The novelty necktie with movie cameras in its designs, just a bit out of character with Bussler's tweed sport coat and button-down dress shirt, could confirm the suspicion that he has more than a passing interest in movies and, perhaps, in filmmaking. Indeed, he launched Inecom Entertainment Inc. in 1999, a division of Algor and a production company that has produced several video productions to date.
Inecom released "The Johnstown Flood" last year, a feature-length dramatized documentary of the 1889 disaster that killed almost 2,300 people. Film veteran Richard Dreyfuss narrates the feature, which, like Inecom's previous productions, bypassed theater and television release and went directly to the home video market.
Inecom's videos are sold through distributors and major retailers, including Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Borders and Circuit City.
The link between engineering software and entertainment production is, in a technical sense, an easy one to grasp, and Bussler gives a concise explanation of the connection.
"Just like computer software brings computers to life, entertainment software brings entertainment to life," says Bussler.
Sure, in the Digital Age, everything from computer software to the music of Jennifer Lopez and episodes of "The Sopranos" is etched on polycarbonate plastic disks, ready for playback or manipulation on a disk drive of some kind. But the ability to operate a video camera doesn't deem one a movie producer.
Bussler is doing more than dabbling in a narcissistic hobby. Like a big-screen drama, the story unfolds as his career, education and interests are revealed until all of the pieces are in place.
No acting ability
Bussler's interest in film dates to at least his undergraduate days at Penn State, where he studied journalism and learned he had a knack for handling a camera.
"When I was at Penn State in the communications program for journalism, I took a number of courses that were film and drama and photography related," says Bussler. "One of the things I learned was I had no acting ability whatever, but at the same time, I learned I had a talent for photography."
Bussler left journalism behind, went on to earn a degree in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and started what would become Algor Inc. in his basement as a part-time venture in 1974. By 1977, he started a computer services business, and by 1984, began developing engineering simulation software that enables engineers to virtually test and predict real-world behavior of new and existing product designs.
Engineers in industries ranging from aerospace to home appliance manufacturing use the software. Algor is an 85-employee, $10 million a year business.
Algor didn't build an outside sales force to sell its software. Instead, it marketed through ads in trade magazines and telemarketing. By the mid-1990s, it began to make industrial videos to demonstrate its software to potential customers. That proved a successful and cost-effective way to sell its product, which it distributes to engineers in 60 countries.
"It was certainly a lot less expensive to send out a videotape than to send out a salesman on an airplane," says Bussler.
By the late 1990s, streaming video technology had become available, and Algor built broadcast studios and began to distribute instructional programming for engineers over the Internet. It continues to send out live broadcasts weekly from its headquarters in Algor's building in RIDC Park.
Bussler began Inecom in 1999, producing a series of entertainment programming via streaming video. He began to see additional opportunities to develop the business by expanding the video production capabilities and selling direct to consumers.
"Somewhere in there I began to realize that we should further develop this at some point," Bussler says. "In other words, we said, 'As long as we're going to invest money to do Web casting for the Algor mechanical software, is there another way that we can derive benefit from that investment?" Bussler says.
The answer was yes. The growing home video market, driven by sales of DVD players and sustained strong demand for the VHS format, offered a lucrative market for entertainment products. U.S. consumers spent $8.7 billion buying DVDs and $3.4 billion purchasing VHS tapes in 2002, according to the Video Software Dealers Association, and 50 percent of U.S. households own at least one DVD player -- a figure that is expected to increase in 2004.
The Consumer Electronics Association projects DVD player unit sales to reach more than 23.8 million units by the year's end.
With the accumulated knowledge of production that Algor had gained by producing instructional videos and streaming video programs, it could produce entertainment products as well, Bussler figured.
During 1998 and 1999, Bussler's son, Mark, a former cartoonist for the Bucknell University newspaper, attended the Pittsburgh Filmmaking School to learn the basics of the craft. During that same period, the younger Bussler, who now produces Inecom's films, worked at Algor in marketing and advertising, designing ads and Web sites for the company.
"My background is firmly rooted in art, drawing and movies," says Mark Bussler. "I grew up reading comic books and watching as many movies as I could."
Mark Bussler is putting his training to use at a modern digital editing suite at Inecom, working full time as a director and producer and, at times, as an actor in its features.
Inecom's first productions were instructional videotapes, some simply repackaged versions of its streaming video programs. It produced "Let's Dance Salsa" and "Let's Dance Swing." Next came the "Civil War Minutes" series, one episode each that dealt with the Union and the Confederacy.
Later came two live-action docudramas, "Left for Dead" and "Shot to Pieces" in a series called "Civil War Life."
Sales, marketing and experience
Bussler is relying heavily on Algor's existing strengths is sales and marketing and its business experience to make Inecom a success as it produces and introduces future feature-length films, including "Angel of the Battlefield," a dramatized biography of Clara Barton. Also in the works are a documentary about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, one that deals with the Chicago fire and "Whiskey Rebellion," slated to be its first fully dramatic production.
"In any business, your sales and marketing organizations are half your business," says Bussler.
On that score, Algor has the structure and systems in place to market and sell entertainment products.
"Our know-how can be applied directly to developing sales and marketing machinery for the entertainment software," says Bussler. "In the Algor software division ... we have great depth in sales and marketing going back many, many years."
About five employees are devoted full-time to Inecom, including sales and marketing staff. And Bussler is relying on his core experience in business with Algor to help avoid the pitfalls that can trip up any new venture. Applying the business practices and principles he has acquired has taken a lot of the risk and uncertainty out of Inecom, Bussler says.
"I don't know that any of this has been all that difficult, especially since we're not new to business," Bussler says. "This is not a start-up business, so we're not going to make those kinds of mistakes."
And Inecom has, it seems, yielded an unexpected benefit. As he has moved away from some of the day-to-day activities on the engineering software side, Bussler says, the business has improved.
Says Bussler: "In some sense, the software company's doing better. I'm not involved on a daily basis. People are more free to do what they know is right, and they're doing a great job."
How to reach: Algor Inc., www.algor.com, Inecom Entertainment, www.inecom.com, Video Software Dealers Association, www.vsda.com, Consumer Electronics Association, http://www.ce.org/