“Whose office is that?” I asked the secretary.
“That is Don Thompson’s office,” she answered.
“Who is Don Thompson?” I asked.
Sterling Software, led by Sterling Williams, had just completed the unfriendly takeover of Informatics General Corporation.
Sterling was a $20mm public company, and they completed a leveraged buy-out of a $140mm public software company. This was 1986.
In fact, it was the first leveraged buyout of a non-asset based company. It was financial wizardry. Being a part of the “in the field” management team, I knew very little of our new owner. I was called to the Sterling corporate office along with all the other operating presidents to review our operations and present our annual profit plan for the upcoming year.
Don Takes an Afternoon Nap
On a quick lunch break, I took the time to walk the halls and meet the Sterling brass. What I found surprised me. There were only a handful of corporate people, but the people I met were really impressive. One of them was Don Thompson.
The secretary told me, “Don was the former CEO of University Computing Centers, a public company mostly owned by Sam Wyly.” Sam was the financial brains behind the Sterling takeover of Informatics and the largest shareholder of Sterling Software.
“What is Don’s role here in the corporate office?” I asked.
“He is an advisor to Sam and Sterling,” she said.
“Can I meet him?” I asked.
“Not now. He is taking his afternoon nap,” she replied.
I thanked her for her time and continued walking the floor to meet the other staff members and their assistants.
Of all the people I met, I was most intrigued by the man who had the big office and was taking a post-lunch nap. His whole job was to advise the chairman and the CEO of this newly public company of which I was part.
Finally, I Got the Meeting
On another visit to the corporate office, I did get a chance to meet Don Thompson. By that time, I had heard lots of stories of his business wisdom, intelligence, and love of children.
When I finally met him, I was surprised and pleased. Don was six feet four inches tall and a bit hunched over. He was a lanky and rugged faced Texan I guessed to be in his late sixties although I wasn’t sure. A lifetime of cigarette smoking had clearly worn him down.
Early in my career at Sterling, I was given the assignment to run the worldwide professional services business headquartered in NYC. I was a software product executive, and now I was running a services company. It didn’t take long for me to figure out I didn’t know what I was doing.
The cultures of products versus service companies are radically different. While reviewing my business and plan with Sterling Williams, the CEO, he must have sensed my frustration and confusion with the business.
He said, “Set up a meeting with Don. I think he can help you.”
Clarity from Don
“Tell me about your business,” Don said.
So I launched into a sea of detail including where I was, the people involved, our clients, and what I saw as my alternatives to grow the business.
Keep in mind, I had been grinding on these issues, problems, and opportunities for a couple of months already. Thirty minutes later, I left our meeting knowing exactly what I should do and how to do it. Don took my business apart at the highest level.
He grasped quickly how the business worked, its challenges, and its economic drivers. He asked me my goals and then outlined practical alternatives and the associated risks based on his years of business experience.
Advising World-Changing Christian Entrepreneurs
After the meeting, I remember saying, “One day, I want to do what Don does.”
That day has come. For the last twenty-five years, I have been working toward a vision given to me by Ronald Perelman, a vision I realized having invested in over twenty-five startups. Now I want to use the business and life wisdom I have gained over my lifetime to help entrepreneur founders achieve their vision.
I am looking to advise Christian entrepreneurs who are aiming to change the world. People whose foundation is Jesus Christ and whose vision is God-given.
I want to come alongside and help them in any way I can through praying, advising, coaching, and networking.
Do you know someone like this? If so, email me.