|In October 2001, soon after the attacks on NewYork and the Pentagon my father's company was throwing him a surprise 30 year anniversary party. 30 years in one place owning and running one business. I was asked to come and say a few words about the beginning days of his company and how it came into being. Not being a public speaker I prepared and wrote out what I wanted to say. This is what I said to my dad, and all his employees that night.
Some of you may not know who I am, my name is Chris Fenwick, I'm number 6 of 7.
There is a lot of talk these days about heroes. For most of us in this room we have never experienced the kind of national patriotism that we are living thru today. It is truly an awesome time. We've all heard by now, the stories of the heroes of Flight 93, the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, we've heard the television talk about the heroes that gave their lives at the World Trade Center. Tonight I'd like to tell you a little bit about my hero. My dad.
I've been asked to explain to you some of the events that lead up to the beginning of Automatic Door Systems. In 1963 when we moved to southern California my dad took a job at a company called Infrared Industries. Infrared Industries was a company that did a lot of work for the government. There, my dad was involved in a lot of really cool stuff. Much of it was top secret and he had to have special clearance. Some of the things that we still think of as science fiction were developed in the 60's partly by the guys at Infrared.
You know those binoculars you look thru that can tell you how far away something is, my dad did that. Or the guidance system on the Side Winder Missile, that was theirs. The "Breathalizer"?, my dad worked on that, He use to make his boss breath into it after lunch and he could tell him how many Martini's he had had at lunch.
One of the most important things they did at Infrared was work on a detector for cancer that didn't require x-ray. Today it is being used for breast cancer detection.
My dad had a philosophy about work back then. Learn your job, then train someone else to do it so you can move on. It would drive my mom crazy, she would say, "Tom, you're going to talk your way out of a job." He would say, "No, I'm going to move up."
Well, move up he did. Even at the age of 8 or 9 I thought his corner office was pretty cool. Mostly because it had more windows. My father was doing great at his job and frankly, he was in line to be the President of the company.
Someone had come to him with the patent for a devise that my dad knew was a real winner, but no one else at Infrared Industries had the vision that he had.
This thing was way before its time and my dad worked really hard to get them to take this project on because he knew it was a product that would be used all over the country. That devise was later called the Catalytic Converter.
If he didn't have 7 sons, and the need to keep his job and feed his family and, if he had the money, he would have jumped on this project, we would have been multi-millionaires. But the money was never the thing, he saw the need for smog free cars and the possibility of solving a problem. It irked him that the guys he worked for couldn't see past the end of their noses to see a potentially great thing.
Then something happened. I'm a little foggy on all the details but as near as I can say, the company brought in a new guy to run the place, they passed over my dad and eventually asked him to leave. To make a long story short, Infrared Industries went from being a top secret government contractor to making furniture. Really cheap veneer furniture.
My dad went home that day, and my mom met him at the door.
She had put on a green satin gown and she had made a sign the size of the front door that read "TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!" She had champagne for him. It was still morning. My mom says it was the best thing that ever happened to him.
My dad told her the next job he had he was going to be President. The following week the newspaper headlines announced that "Thomas C. Fenwick had been elected President
of the Montecito School Board." Kind of funny.
It was the spring of 1971. He was 44 years old.
My dad was never really out of work because he was always busy.
He was building the local YMCA across the street from my grade school. He was President of the School Board. He was Akela - Indian Chief, of our YMCA Indian Guides Tribe.
He didn't spend much time deciding what to do with his life. He just started letting people know he was looking for a job. He says, the first thing you need to do as a man who is out of work, is tell everyone!
It is one of the things that my mom loves about him. He is not filled with any false pride. He knew he had worth, he knew he had GREAT worth, but to find the right spot for him to be was very important.
One of my grandfather's old drinking buddies was a guy by the name of George Holdsby. George had this company called Dor-O-Matic. Thru my grandfather my dad learned of a failing service company that was based hear in the bay area. Hey, it's a DOOR company, how hard could that be?
My dad knew that we had experienced unprecedented growth in our country, he also had a hunch that service was going to be the future. Sure it's just a door, but everyone in the building has to use it. And hey, they break all the time, right? If you are going to get into a service industry why not get involved with one that really needs help.
On October 15, 1971, on my parents anniversary my dad handed the papers for the company to my mom and said, "Happy Anniversary, Terry! This is your gift. Let's go to dinner!" And they did. That was the most expensive gift my dad ever gave my mom.
In October 1971, 30 years ago, my dad moved up to San Francisco. The family stayed behind until we could sell the house in Santa Barbara and find a place to live up here.
My dad set up a bed in the loft above the warehouse to live, and in those nights he stayed up and designed the business. At the time he only had two guys working for him but he knew that one day the company would be bigger. It's easy to keep track of everything when there are just a few of you working, but what happens when the company grows? He designed the way a Job Folder would be laid out, he decided how a service call would be documented, he created the accounting system so that he could keep track of everything. He had vision. He was also in charge.
In January 1972, Tom Roehm flew up to join the business. My dad met him at the airport in an old green pickup truck with a utility body. Dad had taken silver spray paint and written on the side, "Tom's Truck" and drew a big smiley face. It took Tom a few weeks of driving around town to realize he could probably wipe the paint off with some paint remover. Tom was 19 years old at the time.
That spring the Tom's would fly home every weekend. Tom Roehm was about to get married and Tom Fenwick was trying to move the rest of his family to Northern California.
The summer of 1972 was a big one.
On June 25th Tom Roehm got married and moved to a small apartment in San Bruno. We sold the house in Santa Barbara and had to out by July 1. We finally found a home in San Mateo, that's a story in and of itself, and we moved up here on the hottest day of the year.
A couple of years ago there was a company Christmas party and, since Beth, my wife, works for the company I was there. I was standing in the kitchen at Tom and Leslie's house looking across the room at my dad sitting in the corner taking in the chaos that was all around him. I think everyone was passing out White Elephant gifts.
At that time, it dawned on me, how proud I was of my father.
Look around this room full of people; installers, repairmen, salesmen, accountants, and office workers, spouses, and loved ones. Most of you have families, children at home, baby sitters, apartments, homes, cars, school clothes, piano lessons and braces.
I look around this room and I see a huge web of people that have all benefited from the fact that 30 years ago my dad wanted to be president, of something. I see 29 or so families that my dad is responsible for. Now, I know, that at times in business we get wrapped up with all the problems and mistakes, and fights and the arguments and the miscommunication, but 30 years ago my dad sat up late at night planning how to lay out an employee folder to keep track of each and everyone of you so that he could take care of you. My dad has vision.
30 years ago the sign my mom made said, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."
That night at Tom's house I realized how much love my dad had for the people that work for him. I think he learned a very valuable lesson at Infrared Industries, he learned exactly how he did NOT want to treat people.
My prayer is that everyone can know my hero the way that I do. Each and every day I appreciate him more and more.