The Story of Ray Markman-Part 10
Friday, 4:20 pm
“I sent him to the club to warm up.”
Lonagan pours a shot or so into two tumblers, leans back and inhales the aroma of the scotch. He grins. “Warmin’ up won’t do ‘im no good.”
“That scotch won’t do you any good, either.”
“Shuttup and have some. I know what I’m doin’.” He downs his and pours another, then pulls out his notes. “Lemme give you what I got left on Ray Markman. Where d’ya want me to start?”
“Tell me why he leaves Britannica.”
He flips a page.
The Fear of Risk
“Okay, by this time, Ray is executive veep at Britannica. If he sticks another 8 months, he’s gonna be president. These guys are payin’ him hundreds of thousands of dollars and givin’ him every perk a guy can get. First class travel around the world, unlimited expense account, cars, clubs, seasons tickets to da Bears, da Bulls, duh works.”
Sounds like a good life to me. “So why doesn’t he stay with the company?”
I nod. So Ray saw it that far back. And we all know how that story ends.
Lonagan thumps his notes. “He wants to get the company into video—that’s the up-and-coming tech play at the time. They already got every subject in the world between the covers of Britannica—a fantastic resource—and they got a name that holds incredible prestige. Nobody that can compete with ‘em. So Ray pitches video and alotta other ideas for products not even on the market yet.”
He scoots his chair closer and leans forward on my desk. “Ray really studies the video business. So far, it’s just mom and pop stores. But he knows it won’t end there. It ends with the big guys muscling out the little guys. That’s how it always ends and that’s what will happen here. Britannica is the big guy.”
“Is it reliable? Can you back it up?”
“Naw, it’s second, third hand. But it sounds like Ray t’ me. Wanna hear it?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
He clears his throat and reads from his notes: “Some of these guys are interested in just one thing—retiring. That’s all they care about—that’s all they ever talk about. Who wants to retire? I don’t want to retire. I said, ‘Why do you want to retire?’
“I tell them, ‘The risk of DOING is less than the risk of STAYING PAT. I can’t convince them. They have all this money. They’re buying bonds, not stocks. They’re looking in the rear-view mirror. They can’t visualize. I quit and start my own video company.”
Lonagan looks me in the eye. “You see his problem? These guys are worried about risk. They’re at that time in life when it’s too late to recover from a big loss. We all reach that point if we don’t get hit by a truck or somethin’. Ray just sees if different is all.”
I lean back in my chair and close my eyes. That’s thirty years ago and Ray still doesn’t want to retire. I find these words wonderfully revealing. It seems a shame that so few of us relish our work the way Ray does. People actively seek to escape it. He finds joy in it. This is a man at home with his business environment.
On the Loose
Lonagan clears his throat and breaks me from my reverie. “So Ray’s on the loose with his partners and whadaya think? Britannica comes back to him and wants him to do their video business. They had him on da inside. They turned down the idea. Now they hire him as a consultant. ’Course, he charges a huge fee. And they pay it.
“So he gets into the video business, doing real good right from the get go.
“He calls his company Heritage Home Video and does a lot of other projects. All sorts o’ how-to videos. Then he gets ahold o’ this Jane Fonda video. By far the #1 seller at the time. You remember that one.”
I grin to myself, recalling Jane Fonda on the cover of that tape. They even advertised it on television.
“He ain’t rentin’ the Jane Fonda stuff. It don’t do any good to rent it and watch it once. It’s an exercise video. You gotta watch it over and over. People are paying 59 bucks for dis thing. Then there’s how to play baseball, golf, basketball, a lotsa others. So Ray and his partners get all this video business that coulda belonged to the big company.”
Lonagan’s slams his fist on the desk. “Y’know how I see it? Britannica could rule the Internet today if they kept up with technology back then—one step at a time. But they threw it all away just like Sears and Monkey Wards threw away their catalogues that everybody relied on for years and years. And those guys could’ve ruled online retail the way Amazon does now.
“Remember this John: Fear of risk stifles vision every time.”
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