Evelyn the Entrepreneur in a Different Era – #35

My favorite woman entrepreneur was Evelyn Berzin who died recently at the age of 93. She started her career as an entrepreneur in a man dominated era after having identified several fields that had a dearth of women. On top of her identifying specific career opportunities, she saw the men of her generation going off to WWII. She studied Physics at New York University, and her parents were legal immigrants from Russia who ,knew very little about Physics – let alone the fact that girls were not supposed to study it. I remember meeting Evelyn at a trade show in Chicago where she found the time to talk to a rookie Sales Rep from Xerox. At that time she was telling me that she was planning to start her own company because of her chances of getting to the top were almost non-existent. Although she was already recognized as a veteran computer designer who played a major role in the development and design of an automated reservation system for United Airlines.

In 1969 Evelyn and two Colleagues founded her own Company called Redactron who’s sales pitch was “Free the Secretary”. They made the secretary feel that the work was more challenging as they toiled with a simple IBM Selectric in simplifying editing, storing and printing. Add in some logic with a few chips and you had a state-of-the-art-computer device that was changing the field, as was known then, rapidly. It was through my friends my friends at IBM that I stayed in touch with this phenomenal growth opportunity.

My friends insisted that I should interview with the Redactron Sales Team, I did, and I had two very successful interviews. I decided to stay with Xerox who had a more diverse product line rather than having all the eggs in one basket (product). Besides, I was having too much fun selling Xerox and I subsequently moved into a Management position with a wholly owned subsidiary company called Cheshire. In the meantime, Wang had added a screen to the word processor creating a very sophisticated system that was the predecessor of the table top Computer.

From 1969 to 1975 Evelyn had built a very successful company employing 500 people globally and setting the stage for the next generation of word processors and desk-top computers – however, her systems were missing a screen which showed the document and allowed easier access for the secretary. Evelyn could have used my BLOG to help her cause, and stay on top of the markets that she was trying to penetrate. She simply didn’t have a Plan in place that allowed for contingency strategies to be used as they were needed. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we were heading for a recession, and that we were facing extremely high interest rates. The financial challenges forced Evelyn to sell her company to Burroughs Corp. in Jan of 76.

Once Burroughs acquired Redactron, the “good old boys” made sure that Evelyn lost control of her product, and she quickly saw that her word-processor was doomed. Her role at Burroughs was to be part of a team that was responsible for product planning, and Evelyn was the only woman on the team of all men from the South or Midwest. She was at odds with most of their findings, and they considered her to be from Outer Space – New York City. As a founder of her own company, she was quite confident and insensitive to these men. Worse, she told them what she thought. A loud woman they did not know how to deal with, so they disconnected and so did she.

Evelyn now was faced with a situation of having to reinvent herself, and as usual saw another opportunity for her as a woman. The era in the mid 70’s called for the woman to play a role on the board of directors, and she quickly took on the role of a Director on Boards of several firms. Evelyn had a plan, and she lived a wonderful life for 93 years. God Speed!!

The Management Lessons to be taken from this Blog are as follows:

  1. Management must have courage in their convictions.
  2. YOU are a “free agent” – you have to be aware, take risks and take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
  3. Evelyn liked what she was doing, she liked and pursued roles that were occupied by Men at that time.
  4. YOU have to have a PLAN due to a rapidly changing world.
  5. You must stay on top of finances and utilize analytics wherever possible to predict present and future cost of products and trends in the market. Use future markets to hedge risks where possible.
  6. Don’t rely on one product – just see what happened to the Black-Berry phone!
  7. Above all stay on top of the latest technologies – Look at what happened to Motorola when they didn’t look towards digital technology ruling the world. They also relied on the Flip phone going on forever – did not have a pipeline of products that they could draw on. How about Sears not believing in e-commerce?
  8. Keep tabs on all competition due to the fact that someone – somewhere is developing a product or strategy that will put you out of business. Look at what competition did to Redactron! What Amazon did to Sears?

We could go on forever, but we will be addressing these management issues and challenges in future BLOGS.