Posted by admin on August 7, 2017 in Working Daze |

A couple days ago I was talking to a coworker about lost opportunities. I was telling a story about the fantastic, often crazy ideas, I would come up with for trade show exhibits.

This included the cruise ship I thought up once, a 20’x40′ deck of a ship, complete with wood decking, lounge, portholes and waving passengers above. Not one to let any detail slide, the theme of the cruise changed every day, as did the passenger’s clothes, to match the ports of call we had sprinkled elsewhere on the show floor.

32117_392617826730_870589_nIt was ambitious, to say the least. And as always, I didn’t have a big budget to match my big ideas. I did manage to find the right partner, however, a little exhibit company that had done some great work in the past.

The owner was a nice lady. Her two children were her employees. If you’ve ever seen the movie Splash and remember the two guys helping the scientist out on the beach – the Moron Twins – then you can picture her sons.

Everything seemed to be going well, until the day of setup. The guys were no-shows all day. Finally, after numerous calls, they showed up at 8 p.m., unloaded everything into a single pile, and announced they were heading off to dinner.

An hour went by, then another, then another. They never came back. With the show coming up quickly the next morning, I needed a miracle. So, as usual, I called all any friend I had who owned a screwdriver or wrench.

There was so much work to do, not only to put together an entire ship but the various ports of calls, all with a debris field in the aisle that looked like it have been found in a city dump. No instructions, no Tab A into Slot B. Nothing but our own resourcefulness to figure out how it all went together.

If only my bosses had known how perilously close we had come to having empty space. To add insult to injury, Mom and the Moron Twins returned to pick it all up two days later and threatened to sue us because we had damaged their exhibit materials. The gall!

I ended up recounting this all to a business associate a few months later. She owned a promotional item company and my company was one of her main clients. We had become good friends over the years, the type that would go to dinner and a show on occasion.

It was during dinner that we talked about the cruise ship fiasco. I regaled how Mom and the Morons went to dinner and how they had threatened to sue me. In my youthful exuberance, I boldly announced that I could have run that company better than she could.

Her husband listened politely as we talked. He didn’t say much, but he seemed interested and somewhat amused by it all.

A couple days later, he called me at work. I had no idea why.

“Robb, I checked out that little company you told Sue and I about at dinner. They appear to be in a bit of a financial mess,” he said.

“Really?” I replied. “I guess they won’t be suing us after all.”

“I have a bit of a proposition to discuss with you. Can you meet me tonight?”

“Sure,” I said. “I’m easy,” keeping the whole thing light.

We met later in a bar near work.

“I want to make you an offer,” he said. “Well, Sue and I want to make you an offer. We want to buy this exhibit company and send the owner and her kids packing. And we want you to run it for us.”

I was 29 years old. Three years before I had been working in a mailroom. I was two years into my chosen career of communications, having fought hard to get the promotion it had taken almost five years to get.

I didn’t know anything about running a company. Yes, I could build stuff. After all, the inventory was basically theater sets and I had worked at a theater for a few years, learning how to build almost anything out of something else.

I was so flattered. I was also flummoxed. I didn’t know what to say. On the one hand, it was a chance of a lifetime. I was being offered the chance to be a CEO of a company, a company someone else basically bought so I could run it. All I had to do was make it make money.

Of course, I had no idea how to do that then. I had no business background. I had only been working in the business world for seven years; a big corporation at that. I was just a cog, not the owner or operator.

I told Al I would sleep on it. I did. In the end, I told him no.

Well who’s the moron now? As I told the story, I thought how funny it was that I said no. Seven years later, I started CommuniCreations. I not only ran a company, but started it from scratch. And I figured out how to make money with it for almost 20 years.

I’ve given some thought to what stopped me. It’s not that I’m not entrepreneurial or risk averse. I think the latter parts of my life have shown this not to be even remotely true. I think I was just afraid. Afraid of failure. Afraid to fail someone else.

Running CommuniCreations was relatively easy. If it failed, it would have affected me. But if I had failed with the exhibit company, I would have failed a couple friends, friends who had invested money in the company and invested in me. The thought of failing them was the reason I turned this golden opportunity down.

It’s funny how life can be at times. One moment we can be charging into the unknown, full of fire and passion, unafraid of what the future holds. And there are other times when our wildest dreams could come true, but shouldn’t because the timing just isn’t right.

I’m still good with the way it all turned out. But who knows what would have happened if I had decided all those years ago to become the Exhibit King of the Pacific Northwest.

In the Emerald City, still building stuff, still dreaming,

  • Robb


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