In our first Chicagoland Small Business Stories Podcast, Verde sits down with Buddy Greene to hear why loving what you do is as important today as it was when he grew his business in Chicago in the 60s and 70.
Buddy Greene is a well-accomplished man. He was an active-duty marine, then ski-bum in Utah, then became a full bonafide businessman when a high school friend asked him to be a salesman for his step-father's company. Later on in life, Buddy created a company called Dearborn Wire and Cable with that same friend, Dick, with a little over 2,000 dollars between the both of them. Dearborn Wire and Cable designs and manufactures advanced data transmission cables as well as other components required to build high telecommunications infrastructure. Throughout the years there were rough times, but overall, Buddy's passion and genuine love for his work and business shines through as he speaks with Verde Founder Jamie Johnson about his business and career:
“I never worked a day in my life because I loved what I did so much. That is a statement I will stand by.”
Learn about Buddy's favorite parts of business, his struggles, and the stroke of luck he had in a situation where all cards were stacked against him. Lastly, hear him explain to you why he decided to choose Verde for his energy efficiency needs for Dearborn Wire and Cable, and the amazing program he was able to utilize to help with the costs.
Verde helps buisnesses put their money back into their craft, not their bills. If you want to learn more about what we do click below.
Jamie: Hi my name is Jamie Johnson and I am the founder of a company called Verde that does energy efficiency in Chicago. And each week I interview small business owners that we've worked with just to hear a little bit about their story and their background. And today we are here with Buddy Green, one of our customers from 2014. So Buddy and I have known each other for quite a long time and we've actually become friends. So this is a fun ... fun to sit down together. And we're enjoying a coffee from D's Coffee in Highwood, which is ... which, in my opinion, has the best coffee in Highwood.
Buddy: Very good.
Jamie: Other than perhaps Froggy's French Café. But they weren't open this morning so we did D's coffee.
Buddy: They're not open for breakfast.
Jamie: They are not. So Buddy, if you could, tell me a little about your background of why you started Dearborn Copper and Wire, and give me a little bit of the background about it.
Buddy: Well when I ... when I got out of the service ... out of the Marine ... You don't get out of the Marine Corps. When I left active duty and I went ... I ski bummed for a couple of years in Alta, Utah. Then I came back to Chicago and to be perfectly honest, I bounced around from job to job to job. Anyhow, to make a long story short, my very close high school buddy and friend, Dick Rosenberg, asked me if I would come ... become a salesman for his stepfather's company and they were primarily magnet wire distributors in the Chicago area.
And, you know, I agreed and I met with some immediate success there. I called at the electronic supply office up in Great Lakes back in those days, and this was the late 50s. And they bought for the whole Navy. And I created a good relationship with the purchasing people and we were very competitive and we were getting a lot of awards. A lot of government awards. So that worked well and then, in those days, Chicago was like the manufacturing capital of everything. We were the largest manufacturer of radios in the country. Largest manufacturer of transformers in the country. Motor manufacturers ... Everything that sucked up wire and cable up. Fixtures, all that kind of stuff.
And so, I was doing pretty well. And how we got into our own business, Dick, for various reasons, did not get along with his stepfather very well and he was fired and it was right around Christmas time, well it was 1961. Very late, Christmas time, '61. I was living in a coach house in Highland Park. There was a knock on the door and it was snowing and then I opened the door and there's Dick. He says, he didn't even say hello, he says, "You want to go into business for ourselves?" I says, "Sure but why?" He says, "Well the old man just kicked me out." And that's basically how we got started. Each with about ... I remember pretty correctly, $1100 ... We had $2200 total between us. Everything.
Buddy: Total. No more.
Buddy: And that's how we got started in the wire and cable business. Dick was like Mr. Inside and I was Mr. Outside because I could sell.
Jamie: Yeah. And did ... How long did it take before you got your first customer from that time he knocked on your garage door?
Buddy: Probably ... As soon as we went into business. We got a place to rent on Grand and Ogden Avenue in Chicago.
Jamie: Yeah, yeah.
Buddy: And we got started in there. We got credit and was buying product that we knew moved and to build an inventory in this little tiny shop, so to speak. And that was a start. And I went out on the street and got orders right away. You know, from customers that I already had, where I had a following. And it was so easy in those days to knock on doors in Chicago. Oh, we were like the organ manufacturing capital of the world too.
Buddy: Yeah. And pinball machines, slot machines. It just ... Boy there was a lot of business in Chicago.
Jamie: So you had confidence that the business model was good? You already knew you could make it work. It just was a matter of executing it, at that point.
Buddy: Oh we were fully confident ... yeah. But we were working ... We'd meet for breakfast at between 5:30 and 6:00 in the morning and go to work and we never looked at a clock, ever. Seven, eight, nine, ten o'clock at night ... Whatever the hell it was. And many later. When we progressed, we started entertaining customers and stuff, we wouldn't get home until 12:00, 1:00, 2:00 in the morning depending on the customer. That kind of stuff.
Jamie: Well you've told me many times and I always love hearing this, although I don't always feel the same, but you say you've never worked a day in your life cause you loved what you did so much.
Buddy: Absolutely. That's a statement that I will stand by.
Jamie: Yeah. And I hope to get there someday. I ...
Buddy: Oh Jamie you will. You're bright, you're young, and I see from the board how it's very different from back in "my day".
Buddy: I mean this computer knowledge that you all have and the way you use the Internet and all those systems. You know, we had none of that.
Buddy: You know, a girl would stand there and file and did everything by hand and it was a different world. When you went to look things up, it would take 10-15 minutes. You couldn't push a button and there it is. So, different from that, but still works, so ...
Jamie: Well you built quite a successful business so you definitely knew what you were doing.
Buddy: Yeah. Took awhile. There were the couple of hiccups but it ... To be perfectly honest, it worked out pretty damn well.
Jamie: Good. When ... So about that quote, you never worked a day in your life, what were your favorite specific parts of running your business? What was it that loved so much?
Buddy: Oh I think that's kind of an easy one and that's the relationships. Many of the buyers or purchasing people or people that worked at the companies we sold, became pretty friendly with some of these people and I mean these were true friendships. How are your kids doing? Go to their christening, go to their bar mitzvah, whatever the hell it was. That kind of stuff. And friends for life, really. And some who died too young, good people. You know it's going through my mind, some of them.
Buddy: But I ... The relationships were key. Supplier relationships, all that kind of stuff.
Jamie: So you enjoyed the ... I mean I don't mean to assume here but it sounds like you enjoyed the relationships outside the company, your own company. You enjoyed the vendors and the people you sold to.
Buddy: Oh absolutely.
Jamie: Yeah that's ... I enjoy that too.
Buddy: Absolutely. And meaningful. You know, Jamie, I'm sure, like you, you're happy, you got a great wife, you got children, just like I have. But business is just a huge, huge part of your life. There's no two ways. In fact, you better enjoy it or get the hell out.
Jamie: Well and I think that's why I think you and I have connected so much because I enjoy selling too. And I don't think I would be very good at sales anywhere else. But I love talking to business owners because of all the ... You could look at a person and you can totally understand they know what you're going through. Someone can say, oh it's hard to make payroll, but until you've lived through it and felt it, it's like an instant connection that is hard to meet with ... It's hard to, it's hard to feel that with anyone else except for another business owner.
Buddy: Oh sure and yeah, they do understand. Unless it's Daddy's company and that's a whole different thing.
Jamie: It's a different story.
Buddy: And some of them are great and some of them are ... They can thank Daddy or they'd be out selling whatever somewhere.
Jamie: Well everyone gets their start in a different way. But I love your story because you, you've built it from the ground up and you and your partner and I think that's also interesting that you were able to stay connected with your partner for so many years. Because I've not often seen that.
Buddy: Yeah, let's see, I think our total business career, '62 ... We both left the company in '03. So how many years was that? Whatever number of years. You're good with the numbers.
Jamie: Yeah it sounds like ...
Buddy: 40-some odd years.
Jamie: Yeah just about 40. That's a ...
Buddy: And to this day, you know, I'm very friendly with my partner. The problem is he had a couple of strokes so I'm not sure he knows me anymore. But I take him to dinner and try to make conversation. You know, he'll converse to a degree. He doesn't ... I don't think he even knows his own grandchildren. It's a shame. Cause he was ... Dick was ... Dick was a hell of a guy. I mean if I had to go away for six months and there's $1000 on the table, when I came back there'd be $1000 plus interest. That's the way Dick was, or is.
Jamie: No that's great. I'm definitely envious of that cause I definitely doing this on my own with support of many people. But it's ... I definitely could see how that would be a huge ...
Buddy: Well what I also found out, Jamie. We had partners. Let's see, we had partners ... We started with them in '67 and the relationship was good. They treated us good. They paid us well. They gave us nice bonuses, all that kind of thing. But in the 90's ... So that's 30-some odd years, '67, '97. Maybe a little less. They had other ideas. And I think they thought we had built the company to a position just because of inertia, it would run for awhile by itself. But we also were making acquisitions and everything, which was another of our skills because we're working in our own business. We weren't going to outside and that's a whole other story. But they tried to push both Dick and I out. That was, that was a bad part of the whole story. Fortunately we overcame in a court battle.
Jamie: So that was the most challenging time, when you had some partners that had owned a portion of the company, that were investors and they tried to steer in a different direction.
Buddy: They controlled the company. They had the controlling interest. This was a family held business and we went to court and we were told the odds are stacked against you and the judge ruled for us. They were calling it findings of facts. They were seven findings of facts of why our partners didn't have to do what we asked and should succeed in removing us and the judge found for us on everything single finding.
Jamie: How about that?
Buddy: Pretty amazing.
Jamie: Probably a good day for you, huh?
Buddy: Oh, it was a ... That was one of the greatest days.
Jamie: One of the greatest days.
Buddy: One of the greatest days, yeah.
Jamie: Well just to kind of wrap up, I mean I have a tremendous amount of respect for you Buddy. You've been a great friend and mentor to me. You've been over for dinner and I love ... You mentioned inventory and I love talking to you about all things inventory and sales and everything in between. And so, one of the reasons ...
Buddy: That's pretty mutual Jamie.
Jamie: Good, I appreciate that, Buddy.
Buddy: I really respect and admire what you've done and accomplished already. And also I know a little of your background. Pretty fascinating stuff. It might ... One day you might sit down and write a book.
Jamie: Yeah well I appreciate that. So, but I well I appreciate that. So, the ... In 2014, we did some work together to reduce energy in your offices, which we're in now. Which is obviously not the offices of Dearborn, your previous company but it's a ... it's a place that you work professionally and you have ... And just to summarize, you basically took some really old fluorescent lighting and upgraded it to the time to what was the most efficient solution and I think we put in a programmable thermostat and a couple of LED light bulbs. Tell me why you did that. Like what motivated you to make that investment in this space?
Buddy: Well when you've ... However, [inaudible 00:14:24], the landlord, Joe might have even called me first but I can't remember. I think I knew you were coming.
Jamie: I think he called and offered to buy you dinner, if I remember correct. If he hasn't bought you dinner, I think he owes ya.
Buddy: Getting a dollar out of Joe, that would be a good thing. But anyhow, you came up and you were talking about the Commonwealth Edison deal and all these things and my question was well how much will it cost you and you said nothing. And I says, "Go right ahead, baby." I had nothing to lose. And as it turned out, [inaudible 00:15:04] much better, needless to say.
Jamie: Yeah and I think at the time that was a special geo-targeted campaign that the utility was running just for Highwood and they were covering 100% of the costs and it was a really good deal. You'd be surprised some of the skepticism ... People didn't want to take part in this program.
Buddy: Oh I can understand that.
Jamie: But you'd ...
Buddy: There's no free lunch. This was a free lunch.
Jamie: Yeah it was, at the time. And everyone ... You had paid into it for all the years you paid your electric bill so you had kind of prepaid for the work we did. But yeah, that was ... You were one of my firsts. I think you were probably my seventh or eighth customer ever.
Buddy: And it went well.
Jamie: Yeah, I remember sitting here and talking.
Buddy: Your mechanic was good, I remember.
Jamie: We were talking about ... I think it was ... We were talking about Polish soccer, I think at the time it was around the World Cup.
Buddy: That's exactly right. You do have a memory. That's exactly right.
Jamie: Well just to wrap up here. This is Jamie Johnson and Buddy Green. We had a nice conversation about his founding and running and eventually selling his company, Dearborn Copper and Wire.
Buddy: Dearborn Wire and Cable. But the majority of it was copper. Insulated copper.
Jamie: And I think I learned from this podcast to take notes beforehand so I don't say the wrong thing. But I enjoyed our time together, Buddy, and I look forward to many more.
Buddy: You got it, Jamie.
How did we do?
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