Nancy Byron

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:49

Editor's column: Don't read this

You just couldn't help yourself, could you? You read the headline and went right on down the page. You had to see for yourself why you shouldn't read this column.

Was I going to discuss something off-color? Was my topic going to be highly controversial? Could reading this column somehow endanger you? You just had to know. You couldn't follow a simple direction and move on to the next story in our magazine.

I'm not surprised. People seem to get some bizarre pleasure out of breaking the rules. Admit it. You like thinking you've pulled something off when you're speeding on I-71 and you see the highway patrol car just in time to put on the brakes and cruise by at an innocent 64 mph. It's a stupid game, but we all play it -- if only occasionally.

We're also a species that's curious by nature. What's inside that envelope marked "private and confidential" sitting on your business partner's desk? Will the IRS actually come after you if you fail to file a corporate tax return this year? What information will I really lose if I drag a magnet over the side of my computer hard drive?

Sure, natural curiosity can lead to some valuable discoveries. Where would we be if Ben Franklin hadn't gone out in a rain storm to fly that notorious kite with the key attached to the string? But most often, curiosity just gets us into trouble.

Most rules exist to protect you -- and those around you. Granted, some warnings shouldn't be necessary, like the one emblazoned inside a plastic toy skillet my daughters play with: "CAUTION: This is a TOY. DO NOT place on kitchen range." Well, duh. But corporations have to cater to the lowest common denominator and some dimwit must've done this once (and successfully sued), so the rest of us must endure the seemingly ridiculous warning.

Which brings me to my next point. If you're still reading this, despite my direction not to, perhaps you're one of those people who thinks the rules don't apply to you. Surely when the sign along the curb says '"No parking," that doesn't mean I can't just leave the hazard lights on and my car unattended for a moment while I run inside the store to get a newspaper. Yes, actually, it does mean that.

And this time, the rule was for you, too. Perhaps the reason I told you not to read this column was simply because I had nothing worthwhile to say on anything business related this month. I didn't want you to waste your time.

But then, that's your punishment for choosing to ignore my warning. Perhaps next time you'll follow my instructions (but my money says you won't). Nancy Byron (nbyron@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 10:47

The man behind the money

His worst mistake

Langdale's biggest business blunder came in 1989 when he was heading up his first venture, Digital Storage Inc., and learned a hard lesson about carrying too many eggs in one basket.

"We had a very large percentage of our business with one vendor," Langdale recalls of his then-$100 million company. "That vendor had a change in philosophy and about 30 percent of our business disappeared almost overnight."

The vendor decided to go directly to its customers instead of working through Digital Storage for marketing and logistics services, Langdale explains.

"Our management team sat down and said, 'Since they were contractually obligated to use us, should we sue? Should we get mad? Should we get even?' Instead, we got introspective. We asked ourselves, 'What caused that vendor to go direct to their customers?' That vendor saw us as a threat. That company made $10 million profit a year. We were responsible for about $9 million of that. They probably just got nervous. They didn't have enough control in their customer relationships."

With that realization, he went to work. He moved all of Digital Storage's logistics and marketing functions into a separate business and restructured them so the client company had the direct relationship with the reseller and Langdale's company worked behind the scenes. He called the new company Distribution and Logistics Services Inc. It lasted about 10 years as an independent business before being merged into SubmitOrder.

"If we are wronged, we can usually make an opportunity out of it that's much more valuable than (dwelling on the issue)," Langdale says.

His philosophies

Although Langdale has many business philosophies, here are two of the most revealing:

* "I've always said the secret to happiness is low expectations."

* "If winning is beating the other people in business, you're missing the point."

His mentors

Langdale has sought outside expertise almost since the day he started his first company 15 years ago. As his business interests have changed -- and industries evolved -- so has the face of his advisory board.

Here are those who have helped him in the past as well as those who are advising him at present:

* Larry McLernon of LCI International (now Qwest)

* Tadd Seitz, a private investor who used to head up The Scotts Co.

* Bud LaLonde of The Ohio State University

* Mike Endres of Stonehenge Financial Holdings Inc.

* Roger Blackwell, owner of Blackwell Associates Inc. and marketing professor at The Ohio State University

* Roger Lautzenhiser of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease

* Larry Hilsheimer of Deloitte & Touche

His greatest revelation

It's a familiar scenario. What business owner hasn't, at some point, gotten so wrapped up in the company that family and social life suffered?

For Langdale, all else took a backseat to his entrepreneurial endeavors for nearly eight years before he noticed what had happened.

"Awhile into the business, I realized I was focused solely on the business and not life," Langdale says.

He saw his friends marrying, having children, getting involved in the community -- and realized he was missing out.

"I realized I wanted a family," he says.

He shifted part of his focus onto his personal life and soon found happiness again.

"You need to have a balance in your life," says the 36-year-old husband and father. "You can't just do one thing and expect to find happiness and contentment. You have to create an atmosphere in your company where associates can have balance, too."

Langdale believes in encouraging well-rounded lifestyles so much that he's made employee contentment part of his companies' mission and vision statements.

"At RPA, our vision is happy clients, happy associates," he says. At NCT Ventures, the mission talks about "fulfilling people" as well as creating and adding value to the supply chain.

"We don't just want to work ourselves to death," he says. "We work hard and have fun."

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