Where I've Been
This is a narrative of my business experiences... and what I've learned from "Where I've Been"
My first full time job at age 17 was for a local newspaper.... I was welcomed into the Newspaper's "Family".... I was paid $40 a week for my 40 hr job... then learned that being a part of the "Family" entitled me to work 60 hours a week for the same $40.
I learned from this to never join any "Family" again.... then after receiving a $5 raise each year for 2 years (now making $50 a week for my 60 hours)... decided to get married.... didn't get my raise that year so I asked about it... I was told that I had reached the top pay for my area.... I quit... scratched my ego when they had to hire 2 people to do what I was doing.... :) learned that people should take care of their employees and not use them.... (the year was 1955).
I decided to take my first big "risk" and go after my dream to be an actor... while working part time for my dad running his "office" ... I went to a lot of casting calls.... theater school... worked hard for my dad... had a baby and a pregnant wife... then the recession of 1958 hit and dad could no longer pay me... then the dispossess notice came because I couldn't pay the rent... I knew it was time to stop playing around with the dream and go get a real job... this time I scratched my ego getting into local little theater groups for the next 15 years. I learned that things don't always go the way I plan them and sometimes our dreams need a reality check.
I lasted 2 weeks selling stuff that people didn't need by manipulating them... fortunately discovering I could not do what they wanted me to do. I got a job in the City and spent the next 3 years commuting to Battery Park every day from New Jersey... each year I got a $10 raise on top of my $70 starting rate... I was now making $100 a week, had 4 kids and another on the way, was back working part time for my dad again... this was the slow boat to nowhere... so I figured it was time to make the big jump and get into my own business.... it was 1961. I had learned that I would never be content working for other people... mostly because I knew I had a better way to do everything anyway!... :) My ego was big enough at that point that I no longer needed to scratch it.
I formed a partnership with my dad who was a sales engineer for a Chicago firm that manufactured overhead traveling cranes... we picked up other lines of materials handling equipment to sell and became Sales Representatives in that industry. It was 1964. I now had 6 children. We were losing all the smaller crane business to local iron works... so we started our own manufacturing business, fabricating structural steel and building the smaller overhead traveling cranes ourselves... up to 10 ton capacity. It was a big risk. It was a big success. By 1967 we had 35 people working for us. Things were great. Then all the people we began with, that had made it successful, started leaving for a variety of strange reasons. Not to worry. I was the great Phil Wolff. Just hire more people to replace them while I played big shot getting wined and dined by the sales reps for the steel companies that wanted our business. I learned very quickly never to be a big shot again... never stop working hard... never entrust your business to other people... not every one is honest..... not everyone has a work ethic... not everyone cares if you are successful...
In 1968 there was another recession... reliable employees were no longer available... strange things happened... lots of stories... culminating in a confrontational meeting with my shop crew.... they did not like what I said so they torched the manufacturing building... my wife also did not like a lot of things I said and did... never being home... leaving her to raise the kids and deal with all the issues by herself... I had torched my marriage... divorce procedures had started... my life had come apart.... I learned a whole lot-a-bunch of things out of that...
The good news was that out of the wrecked marriage and burned down building I had this collision with God that totally changed my life and started me in a whole different direction. We kept the business afloat for 2 more years... I had gone back to working very hard again... God actually showed me how He could raise up a very viable business out of the ashes... then told me that He was not going to do that and it was time for me to leave... so I resigned as President of the Corporation.... fully believing that once I had gone... the business would now be able to make it.... it didn't. Six months later it was all gone. I learned again that things don't always go the way I plan... and ... if you are an officer of a corporation and resign... then make sure your name is taken off the books.... I was the President of record... I could never own anything again for 10 years. It was 1970.
Ellen had come into my life... we were married in 1969... and we had a small apartment in New Jersey. We had started a small Christian bookstore on our kitchen table. After I resigned as President of our crane company at the end of '69, a friend offered us a rent free 400 square foot office above his real estate business for us to go public with our bookstore.... so off we went into another new venture. We formed a non-profit religious corporation and proceeded to learn several more much needed lessons.
I discovered that people need a reality check on all their great ideas. Just because we have these ideas doesn't mean they will happen overnight and be able to support us... once again I needed to get a real job... except people weren't hiring 35 year olds whose work experience was being self-employed... this meant starting yet another business in order to get some income. I had a friend who had been an executive in the oil industry who was in the same bind ... so we merged our gifts and started a company to install and service materials handling equipment. We worked together for 2 years, then I gave my partner my interest in the business .... (a bit of a transition story here of course) .... :) He was able to continue in the business for 30 years until he retired.... I went back full time in the Bookstore in June 1972.
Our non-profit corporation purchased a marvelous building between the bank and the post office and we moved the bookstore which had already expanded into a second office and was now 600 square feet! .... :) Overnight we went from that to a store front of 3000 square feet. I was also managing the rentals in the building... another 3000 square foot store front and four 6-room apartments above them. We were prospering. We added 3000 more feet by finishing the basement with a huge stairway down to even more bookstore.... and eventually another 3000 square feet beneath our tenant next door. It was huge.
In 1974, I was asked to set up a counseling center for a major Christian TV program... we built 20 telephone booths and made a room for them in the basement of the bookstore... I trained over a hundred phone counselors... we began taking thousands of phone calls every week. This continued for 2 years until I got involved in the leadership of a small church in 1976. We gave away our non-profit corporation which continued to run the bookstore for another 30 years or so....
I spent the next 10 years in the Church business... :) More stories! We had 3 congregations with a church planting in England and two in Vermont. It too was very successful. I began a domestic cleaning service as part of the church. It was very successful. We were doing a half million a year cleaning houses back in the 80's... serving our community with reliable, honest help to clean their homes. No one in our church was ever without employment... Then we shut the whole thing down in 1986. More stories.... :)
I ended up in the restaurant business for the next 8-1/2 years. I was now open to learn even more about how things really happen in the wonderful world of self-employment and owning your own business. I would love to tell you what it is like to spend 8-1/2 years learning just to trust God to send in enough business to make pay-roll each week and pay every bill in the house. My promise to never stiff a creditor again got tested every week for 8-1/2 years. I always had enough to pay the employees and the creditors with nothing left over for a personal paycheck. At the end... June 1994.... we paid off every creditor before we shut it down. I had never received a paycheck. We lost $55,000. I learned a lot of things... maybe some that could help you.
I spent a very important 5 years working one on one with handicapped kids in the school system.... it was an amazing time... although I wasn't self-employed... I completely managed my own time... I was accountable but not controlled.
Then in 1999... we felt it was time for Ellen and I to work together and started the Village Victorian Bed & Breakfast. It is a very successful little B&B. I think of an old TV program "The Naked City" where the promo line was.... "There are 8 million stories in the naked city".... there are sure lots of stories I can tell... just give me a call. You get a half hour free!
call philip 802-888-8850