In my last post, I spoke about the first real miracle that I had experienced personally, when God led a Muslim taxi driver we met in Trinidad to an evangelistic meeting in the mountains and convinced him of the reality of his need for Christ’s forgiveness.
I said that there were other miracles that I had experienced, as well, and I’m eager to share about those. But first I wanted to give you some background as to forces that shaped my life once Darlene and I graduated from Biola, and how my early work experience actually distracted me from the transformation that the Lord wanted to accomplish in my life.
Set Loose on the Workaday World
I can really relate to the challenges twenty-somethings encounter when seeking their first meaningful career assignments, because I remember well the pain of those challenges myself. I mentioned that Darlene and I moved, after graduating in June of 1981, back to our home town of Upland, where both sets of parents lived, where we could attend our home church (Foothill Baptist Church of Upland), and where we could start our new family.
We purchased a two-bedroom condominium for $55,000, very near the center of town, and also just a few blocks away from the high school where we had both graduated. Each of our families lived about a mile away. The condominium itself was fairly simple, as it had been converted from a group of single-story apartments some time earlier. But it was a pleasant neighborhood, with great neighbors, and we had a small walled-in porch where we could enjoy a taste of the outdoors. And maybe about 80 square feet of lawn.
Once we arrived in Upland, we were faced with the task of finding jobs. Darlene applied at the hospital where she was born (and where her mother worked at that time), San Antonio Community Hospital. They were eager to hire new nurses, and she had a job in hand about 10 minutes after walking in the front door. (And it was a great job … nurses in California made much more then than they did up here in the Northwest, and she eventually achieved a position of real responsibility there, nursing supervisor on the swing shift.)
I, on the other hand, with my six-year communication degree, discovered I was eminently over-educated for all the local journalism jobs. The newspapers were looking for cub reporters with an A.A. degree who were willing to work for minimum wage, and despite filing a lot of applications, I didn’t even get a single interview.
Some months earlier my brother Don and I had started, with our dad’s help, a small printing business. We had purchased a Remington 170 tabletop offset press (used), and could do some very limited four-color printing, so we went looking for clients.
One of my first clients was my alma mater, Biola University. They contracted us to print 400 security ID cards. It was a fancy two-color printing job, with one of those two colors being a very difficult-to-work-with metalflake ink, and requiring tight registry. I think I was probably awarded the contract because I was (by far) the lowest bid, at less than $50 for the job.
We struggled for days trying to get that little printing press to do what we wanted it to do. It couldn’t handle the gritty ink or the tight registry. Finally, in frustration, we gave up. We were only able to get about 100 cards of reasonable quality printed, which we donated to the university for free. And we had spent several days and more than $100 in supplies in the effort.
That was our first job. Things got a little better after that; we learned what we could and could not do, and began to focus on what that little press could do. We took on some jobs that required a lot of labor, and learned how to price them right. But we never were able to make a reasonable amount of money to go anywhere substantial with the business, and so eventually we shifted gears.
At Biola a year or two earlier I had been in charge of the student publications operation, and we used a CompuGraphic digital typesetting system that I knew quite well. I was able to find one, used, for about $15,000, and with our dad’s help we purchased it and began doing digital typesetting. (This was a large machine, half the size of a small car, which used film fonts on a rapidly spinning wheel and a photographic process to create type galleys.) We were accurate, and fast, and competitively priced, and knew what we were doing. Because we also had some rudimentary knowledge of the demands faced by the printing industry, we began to focus on doing “typesetting for the trade,” or for printers, who basically gave us all the work we could handle.
I recall that one local printer (in Claremont, where we eventually ended up establishing our office) had a very important job for us – the curriculum vitae for management guru Peter Drucker. We were very excited to do this job and gave it our best shot, including a close proofreading of the galleys that we had typeset for his CV. We even made careful use of the CompuGraphic’s ability to spellcheck!
Which, as it turned out, was a mistake. Only after we turned the CV over to the printer, and they had printed 10,000 copies of it, did we learn (as a result of Drucker himself reading over the CV carefully) that we had misspelled a word. We typed the subheading “Public Speaking” and had missed the “L.” Unfortunately, the word “Pubic” passed the CompuGraphic’s spellchecker regimen, and our eyes missed it as well. (As did the printer’s.)
Drucker, naturally, refused to pay the printer for this botched job. The printer blamed us, and since we were partially responsible we agreed to pay half the cost of the printing job, which was more than the typesetting fee (which we also waived).
My First Experience With World Vision
Despite these hiccups, we had a going little business concern, but it still wasn’t going enough to provide either of us with a full-time living wage. So I began looking for part-time work, and applied to World Vision. I had frequently admired their magazine and told the HR rep that I would love to write or edit on the magazine staff.
The recruiter responded, “Unfortunately, we don’t have any openings for writers or editors at this time. Is there anything else you can do?”
“Well,” I told her, “I can type 114 words per minute.” I told her how I had typed my way through my college years and even now was operating a typesetting business with my brother.
“That’s great!” she said. “We have this brand-new department, it’s called ‘word processing,’ and we are looking for fast typists.” So, she hired me to be a part of the swing shift and more than 30 women (that’s right — yours truly, and 30-some-odd women) who were typing up executive correspondence memos, children’s picture folders, fundraising letter, etc. This was all accomplished on a set of Xerox 850 and Xerox 860 word-processing systems, which drove daisy-wheel printers. No graphics, just text, but you could use different fonts depending on the daisy wheel selected. The machines had some limited disk memory, and you could even do some macro programming for automating form fill-ins.
I enjoyed that job a lot, tedious as it was, and really enjoyed learning the ins and outs of the equipment. Then one day an idea occurred to me. In college I had done fairly well typing term papers, theses, dissertations, resumes, etc. on an IBM Selectric typewriter. The Xerox systems we used at World Vision could do oh-so-much-more, so much faster and better. My brother and I were doing well with our typesetting business. So I began to devise a business plan for a student word processing service, and eventually presented it to the team of people who managed the Student Union Building at the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona.
They liked the idea and agreed to rent me an office in the building on campus in Pomona, very near where the 10 and 57 freeways met. We had paid off my dad for the typesetting system, so he made me another loan (my dad was VERY generous, the most generous person I’ve ever known, in case you haven’t already guessed) and I started “PolyType,” my campus word processing service. Don continued running the typesetting business and I used PolyType to funnel it more high-end resumes and things like that, and to help out there when he needed it. Eventually we were doing well enough where we were able to purchase a second system (which was no small feat … they cost about as much apiece as our typesetting system did). We used one system at the office at Cal Poly, and I kept one at home so I could do overflow work there. (Eventually we moved this second system to our office in Claremont.)
I learned these Xerox word processing systems very well as a result, and began to realize that the picture folder production work I was doing at World Vision each evening could actually be done much more efficiently, if one was able to create a good “macro” to make that possible. (“Macros” were basically sort of “fill-in-the-blank” programs where you could automate the creation of a specific form, using predetermined fonts and fill-in data on different portions of a page. And “picture folders” are World Vision’s visual presentation of sponsorable children. Child sponsorship has pretty much been World Vision’s bread-and-butter for many years.)
It took us about 5-1/2 or 6 minutes to create a picture folder the old-fashioned way, depending on the speed of the operator. I became convinced that this could be done more efficiently with the right macro. Since World Vision produced hundreds of thousands of these picture folders, even a savings of 30 or 60 seconds could mean significant cost savings for the worthy organization.
One evening I shared my vision about creating such a macro with my manager. “That sounds great,” she said, excitedly. “What do you need to make it happen?” I told her I needed time to experiment, to write out the macro and test it. “How much time?” she asked. “About 8 or 12 hours,” I guessed.
“Oh, that’s too bad. We have way too much production to do. I can’t spare you for 8 or 12 hours,” she told me.
But I was ready for that objection. “What if I took it home and did it on my own time? As you know, I have a Xerox system at home now. I would just need to take home a small stack of picture folders to work on. If I can do it, great; if not, you’ve got some free picture folders out of me.”
She agreed that was a great idea, and handed me a stack of raw picture folder orders to take home that night. I usually didn’t get home to well past midnight, but I was so excited about this that I worked much of that night, and well into the next morning, finishing up my macro. I tested it on my stack of picture folders, and took the average production time down to about 4-1/2 minutes or less, saving more than 60 seconds per picture folder. (A potential cost savings of about 20%!)
Innovation Doesn’t Always Pay
I returned to the office tired but very excited that next evening, that stack of swiftly completed picture folders in my arms. But as I entered the office doors, I was greeted in the lobby by the department director, arms folded and a very unhappy expression on his face.
“What is it that you have there?” he demanded.
I showed him the picture folders and started very excitedly to share how I had shaved a full minute off the process of creating them, by writing a macro. He interrupted me.
“Don’t you know it’s against company policy to take picture folders off the premises?” he asked angrily.
“No, I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware of that,” I assured him. “But my manager gave me her permission to do so.”
His eyebrows shot up. “She did?”
“Yes, that’s right,” I assured him.
He walked over to my manager’s office and asked her to step out into the hall with us.
“Larry says you told him he could violate company policy and take this stack of picture folders home with him last night,” he said to her. “Is that true?”
She stammered for a moment, and then, without looking me in the face, said, “No, that’s not true. I didn’t give him permission to do that.”
So I was reprimanded and told a note about this would be put in my employee file. But of course that was not what concerned me most. Over the next month or two, my relationship with my manager was basically in the trash can. She refused to talk to me, refused to apologize for lying, refused to make it right. I lasted maybe two months after that night, then tendered my resignation, vowing never to return to World Vision. “So much for working for a Christian organization,” I thought. “What a joke!”
I learned my boss also left, shortly after I did, but not before the department implemented my new macro and sped up their production process. (I had given this to them while I was still there, but they didn’t use it until after I left.)
Our Disappointments Can Set Us Back for Years, If Not Laid at the Foot of the Cross
My goal in sharing this story is not to make World Vision look bad, even though I was furious with them at the time. Every human makes mistakes, and I realize now that even the best Christian organizations are full of flawed humans. Later on, in 1994, the Lord led me back to World Vision (despite my horrible attitude!), and I had a wonderful 22 more years there.
But I did want to give some insight to my commitment to my faith, which I think had fallen to an all-time low at this point. I quickly jumped into my business full-tilt, and worked hard to make it work. We attended church (moving to a new church nearby after we sold our condo), but I’d say it was more a duty than a joy. Darlene had also become pregnant with our son, Nathan, who was born on December 23, 1982. I’ll share more about this experience in my next post, and the impact that becoming a father has had on my life.