Why did you start the business, what was the catalyzing event?
In 1982 I left Arthur Andersen & Co in Detroit, to manage IT for Trammell Crow Company in Dallas. At the time Trammell Crow had 8 people in IT and was about to launch initiatives to expand Central Services in Dallas (IT and Accounting) to support the offices all over the country. This included developing centralized application systems that would standardize business processes in the local offices. Three years later, after growing the IT organization to 120 people, the 1985 real estate crisis happened. The company decided to cut Central Services Staff and “regionalize”. My Assistant Directors, John and Mike, and I were the first to be “downsized”. We were provided offices on a different floor, use of my Administrative Assistant, severance packages and “out placement”.
The next day John, Mike and I loaded my Suburban and hit the road to my place in the Adirondacks to figure out our next steps and later meet the Headhunter who would provide out placement at the Jersey Shore. Once we were there John and I got out the chain saws and attacked the forest (stand-in for those who had wronged us). Mike spent his time reading technical manuals. The meeting with the Headhunter went well and she was optimistic about finding good placements for us.
Back in the Dallas on the first day we met in our new offices, all three of us had decided we never wanted to work for someone else again. Trammell Crow agreed to use the funds budgeted for out placement to help us start our own company. Integrated Services, Inc. (ISI) was born. We decided to get started doing System Plans and IT Project Management, leveraging the experience each of us had from many years at Arthur Andersen. We found work right away helping Arthur Andersen Alumni friends who we had worked with over the years and have been going strong ever since.
How did you find your first customer?
Our first customer was Georgia Gulf Corporation in Atlanta/Baton Rouge. Their IT Director had worked for me on a project for Owens Corning Fiberglass, before leaving Arthur Andersen. Georgia Gulf was a private company which had been the Chemical Division of Georgia Pacific. When I called my friend, Georgia Gulf was planning to use Arthur Andersen to develop a Long-Range Systems Plan. Since I already had the “double doors” of Arthur Andersen branded on my left cheek, he was able to convince the management team to use me instead for a fraction of the budgeted cost.
Describe your first office/location.
John was a bachelor with a 3-bedroom house when we got started. He volunteered one of the bedrooms as our first office. For about $100 we bought some folding tables and Swedish posture chairs at SAM’s Club and were in business. This worked great for Mike and me, since we spent most of our time at client locations. But it was hard on John to live at the office. He finally figured out that if he left the office room and shut the door, he could end the workday and be at home!
What’s the most creative thing you did to get your business started, or kept it going through a tough time?
We knew from the start that the experience and talent of our employees was the only thing that set us apart in competitive situations. Over the years we have typically hired people who we have worked with in the past who can lead projects, as well as do detailed work. We have retained these people even in down cycles for over 35 years. We also know that any of our employees who decide to take another opportunity is a potential client.
What’s something quirky or superstitious you do as a CEO?
I stepped down as CEO on 12/31/2017 after 32 years in that role. I remain a principal and board member, but spend most of my time supporting clients, the part of the job I’ve always liked best.
I’ve been told that the quirkiest thing John and I have done over the years was take no pay during downturns … not necessarily to the liking of our spouses. But this allowed us to never layoff or reduce our employees pay.
What was your last job working for someone else? What was your favorite day job?
Trammell Crow Company is the last time I had an official boss. Arthur Andersen is the last time I had 900 bosses. Arthur Andersen was great from Staff to Senior Manager. I learned much that I still use today. Trammell Crow was even better. I was promoted to Partner in 1984. The opportunity to build an organization and to architect and build solutions in the best way required tremendous effort and provided great satisfaction.
ISI has been the best. My day job has been client service since 1985. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with many clients and ISI employees for years at a time … Centex Homes for almost 13 years and currently SRS Distribution since 2014.
Where did you come up with the name for your company?
Our original name was Integrated Solutions, Inc. However, it had a short life span. About three weeks after we picked it our attorney travelled to Austin to register us with the state. That’s what you did before the internet. He called us from there and informed us that someone from Katy, Texas had snagged our name about 20 minutes before he got there. He said, “I never liked that name anyway. It makes you guys sound like a chemical company. You’ve got 15 minutes to give me a new name”. Integrated Services, Inc. (ISI) was born 10 minutes later.