Tag - franklincovey

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

Today is the day.

While I’m on-call for another week, and will return to the office next Friday for a cake&coffee with the team, I’m leaving the company that I’ve been with for 15 years (give or take a month).

That’s 15 years through 7 different jobs:

  1. Research Assistant
  2. Staff Writer
  3. Marketing Project Manager
  4. Technology Solutions Manager
  5. Director of Home & Family markets
  6. Product Manager
  7. Director of Product Development

And 15 years through 3 different ownership stages:

  1. Premier (small, closely held company)
  2. FranklinCovey (medium-sized public company)
  3. SchoolSpecialty (largish public company)

And 15 years through 8 different bosses:

  1. Harold Ludwig
  2. Theodore Kingma
  3. Patricia Loeppky (now Newbold)
  4. Jim Gibson
  5. Kevin Moore
  6. Larry Renooy
  7. Joel Zucker
  8. Bob Lynch

What a wild ride it’s been, from a company that did about $40 million in annual business to a company that does over $130 million yearly. From a small family-run operation to a cog in a billion-dollar public corporation. From a small, cramped office in a leaky Abbotsford building to the former President’s (Henk Berends) corner office in Langley, and then to Bellingham, WA.

The opportunities I’ve had have been incredible. Just one of them is the travel, which has enabled me to go to San Francisco multiple times, Silicon Valley, Salt Lake City multiple times, Seatle, Portland, Wisconsin, Asheville North Carolina, San Diego multiple times, New Orleans, Virginia Beach, Texas multiple times, Florida multiple times, Quebec, Phoenix, Whistler, Winnipeg multiple (multiple multiple) times, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Moose Jaw (!?!), and many more places. Business travel is not always all it’s cracked up to be, but I always made a point of seeing or doing something at each place that I could not have seen or done at home … and so it has enriched my life.

Other opportunities have been career development. I started with Premier almost right out of Simon Fraser University. I had some previous experience managing a retail sports store … but Research Assistant was my first real career job. From that beginning people and experiences at Premier taught me product development, marketing, and basic business realities. My interest in technology grew significantly while at Premier, and the company had an opportunity for me to start and lead a web development department. From that, I moved on to other interesting and challenging jobs, including the one I’m currently leaving from: Director of Product Development. What a blessing! I feel truly fortunate and blessed to have had the career opportunities that I’ve already had.

But probably the best opportunity at Premier has been the people. Meeting and working with the amazing people at Premier … the David Leoppky’s, the Henk Berends, the Joel Zuckers … and so many more. I can’t – really can’t – name them all, but ones that really stand out are Pat Graham, Brandon Bird, Foeke van de Poel, Kelly DeVries, Bruce Morris, Sibrand Stulp, Andrew Westrink, Raymond Kenny, Teresa Alexander, Brad Kuik, Kevin Moore, Jane Hix, John Flokstra, Jonathan Catherman, Harold Ludwig, Wim Kanis, Natalie Critchley, Ronnie Zindorf, Larry Huinker, John Wesselius, Steve Misenhimer, Rastin Mehr, Arie Veenendaal, Ray Kuik, Dave Shoots, Bob Goodman, Diego Rodriguez, Sheldon Atkinson, Dominique Fugere, Francois Lupien, David Boone, Larry Renooy, Tom Osborn, Mike Skovgaard, Bernie Van Spronsen, Lisa Peumsang, Brian Koning, Steven Leyenhorst, Anita Lofgren, Phil Minderhoud, Tyler VanVliet, Bram Vegter, and Cheryl Vandeburgt. There’s more … I know there’s more, and I apologize if your name isn’t there. But those are the ones that came to mind. We had a great run together, and I wish you all the very best of everything.

Some of my favorite memories of these 15 years are:

  • Running the annual convention in ’98 or ’99 in Victoria, BC – the first convention that we made a huge splash with a major show-biz type presentation. That was a blast!
  • Bringing out the Discover Zone … an online learning, edutainment, productivity, and groupware environment in 2002-2003. What an application it was, and what excitement it generated!
  • The convention we held in Quebec, about 3 hours North of Quebec City along the banks of the St. Lawrence. 35 or so of us stayed in the hotel lobby/bar until 1 or 2 AM, singing around the piano and generally enjoying each others’ company.
  • Visiting our partners The FaQtory in Winnipeg in the winter and playing outdoor ice hockey at Ray Kuik’s house in -20 degrees Celcius … in shirtsleeves because we were so hot from the exercise.
  • Building out a new department when I became Technology Solutions Manager. Finding space, painting, furnishing, hiring, and managing … tons of fun!
  • A lunch with Henk Berends when he pointed out a serious error in judgement that I was making in a very gentle, tactful way, and saved me from a major, major disaster.
  • Playing hockey with the Canadian sales team at their regional meeting this year.
  • Giving a presentation on Royal Dutch Shell-like scenario planning at one of our company’s top meetings in ’97 when I was still young and green, and hearing via the grapevine that Chuck Farnesworth said “that kid made more sense than all the rest of them put together!”
  • Getting to write for audiences of tens of millions when I was a staff writer. Our product goes out to over 20 million students internationally, and their parents and teachers view it as well.
  • Pulling an all-nighter with David Boone to get the Premier website ready on-time in ’98.
  • Boogy-boarding in 10-foot San Diego waves in ’96, dislocating my shoulder in the surf, and swimming 100 feet back to shore one-handed.
  • Working for a month on a Discover Agenda presentation to executive in 2007, presenting it, and getting an unbelievable reception.
  • Getting the 3-day training sessions on 7 Habits as well as the Organizational Effectiveness Model when we joined FranklinCovey.
  • Going to San Antonio for a conference and staying at the Emily Morgan hotel in a suite looking directly down into the Alamo.
  • Getting a massive one-day raise in 2001.
  • Jim Gibson’s last day, when he came to me at our north campus. We found an available office; he told me he was leaving; and we prayed together before he walked out the door.
  • Imitating Henk Berends’ speech style in a send-off at his retirement banquet, and managing to do it well.
  • Winning the company-wide crud tournament with Loren VanCorbach and Sheldon Atkinson at the Portland conference in 2007 while playing the last few games on a severely sprained ankle.
  • Taking off from the Phoenix conference with a colleague (Mike Suto) in a van, not knowing where we were going, and finding the most amazing still quiet desert spaces where we stood still and silent for minutes just to hear nothing, and then continuing on to find a deep, cold desert lake.
  • Climbing the foothills of the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City during a visit to FranklinCovey.
  • Setting up a ping-pong net on my Technology Solutions department “boardroom” table to knock away the tensions of long, busy days.
  • And far more than I can list …

I have been very blessed, and very happy to have been a part of Premier from December of 1994 to November of 2008. And while I’m eagerly looking forward to new challenges, I’ll remember these times and people with fondness and some nostalgia.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu!

My dinner with SCO chief Darl McBride

Darl McBride is the guy everyone loves to hate.

Current chief executive officer of SCO, the company that’s suing IBM over its support of Linux (and will, if successful, sue just about anyone else using Linux), Darl used to work for the FranklinCovey Company. So did I.

FranklinCovey is a personal and organizational effectiveness company. If that sounds grandiose, check out their current home page, which states: “We enable greatness in people and organizations everywhere.”

Very modest. Very FranklinCovey.

If the Covey part sounds familiar, that’s because Stephen R. Covey, the founder of the Covey part of the empire, is the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, among other books, and a genuine guru. (Hyrum Smith – another guru – started the Franklin part, which eventually bought Covey.)

Way back 6-7 years ago, before anyone – even Darl – had thought of lawsuits against Linux, before Darl joined SCO, before IBM started placed big bets on Linux, and before Linux was the mainstream force it is today, Darl was the business manager of a unit of FranklinCovey that was going to take the enterprise into the brave new world of online applications and (perhaps more importantly) wonderfully gratifying internet company multiples in stock market valuation.

I worked with that business unit for over a year until its dissolution. Some of the people who lost their jobs when that unit died then subsequently asked me for a job.

At that time I was working (as I still do) for Premier – one of the top student success, student organization companies in the world. We sold (and sell) student planners, student success training, and more. What FranklinCovey is to the well-heeled corporate market, we are to the somewhat more pecuniarily-challenged education market.

FranklinCovey had bought us in 2001, so we were an allied business unit. I was Premier’s Technology Solutions Manager (basically led our web development team), and so I was in Salt Lake, FC’s corporate headquarters, 3-4 times a year, interacting with Darl’s group. Usually not with Darl himself; mostly with people that reported to him.

But what I remember most about Darl is the time when he visited Premier headquarters in Bellingham, WA. We had meetings for the better part of a day on web strategy and had dinner that night at a seafood place in one of Bellingham’s marinas.

Darl talked about having worked on the team that built or sent Cassini, the NASA spacecraft that is currently exploring Saturn. It was particularly controversial at the time because as part of its path to Saturn it had swung around earth for a gravity boost acceleration – and it had 1-3 pounds of plutonium on board (as an electrical power source). A slight error in calculation and it was not inconceivable that it would hit the earth … and spread one of the most dangerous substances known to man over a substantial amount of the globe’s surface. (Imperial to metric, anyone?)

Darl was fairly slick. He had been a successful executive at Novell, and exuded “executese.” Even then, though, you felt there was something behind the man. That there was a Darl you saw, and a Darl you did not see.

But he talked the talk. One of the things we spent quite a bit of time on was his vision for Franklin Planner Online. Franklin Planner Online was the result of a $10 million acquisition that FranklinCovey had made in late 1999, just before Darl had come onboard. It was an online planner (originally called DayTracker) built in Cold Fusion by the prototypical two guys in a garage.

Darl saw it being the centerpiece of FranklinCovey’s clients planning and scheduling world: syncing to their Palms, printing to their planner binders, sending text notifications of upcoming events to their cell phones, and publishing to spouses or colleagues’ calendars.

It was a good vision … one that is probably not entirely realized even today. But there were problems.

The prototypical two guys in a garage company had made a prototypical two guys in a garage product: crap. I spent some time talking to the geeks at FC when I was in Salt Lake one time, and they told me they had to rewrite almost all of the application to make it enterprise-ready.

Guess how happy they were to re-write it all at $60-70 K per year when FranklinCovey had just blown $10 million on the source code? Not very! But this was the dotcom era, and when a big company that felt like a dinosaur needed to move into the 21st century, they did so quickly and perhaps not too carefully.

There were other problems.

In 2001 synchronization with desktop software meant a big, expensive software project. FC blew probably over a hundred thousand on that alone.

There there was the Flash version.

After having bought their multi-million dollar toy, FC realized that no-one actually used online calendars. That the 40,000 “users” of the calendar they had bought were signed up zombies who in most cases didn’t touch the app after day one.

The problem, everyone realized, was the lack of desktop responsiveness. And in those pre-AJAX days, the only option was Flash. So Darl’s division blew what I hear was a half million or so on a Flash version.

The last time I saw Darl was probably near the end of that project. The prototype had been built, and the plan was to offer this as a branded calendar to large companies. Unfortunately, the prototype was not skinnable, and money was running out. Darl looked a bit hunted, or maybe haunted, and I guess even at that time the writing was on the wall.

Soon after this, FranklinCovey shut down the division, laid off all the staff, and realized that they had just blown tens of millions of dollars trying to be hip and cool in a market that they didn’t even begin to understand.

The rest is history: Darl eventually joined a small, struggling UNIX company, and found a way in which to try to grow it again.

I kind of wonder what I would say to him if I met him again.

All the time while were meeting and talking and scheming, I was bringing more and more Linux servers online for essentially zero dollars … a much better deal than the thousands he was spending on provisioning NT servers running ColdFusion for FranklinPlanner Online.

. . .

. . .

Note: FranklinCovey eventually sold Premier, the company I work for, to School Speciality, which is still the company that owns us.