Tag Archives: I never worked a day in my life

THE RIGHT WAY TO FAIL

The Story of Ray Markman – Part 6

by John Jonelis

Ray MarkmanFriday, 3:30 pm

The hour of the duel is closing fast.  Can I get the information I want out of these two hotheads before they beat each other senseless? If I prove one or the other right, will that snuff out the fuse?  At this point, I can’t be sure of anything.

This conflict hinges on some ill-chosen words by Loop Lonagan during heated debate with Alexander Harbinger, PhD. Fuel for the fire is an interesting research assignment—Ray Markman’s assertion, I never worked a day in my life.   We’ve all done our homework and given each other our reports, but it’s turned out to be far from routine.  Lonagan and Harbinger will fight a duel this afternoon.

I reach across my scarred WWII Air Force desk and refill their empty tumblers.  The bottle of single malt is more than half-gone.   They sip their scotch and for now, remain peaceful.  It brings to mind a picture of diplomats at a negotiating table—polite, formal, with seething hostilities hidden beneath a veneer of protocol.

Finally, Lonagan begins. “Da thing impresses me most about Ray,” he says, “is he knows howta take a loss. Ray says, ‘If you never lost money, you never did anything.’  And he’s dead right.”

That makes me smile. “Sounds like trader talk to me.”

“It’s da truth. I don’t care if it’s a trading floor or a corporate office.  Don’t matter.  It cuts against ever’body’s logic.  It ain’t easy fer a guy to learn but it’s a proven fact.  Winners know howta lose.”

Lonagan swallows a slug of his whiskey. “So Ray comes across this big fantastic product. Some sorta skin lotion—solves all kindsa problems ‘n’ feels great on yer hide.  He uses da stuff himself and thinks it’s terrific.  He falls in love with it.”  Lonagan shakes his head.  “That’s always a mistake. It’s an axiom on da trading floor:  Never let yerself fall in love with a deal.  You get burned.”  He blows on his fingers in pantomime style.

“Can’t blame ‘im.” Lonagan displays a toothy grin.  “Hadda learn it the hard way myself. Anyhow, here’s what Ray does.  He wants to mass market dis product.  The inventor ain’t got no money so Ray buys an option on it.  Now he owns it on the cheap.  Then he puts his heart ‘n’ soul in it.  He makes the rounds of all his advertisers—real rich men.  One thing for sure, Ray’s got contacts. 

“But for one reason or another, they all turn him down—every one of ‘em.”

Lonagan forms a fist and squeezes like he’s crushing a walnut. “But he ain’t givin’ up. He reads how the Tony Company—the outfit created da first home permanent—just sold for 20 million bucks to a big-time player.  That’s like maybe…”  He squints, “…maybe half a billion in today’s money. So then this Big Player makes it known he wants to invest in risk businesses.  Well, Ray’s figures—‘Hey, I got a risk business’—so he goes and sees duh guy.  Doncha love it?  He just goes out and sees dis guy dat spends half a billion like nothin’!

Half a Billion Dollars

“And it turns out, da guy’s impressed with Ray’s pitch. But does he fund da project?  No!  Instead, he offers Ray a job!”

Lonagan takes another slug of scotch before going on.  “Naturally, Ray turns da guy down so’s he kin laser-focus on his startup project.  But after a while, with no real capital, he’s gotta give up on that. So he takes da job after all, ‘n’ bides his time.”

Harbinger holds up a finger.  “Ziss! Ziss is yet another example of what I am saying.  He works as an employee!  He cannot claim he never worked a day in his life!”

Lonagan drains his whiskey and slams the tumbler on the desk so hard, the glass cracks.  “Shuttup, Mr. PhD.  I’m tellin’ dis story my way. Sure it’s a job, but I don’t think Ray sees it as work.  What about you?  I bet them universities pay real good, but whadaya think about it yerself?  Is lecturing work?  Is research work?  When yuh publish, is it work?  It’s a challenge, right?  There’s plenty o’ rewards and ya love it.  Gettin’ up early mornings.  Can’t wait to get started.  Is that work?” 

Lonagan cocks his head.  “‘Course maybe you’se is waitin’ for tenure so’s you can loaf da rest o’ yer career away.”

“Back off, Loop.”  I feel an urgent need to intervene before things get prematurely violent.  “Alex has a right to his opinion.  You two get to maul each other at five o’clock.   Right now I want to pick your brains while you both still have brains to pick.”  I slide across a new tumbler and the bottle.  “Think you can hold off hostilities till five PM?” It looks to me like Harbinger’s blood pressure is rising fast.

Lonagan sloshes whiskey into the glass.  “Could be you’re right.  Maybe I set my sites too high.  Maybe that big-time education, don’t leave no room in a guy’s head fer the common sense we’s all born with—‘specially a big German goon like Alex.”

 “Loop!  Can’t you stick to the point?”  It comes out louder than I expect and my voice seems to ring in my ears.  I sneak another glance at Harbinger.  He looks like his eyeballs might explode but he sits there and takes it, jaw clamped shut, arms crossed tight.

Lonagan smiles—a grin with real malice behind it. “Okay, I’ll play along.  Where’d I leave off?”  He leans back and his chair lets out a grinding squeak as he raises his feet to my desk.  “Oh yeah.  Ray gets busy and makes good on a buncha projects for Mr. Big.  Does a real fine job. Model exec.   So he figures, the time’s right, and he pitches that old product he’s in love with one more time.  After all, da guy owns the Tony Company and dis product’s a great fit.   Ray never gives up, see?  Just waits for the right time.”

Lonagan chuckles.  “Dis gets good—Big Shot makes up a survey, right there on the spot.  Sends Ray out to do consumer research.  When Ray comes back, his results are unbelievable—way too good to be true—like batting a thousand.  Ever’body loves dis thing.  All of ‘em do.  Hey, I’d like to invest in it myself!” He licks his lips and rests the tumbler on his belly.  Some whiskey sloshes on his shirt.  “Now, da boss says they’ll form a company.  Ray’s gonna be president and run it.  His boss brings in brand managers from the Tony Company.  Also a muckity-muck from a big ad agency.  Then he goes away on a trip—expects everything’ll be ready when he gets back. So Ray works the team.  Gets a lawyer and draws up the articles of incorporation.  Writes a national plan with the brand managers.  Gets everything buttoned up in three weeks—before the boss comes back—”

“You continue to use zee word ‘boss.’  You again identify Mr. Markman as an employee, not an entrepreneur.”

Lonagan looks at Harbinger out of the corner of his eye, clearly telegraphing an insulting sentiment.  His voice comes out in low sarcastic tones.  “He pitched a product venture, Alex.  He built a management team, made a business plan. Any time my meaning ain’t precise enough, just lemme know, okay?” 

Loop turns back to me.  “Now, Ray’s got ever’thing set for a big meeting. But nobody shows up.  Nobody!  Can you picture that?  Right away, Ray knows somethin’s really wrong.  I mean wrong in a huge way.  Ever’body knows somethin’ he doesn’t—but nobody’s talkin’ to him about it.  It’s what yuh call ‘big corporate office politics.’

“And sure enough, when Big Shot comes back he decides NOT to do da project, even though ever’thing looks great.  Ever’thing’s ready.  Don’t give no reason for it—just dumps the idea.  Maybe somethin’ on his trip made ‘im change his mind.  Maybe he didn’t wanna be in that line o’ business—maybe alotta things—I dunno.  End result, Ray gets stiffed.”

Lonagan swallows more scotch.  “You know as good as I do, after a thing like that a guy’s gotta move on.  Mr. Big offers Ray a position with another one o’ his companies, but Ray says no.  So the long ‘n short of it is he’s outava job, his wife is pregnant with their second kid and he’s stuck with this product nobody’ll fund.  All ‘cause he fell in love with a deal.”

I’ve seldom heard Loop go on that long—at least in a coherent manner—and it takes me a moment to get my thoughts together.

Harbinger is scowling down at Lonagan.  “Can you please come to zee conclusion?”

“Yeah, Loop.  What are you driving at?”

“It’s like I said—da loss don’t get to ‘im—it don’t make ‘im give up—he just starts another company, and he keeps on makin’ companies.  He ain’t got no quit in his body.  If he can’t make one thing fly, he finds another.  There’s plenty other ways to do business.”

Harbinger and I don’t say anything and Lonagan looks from one of us to the other.  “Don’t you guys get it?  Ray knows yuh gotta fail a lot to succeed. He puts his losses behind ‘im.  He knows da right way to fail—with style.”

.

Continue to Part 7

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Find Chicago Venture Magazine at www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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Filed under Biography, Characters, Chicago Ventures, Conflict, CORE Insight Story, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Invention

THE SECRET PROTÉGÉ

The Story of Ray Markman – Part 4

by John Jonelis

Ray Markman

Friday, 2:30 pm

We’re sitting across my battered WWII Air Force desk digging out the history of Ray Markman. Alexander Harbinger’s argument that Ray isn’t a pure entrepreneur seems pretty well shot to pieces. Loop Lonagan told some amazing stories about risk ventures and I think Alex is squirming a bit, but I want to hear what he’s turned up before these two beat each other senseless at the duel scheduled for five o’clock today. So I put it to him.

“Yess,” he says. “I did find quite ze important story about Mr. Markman. To me, it iss poignant und highly significant. It illustrates not only his personality but ze way he affected people around him.”

He pauses, and I think he does it for effect. Harbinger is still 100% university professor but he’s reverting to his thick German accent. That’s a signal he’s passionate about what he’s saying.

“Markman wass very young und yearning to work at ze premier advertising agency, Leo Burnett. Ziss vass when Leo ran ze agency personally. He created fantastic campaigns—Marlboro, Pillsbury, Jolly Green Giant. But when Markman attempted to, as you Americans say, ‘get in ze door,’ he vass told to first learn brand management.”

Jolly Green Giant

Leo Burnett – The Jolly Green Giant

Lonagan is drumming his fingers on the desk, but Harbinger ignores it and continues.

“So Mr. Markman made…What iss word…” He pauses and raps my desk with his big knuckles. “He make ‘cold call,’ He approach a large cosmetics company, Helene Curtis. It wass what people call ‘a hot company’ at ze time, marketing exclusively to beauty salons—but just starting in retail. As so often occurs, organization vass insufficient for new market. It used a prototypical model but no brand managers. Markman called on CEO of consumer goods, und convinced him of brand manager system. Right away, ze man hired him.”

I interrupt: “What exactly is a brand manager, Alex?”

“He iss one with final sales und profit responsibility for a particular brand. It iss analogous to account executive at an advertising agency.”

Procter & Gamble

I nod and he goes on.

 

“Ze concept of a brand manager originated at P&G und Mr. Markman read every Harvard Business Review article on brand management going back to 1920.” Harbinger stops to sip his scotch. “He decides to start by selling—to learn ze business from deep in trenches. He also knows he must impress sales manager if he iss to gain acceptance within company culture. He worked tirelessly for a month, from store opening to store closing. It vass only a month so he poured himself into his work. And he broke all company sales records.”

Now Harbinger is actually smiling. “Und he did impress ziss sales manager. He wanted to hire Markman but no—he vass slated to be brand manager. Mr. Markman then hired other brand managers. He formed department und became head of it.”

Lonagan is still drumming his fingers and it’s getting on my nerves. “What’s your problem, Loop?”

“No problem. Ain’t you bored?”

“No.”

Harbinger is suddenly agitated. “I get to ze point. As you know, Mr. Markman hass always been a man with many ideas und he proposes one campaign after another to his new employer. I have no data to explain reasons but his superior denied—he denied perhaps all of his proposals. I am told, ‘he svatted ze ideas like flies.’”

Harbinger places a sheet from his notes on the desk. It tells the story of a meeting between Markman and his boss. The highlighted sentence reads, ‘Ray, this has got your thumb prints all over it.’ Harbinger clears his throat. “Certainly it casts doubt on his quote, ‘I never worked a day in my life.’”

“Bullshit,” Lonagan snaps.

I narrow my eyes at him. “What’s wrong with it, Loop?”

Lonagan throws out an arm in an expansive gesture. “Ray’s still dreamin’ dreams. He just ain’t gettin’ as many of ‘em done. It’s a bigger challenge, is all.”

Harbinger doesn’t even acknowledge Lonagan. “Important part of ze story vass when Markman met head of company’s outside advertising agency. Ze man was only twenty-nine, but brilliant. A Northwestern MBA.” He pauses, I think for effect again.  “Of course, Mr. Markman earned his MBA from University of Chicago, both very prestigious schools but ze men got along famously anyway. Then later this man went on to successful career—many highly important positions in private enterprise und public service.”

NU and U of C

Lonagan’s ears are turning red again. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Just let him tell his story, Loop.”

Alex draws himself tall in his chair. “I can answer Mr. Lonagan’s question. Mr. Markman came to know many important persons in his life. I believe ziss vass crucial to his success. I believe it stemmed from his personal gestalt.”

“His what?”

“His…how you say…his overall manufacture.”

Lonagan grins. “Y’mean it comes natural to ‘im. Just happens that way. It’s how he’s made.”

Harbinger lets out a lungful of air. “Yes. Dot is ze vey of it.”

“Then why don’t you just say so?”

“Zat is vat I did!” Anger tints his voice and it’s time for me to intervene.

“Why don’t you two save it for the boxing ring? I want to hear Alex’s story. Don’t you want to hear it, Loop?”

Lonagan draws circles on the scarred desktop with a finger. “I suppose.”

“Then shuttup. Go on with your account, Alex.”

Harbinger clears his throat before continuing. “Markman immediately liked CEO of outside agency und two men they make what iss called ‘a pact.’ Markman gives him exclusive responsibility for company advertising account. In exchange, no one comes between them. No one! Und ziss relationship works well for quite some time. Ziss young advertising executive presents many ideas to Mr. Markman’s superior—und they are many of Markman’s own ideas, presented as if coming from ze outside agency—but now they are received with enthusiasm rather than rejection. At same time ziss young man vass, as you say, ‘taking Ray to school,’ und young Mr. Markman learned all about advertising business very quickly.”

Harbinger leans forward in his chair. “But ziss could not continue indefinitely. Mr. Markman’s outside counterpart vass asked to run an important political campaign und he accepted. Of course, ze advertising arrangement fell apart.

“Now vee come to truly fascinating set of events: Markman resigns from Helene Curtis. His superior—ze ‘tough guy’ as you Americans say—ze man who crushed so many proposals—he wass entirely overcome by loss. I am told he actually showed tears in his eyes!” Harbinger looks at Lonagan and back to me. “Mr. Markman did not know what to make of such behavior! You see ze irony?”

I notice Lonagan’s attention is now riveted on Harbinger. He makes as if to say something then holds back when Harbinger abruptly resumes.

“I believe zat I understand Mr. Markman’s superior. He sees Ray as his protégé. He feels betrayed by ze resignation. But he did not treat his employee as he should have treated him. That vass his mistake! Ze same mistake so many of us make! So common in my country! I find zis not only startling but also personally meaningful. It iss very sad because it iss so pervasive—almost universal.”

Lonagan slowly nods. “I can picture that.”

I lean back, sip my scotch, and consider. And I’m struck by the conflicted ways we so often go about our business.

Harbinger smiles. “Ah, but remainder of story: Notice—Mr. Markman learned all about brand management. He groomed himself for position he vanted so badly at Leo Burnett. He vass ready to go to work for ze premier agency…”

 

Continue to Part 5

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Comment on this article — Name and email optional

Find Chicago Venture Magazine at www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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Filed under Biography, Characters, Chicago Venture Magazine, Chicago Ventures, CORE Insight Story, Innovation, Invention, Kellogg, Northwestern

THE DUEL

The Story of Ray Markman – Part 2

by John Jonelis

Ray Markman

Friday, 1:30 am

Ray Markman claims, ‘I never worked a day in my life.’ Now I wait for Alexander Harbinger and Loop Lonagan to give their analysis based on boxes of old documents and memories. The clock reads 1:30 when Loop and Alex finally file in. They each carry thick note pads and plunk down in soft chairs across from my desk. From the way Loop pats his belly, I know they’re straight from some heavy lunch spot.

Lonagan is first to speak. “Me and Alex want you should go first.”

“What?” I say. “There’s some problem?”

Harbinger responds in his heavy German accent. “Vee are at a point of disagreement. Perhaps, Yon, you vill set ze right tone for this meeting.”

I lick my lips. That sounds like trouble and I hesitate a moment wondering what’s under the surface. Each of us started with a bulging box of documents and I like what I found in mine. Finally: “Okay, I’ll kick it off.” I glance at my clipboard of notes. “Ray Markman is living one of the most interesting business careers I’ve ever researched. Right from an early age, I get the picture of an enthusiastic entrepreneur, just playing with the world. He attends Erasmus—first public high school in the country. Barbara Streisand is there. Ray sees Sid Luckman play high school football. Lainie Kazan, some Nobel prize winners, and other luminaries come out of that program. Ray runs the school paper. He figures he can get a scholarship to an Ivy League college but the faculty sells him on the University of Missouri—the first formal school of journalism in the world. Lots of illustrious figures go there. He sees Walter Cronkite. Meets the head of CBS, the head of NBC—all those guys. Connections that pay dividends later on.”

Harbinger shakes his head. “Zat is veak. You vill not prove your point based on such information. Have you nussing  from his vork life?”

“Well, yeah.” I turn a page. “This one’s interesting. He creates the Britannica Achievement in Life Award—you remember that. The award goes to people like Louis Armstrong, Hank Aaron, Ella Fitzgerald, Olympians, astronauts, singers, artists, athletes, academics, actors—it must be quite a rush doing that.”

Both men nod but nothing registers in their eyes. They’re still waiting.

Ray Markman

Is that Polly Bergen with Ray Markman?

I turn another page. “Okay, try this one. He finds out that National Geographic has lots of fantastic footage—reels and reels of film. Underwater clips of Jacques Cousteau, footage of Americans climbing Everest, Jane Goodall and the wild chimpanzees, even discovering the first Homo Sapiens. But they aren’t TV shows—just footage. So he gets John Allen and a team to help him create shows. Allen is the genius that got the Peanuts shows on prime time. So that’s how the National Geographic Series happens. Certainly you’ve seen that.”

“Yes, ziss I remember vell.”

“Well here’s where it gets good. They make the whole series on spec. Then Ray tells his client—Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘We won’t sell it to you unless we get prime time.’ Wrap yourself around the moxie behind that. He doesn’t want it aired on Sunday afternoon the way Hallmark does at that time. He figures people are watching football that day and he’s right. After finishing the shows, he’s saying if they’re not a raging success, he’ll chuck ‘em. He’s taking a huge risk.”

Lonagan shakes his head and scowls. “A guy shouldn’t never oughta let his ass hang out dat far on a deal.”

“Maybe, but Ray doesn’t seem to have any fear in his makeup. So he takes the show to NBC. They turn it down. Same old story: They don’t know where it fits—it’s not news and it’s not a documentary. It’s a whole new genre. Always hard to sell a new genre. And ABC? Same story.

“Anyway, he realizes there’s only one man who’ll buy this show—the head of CBS—the king of the documentaries back then. So he spends a whole month and works up a super-detailed 30-minute presentation. All the visuals, the financial projections, the entire picture.”

I lean back and glance at my two guests. “So the big day finally arrives. Ray and the agency meet the head of the network face to face. Ray’s just three minutes into his presentation when the guy says ‘I got it. Let’s do it.’ Just like that.”

Lonagan nods. “I seen stuff like that happen.”

“Well Ray’s not done. He tells them there’s one caveat. ‘We gotta have prime time.’ Seems to me he’s pressing his luck but the guy says, ‘Done. You got early prime time four times a year.’ So Ray goes ahead and gets Britannica to sponsor it for four years. Great show. I don’t think I missed a single episode.”

Lonagan leans across my beat-up desk. “I got somethin’ even better.” That close to my face, his breath stinks of corned beef and beer.  Smells worse than a cheap cigar. I roll my chair back, away from the stench and put my feet on the desk. “Fire away.”

He cracks a malicious grin. “Ray’s one o’ them born entrepreneurs. He loves every part of it.”

Then Harbinger barges in. “Ze man spent his career in advertising, not as an entrepreneur.”

Lonagan reels on him. “Listen, you candy-assed school boy. Everything he does, he goes at like an entrepreneur. It’s impossible to figure out where his corporate work stops and his entrepreneurship begins. When he ain’t bettin’ his dough, he’s bettin’ his job.”

Once I watched a debate between Loop Lonagan and Alexander Harbinger almost escalate to blows and I need to head that off quick. “You guys are off on a tangent. Entrepreneurship isn’t the question on the table. I’m looking to prove or disprove his statement that he never worked a day in his life.”

“No John, yer wrong,” says Lonagan. “Bein’ an entrepreneur’s the heart of it all. In da mindset of an entrepreneur work ain’t work. It’s doin’ what you love for the love of it. It’s creatin’ somethin’ new, then creatin’ somethin’ else that’s new. That’s why Ray makes that statement—‘cause that’s how he lives his whole life. Don’t matter if yer workin’ in a startup or a big organization. If you got enough freedom and love what you do, you’re an entrepreneur. Ray’s a serial entrepreneur. Anybody says different don’t know his keister from a hole in the ground.”

Harbinger scowls. “I cannot agree wiss you. Your premise—it iss badly flawed.”

I’m keeping a close eye on Loop’s reaction. He doesn’t respond immediately and his face slowly swells purple. If they start swinging, I sure hope they take it outside.

Then Lonagan blurts out, “Ever hear of a little thing called a hedge? That’s how the smart guys do it. A paying job’s nothin’ but a ‘covered call.’ It counters da capital risk on all dem companies he starts. That’s a real smart setup if you got the energy to pull it off.” He raises his voice. “But then, you never been in the trading world riskin’ real money. You hang out at that college and teach bullshit like ‘random walk theory.’ You don’t know nothin’ about business, you lousy Kraut.”

Harbinger rises from his chair. Stands erect like a soldier.  Dignified—all six foot five of him in his impeccable gray handmade suit. “I cannot accept such personal abuse—zis slur on my nationality—and ziss from an inarticulate, uneducated, and ignorant man. I demand an immediate apology.”

Lonagan jumps to his feet, pulls off his sports jacket, and throws it to the floor. “Apology nothin’. And whadaya mean, callin’ me ‘little’?” Standing in a crouch with his fists raised, he cranes his neck to meet Harbinger’s eyes. “You kin cram that where the sun don’t shine, mister.”

Harbinger looks down his nose at Lonagan and hands him a card. “Zen I vill have satisfaction. Ze Union League Club. Vee meet at Five p.m.”

I can hardly believe it. I am witnessing the preamble to a formal duel. The only thing missing is a slap to the face or a glove hurled down. Will it be pistols or foils?

“Okay, Mr. PhD.” Loop flashes an evil grin. “You’re on. Boxing gloves. Three rounds. And make sure you show up.”

I let out a sigh of relief.

A boxing match.

And after a moment’s thought, I’m actually looking forward to it. But somehow I need to find a way to get these two back in their chairs and working on the subject at hand.

 

Continue to Part 3

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Comment on this article — Name and email optional

Find Chicago Venture Magazine at www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

1 Comment

Filed under Biography, Characters, Chicago Venture Magazine, Chicago Ventures, Conflict, CORE Insight Story, Entrepreneurship, Financial Markets, Innovation, Nobel Prize