It was an American company that gave me my first big break in my work life. It was the Addmaster Corporation of California—which still thrives, I’m glad to say—and I had just completed a major research assignment in preparation for the launch of their product in the UK.
At the time I was merely their UK representative, but when our distributor backed away from the deal at the last minute—to the absolute consternation of Addmaster’s president, Jack Clary, and my immediate boss, Art Damschen, I offered to start Addmaster UK and to run the company myself. It was decidedly presumptuous of me because I was only in my mid-twenties and decidedly inexperienced by the standards of the time. However, I was on the spot, my research had impressed them, time was short, and we had no immediate alternative lined up.
I was given the nod almost casually, $10,000 placed in my private account to facilitate the process, and suddenly I found myself responsible for executing the plan I had outlined in my research report. I was to receive scant specific help because neither Jack nor Art knew anything about marketing. In the U.S. Addmaster sold almost all their product to Sears Roebuck and no marketing was involved. In fact, Sears had a buyer stationed at the end of the Addmaster production line. Addmaster’s expertise lay in design and manufacturing. Where marketing was concerned, I was on my own. In addition, we were late and the competition was formidable. Olivetti alone had a UK sales force that was over 400 strong—then there was NCR, a host of other well financed corporations, and the new enemy at the time: the Japanese. It looked like mission impossible.
Within a year or so, Addmaster dominated the UK market. In fact, we had about a 60% market share. How did we do it? That’s a story I shall keep for my memoirs. But essentially, we did through maneuver warfare and creativity. We did things differently and at great speed. And we looked after our customers.
Though he lacked marketing expertise, Art Damschen made a major contribution as mentor. He would come over once a month and question everything—and in the process I learned a great deal. Strangely enough, he rarely made a suggestion—and virtually never issued an order, but his approach worked wonders. He became a friend and I am glad to say I saw him one last time just before he died. I was extremely fond of the man—and we had more good times together than I probably deserved.
I was then asked would I move to the U.S. and do the same thing there. Though I deeply appreciated the offer, I turned it down.
I wanted to write. In fact, I really had little choice in the matter. Though it meant giving up a thriving business career, the imperative was so strong it was irresistible.
It was madness, but the best decision I have ever made.
To be continued.