proud of you Al!

    • August 2, 2011 4:11 am

      Thanks Di. Dad was there. He knew and appreciated what small business owners do, mine included. He also knew there was no dessert.

      In fact, I can’t think of anything tougher than living with MS, So I can speak for dad and all of us. We’re proud of you!

  2. Dan permalink
    March 9, 2011 2:50 am

    Quite an accomplishment. I wonder what odds you’ve beaten so far? Probably a very small percentage of businesses started every year last this long. You guys must be doing something right!


  3. Kay Wetzel permalink
    March 9, 2011 2:50 pm

    You are an inspiration to many, Al, including myself. I will remember forever the early days with that card table in the back room in the house, sharing one phone. You handle difficulties and triumphs with equal grace. Congratulations to the entire crew at Integra – keep up the great teamwork!


    • April 15, 2011 2:16 am

      Thanks Kay! You were a huge part of my success. In your case the teacher has become the student.

  4. Lisa Bullion permalink
    April 15, 2011 12:16 am

    An awesome accomplishment by an awesome entrepreneur.

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