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Golden aphorisms: Ken Golden may be more of a builder than an operator, but what he conceives, he achieves in business.

Golden Aphorisms

Ken Golden May Be More Of A Builder Than An Operator, But What He Conceives, He Achieves In Business

Ken Golden wants you to know that he's back. He hasn't been put out to pasture or sailed off into the sunset or left the country. He's in southwest Little Rock running his new company, Turn-Key Business Systems, Inc., and he's here to tell you that "the old man can still do it."

What Golden does is sell and service copiers and other business machines and services, and he's been doing it in one capacity or another for more than 30 years.

A sign on the wall of Golden's bare-bones office reads: "I must do the most productive things possible at every moment." On a filing cabinet hangs another: "Whatever the mind conceives, it can achieve."

Golden is a man who likes a good aphorism. He has a briefcase full of dogma, an ever-ready set of Golden's rules.

"If you don't dream, you'll never be an entrepreneur," he says now, his direct gaze holding steady on those of his interviewer. In fact, Golden's light gray eyes are those of a dreamer. Set deep in a face ruddy as the Irishman he claims not to be, they are surrounded by crags and crevices suitable to a man of 63. But one imagines that they can instantly darken to the color of cold steel when fastening on an employee who has failed to do the job and do it right. And do it yesterday.

You might say that Golden is more builder than operator. Since embarking on his entrepreneurial odyssey in 1964, he has started and sold three Little Rock office equipment companies: Standard Office Systems, City Business Machines, and Micro Computer Center.

When S.E. (Bud) Teddlie left National Cash Register in Little Rock, Golden -- who had worked for NCR from 1952-57 -- arranged for him to buy into Standard Office Systems. In 1974, when SOS was doing about $2.5 million a year, Teddlie bought out the man he says is "a very dogmatic person who has always been looked on as a leader in the industry."

Today, the business has grown to 26 employees. A revenue growth comparison wasn't available, as Teddlie declined to cite current figures.

Golden opened up at City Business Machines in 1975 and persuaded Bill Rogers to join him by promising him the chance to buy into the company in five to 10 years. That's favorite Golden tactic, a carrot he uses to entice the brightest and the best.

Rogers exercised his option seven years later and became sole owner of the company that had grown from five employees to around 70 and was doing $3.5 million a year in sales. He says this year, City Business Machines will probably do more than $5 million in business.

Probably the most successful of Golden's "former guys," as he calls the men who started out with him, is Terry Johnson, who bought Micro Computer Center in 1983. Since going it alone, Johnson has built it from a $200,000-a-year (revenues) company with a small employee corps (Johnson says two or three; Golden says 15-20) to a phenomenal $1.5 million a month. Johnson will only say that he "assumed a six-figure debt," in the purchase. And he credits Golden with much of his career success.

"I had a whole bunch of risk-taking in me," says Johnson. "And, combined with the conservatism that he [Golden] taught me, has probably brought me to a good middle ground."

Golden doesn't like a business once it grows too large. "I have to be involved in the operation," he says. "I can handle up to 40 [employees], but when I get to that point, I move on."

Contending that a key to success is using a minimum of employees to produce a maximum of sales, he adds: "We had one of the best years we've ever had in Russellville last year and we had six people, and we did almost $1 million worth of business."

It's not how big you are, he maintains. "It's how you do it."

Golden bought a Russellville company called Standard Office Systems in 1985 and changed its name to Micros/Turn-Key Business Systems to better portray its function of providing Micros machines (a cash register system called point-of-sale equipment used by restaurants) and Property Management Systems, an electronic system used by hotels to manage their inside operations. He provides the same service at Turn-Key in Little Rock and claims to be the state's No. 1 provider of Property Management Systems. He also put in the system in the Dallas Hilton Hotels.

IT WAS 1986 WHEN Golden and Dot, his wife of eight years, moved to Dallas to check out the "fast lane." Looking as sheepish as Ken Golden is capable of looking, he says, "We learned real quick, and we came back to Arkansas."

Golden says failure is not in his vocabulary, but admits that his Dallas venture was, well, not exactly successful. In two years time, he bought and sold a cash register point-of-sale business, expecting to do well in a city the size of Dallas, with its wide-ranging hospitality facilities.

"There are enough hotels and motels and bars and fine restaurants that you could deal exclusively with those people. We didn't have copy machines down there. It was strictly a high-end industry - vertical market we call it."

But the Goldens didn't like Dallas and wanted to come home. "I didn't fail," he insists. "I didn't lose any money. I got back what I paid into it. I just learned a good old country lesson. I learned that I shouldn't be in Dallas."

Golden does not maintain ownership in any of his former companies because he believes, "You're generally selling to someone who wants to be `head chief.'"

Johnson is a case in point. When he bought Micro Computer Center, he was a 28-year-old eager beaver with a master's degree and experience with such heavy hitters as Ross Perot under his belt, and he had definite ideas of his own. "I felt like I knew what I wanted to do, and I think I did know what I wanted to do, but it was with a blatant disregard for the realities of cash-flow and cost conservation and things like that."

Golden's caution often held Johnson back from going out on a limb, "really do something wild and crazy. Ken's concern was what checks came in the mail today. And I wasn't really concerned about that. It's the kind of thing where a teacher teaches a student and the student doesn't like the teacher at all, and years later thinks back and says: "That guy really was good for me, but at the time I couldn't stand him.'"

Golden readily admits that he demands a lot from himself and will tolerate no less from his employees. His wife often scolds him for his lack of patience, but he counters. "I don't have many years to go in this life, and I simply do not have time for inefficiency. And I lose confidence in people real quickly when I tell them to do something and six weeks later, they're still tapping their foot. There has to be an S.O.B. in every operation, and I'd just as soon it be me."

Ruth Agee, co-owner of Royal Business Machines in Little Rock and a longtime friend, believes it's impossible to be lukewarm about Golden. "People either like him or they don't. And if they do, they're a big fan. Then I know some people who won't give him the time of day."

Golden concedes the point, saying "I'm the type of person that there's no gray area with me. You're either for me or ag'in me." He knows there are those in the industry who don't like him, but says it doesn't bother him since there's nothing he can do about it. "And I wouldn't change," he adds. "I will say this: I have very few customers that don't like me, and that's the important thing. My wife jumps on me sometimes. She says: `Why don't you treat your people like you treat your customers?' And sometimes I'm guilty of that."

Johnson agrees that Golden can be more sensitive to customers than to business associates. "Like I said, he's a pretty hard man, and I think he's looking at the bottom line probably a lot more than he is the personal feelings of people. I think he looks at the productivity more."

Judy Emens, a financial consultant for MS Green Little Rock Corp., owners of the Excelsior Hotel, is one satisfied customer. "He's very service oriented," she says. "Ken will go out of his way to get the customer what he needs."

"Some people say he's ruthless," says Agee, "But I am not one of those people. He knows what it takes to run a business, and a lot of people don't like that."

Golden proudly boasts that service is his middle name and that it was his ego, based on his reputation for good service, that called him out of retirement. Between 1983 and 1985, Golden stayed on at City Business Machines as a consultant and considered himself semi-retired. But he wasn't happy. And neither were some of his former customers, apparently. He kept running into people who said they couldn't get decent service for their machines, people who said: "I wish you were back in the copy machine business."

Bad service ticks Golden off. Seriously. "People are paying good prices for things these days," he says with obvious irritation, "but they're not getting the service that they're entitled to. And I can make money doing that, and I'm teaching my people how to do that."

LAST YEAR, GOLDEN decided to see what was available in Little Rock, and settled on a branch office of Rhoades/Lauck, Inc. of Memphis, which he bought and re-named, to better portray his business goal. "Lots of people like the idea of a business being able to come in, make a proposal, and do four different things versus four vendors coming in and doing individual things. The idea of Turn-Key is -- we do it all."

Golden is setting Turn-Key up so that his 28-year-old son, Kenny Jr., "and some younger people that I've got in mind," can take over and run it. Golden likes to get them while their young.

"You can take a person 25-30, or even 35, and you can work them and mold them," he says. "I'm not saying my way is the only way, but I do know this: I have seen enough success with it that it is a way to get there. It's a pleasure to get some young people who are willing to work, because nothing comes easy. And that's sometimes hard to get across to a fellow 45 years old."

Golden does own some real estate, but, "I generally reinvest in people." How much has he made from these reinvestments? "Never enters my mind. It's the challenge."

And, to Golden, it's fun. Here comes an aphorism: "When a sales person can sell a customer on the benefits of his products without thinking about how much money he's going to earn, he can almost write his own ticket."

Golden claims he's never taken a lot of money out of his companies -- says he leaves it in to build the business -- and maintains that's another key to his success.

Speaking of Turn-Key -- and apologizing for the pun -- Golden says: "When I walked in and saw this I said: `These people have got a golden opportunity and just didn't know it.' And that's what gets me."

Golden says that when he bought Rhoades/Lauck, they had not sold $40,000 in copy machines in the past year. Since December 1, Golden says he's closed about $60,000 in sales, and he's just getting started. He predicts that in six months, Turn-Key will be doing $100,000 a month.

This feisty businessman enjoys offering a breakthrough product as long as it's got some merit to it, and he takes great pleasure in being first. He says that in 1975, he was the first dealer in the area with the exception of Xerox and IBM to sell a plain paper copier. He also takes credit for introducing facsimile machines to Arkansas, although he adds: "Bill Rogers will tell you he was the first."

But Rogers isn't interested in contests. "City Business Machines was the first. Whether he was here or I was here, it doesn't make any difference. If he wants to stake a claim as being a big fax man, that's fine with me."

Tim Irby, president of A. Tim Irby Advertising, Inc., adds: "[Golden's] always doing it from his perspective versus the company. He's trying to do his darndest to make it a story on Ken Golden and not what was done at City Business Machines, when there were other people involved, sales managers and sales reps. He was not a one-man band out there. He had a big company."

Rogers says Irby's description of Golden is on target, but still sees him as "a very likable individual, a very good salesman."

When asked about the "one-man band" label, Golden says only, "Some people have called it that." And now, he tells his interviewer: "I've got a piece of equipment back there that I want to show you that'll just roll your socks up and down."

It is a Series 2000 Laser-Optic Filing System which electronically converts paper files to computer disk, and retrieves the information in six seconds. And Golden says he is the only dealer in the area handling it.

Golden believes in advertising and, though he denies having political ambitions, boasts that he could be elected governor on name recognition alone. "There was a time when you could not drive down that freeway unless you heard my ad on just about any radio station that you wanted to turn to."

Says Irby: "He's got an easy name to remember, for sure, but I can't imagine that he could win a run for governor," adding that time has diluted the public impact of the Golden name.

But Golden aims to change that -- and soon. Because in two years, he plans to walk away from Turn-Key. "I have told my people that, but they all laugh. And I'm not saying that I'll quit then, because it's very hard to quit working, especially when you enjoy what you're doing."

Work is Golden's only hobby. He and his wife, Dot, who has worked with him throughout his career -- he has four grown children from his first marriage, she has two -- live on a 60-acre farm in Russellville, and he relaxes by climbing aboard his tractor and cutting grass.

"Now, that's a stupid thing, and I'll be the first one to admit it," he laughs. "But I get a lot of ideas riding that tractor."

Roger says: "He once told me that when he retires he'll be dead, because he lives and breathes the business that we're in. He likes to get out and sell. He likes to make deals."

That he does. And he likes to spout those homey sayings. Here comes another: "If you follow somebody, you'll never be a leader."

He states his own qualifications as a leader in the office machine industry: "I have found, started, and forgotten more about new products than most people ever even think about. I have one thing that few people that I know of can do. I can tell you what this business is going to do two years from now."

Then, with a smile that smooths out his rock-bound intensity and makes near-slits of his eyes, he says, "If you don't believe it, come back two years from now and find out."

PHOTO : Since embarking on his entrepreneurial odyssey in 1964, Golden has started and sold

PHOTO : three Little Rock office equipment companies.

Letha Mills is a free-lance writer living in Little Rock.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Profile
Author:Mills, Letha
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:company profile
Date:Jan 29, 1990
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