Durham stopover

Durham stopover

During my employment discussions with the new Colorcraft management I paid special attention to pension and benefits. I was promised that at the time of my retirement a calculation would be made comparing the total of the Berkey and Colorcraft pensions against what I would have earned had I remained with Berkey Photo. If there were a negative discrepancy it would be met with additional payments. In addition to receiving a substantial salary increase, I requested to forgo my company car perk and instead have the equivalent added to my salary. This was somewhat important since the pension payout was based heavily on recent annual earnings. All my requests and concerns were answered. Certainly the reception from this new management was very warm and off to Durham, North Carolina we went … after a quarter of a century of Spring Valley living.

The entire photofinishing industry was still in a consolidation mode. Company acquisitions were the style of the day. The new Colorcraft Corporation, now with earnings of about $275 million, was the largest independent finisher in the USA and probably Europe as well. This phenomenon gave Kodak a dual headache. We had amassed a large portion of the market mostly at their expense … and were aggressively seeking to expand. Equally important we were not buying Kodak paper or chemicals … a significant dent in their profitability.

Within a year Kodak was negotiating to buy a 50% equity position in Colorcraft. This was consummated in 1988 and all the Kodak processing facilities were now combined with ours. The new company was to be called Qualex and the Durham management team was to be in charge. The organizational problems were huge but one by one these were all put to bed. Of course we were now required to purchase Kodak’s products … especially color paper. This was a bit uncomfortable for many of our field people whose sales efforts included boasting of the superior quality of our Japanese products … but the conversion went off smoothly. The marriage with Kodak made me feel a bit uneasy … on occasion I was reminded that I was now closely associated with the firm I had labored against in court just about a dozen years earlier.

Another significant item became noticeable during my early staff meetings at Colorcraft. The senior corporate management style lacked spunk … there was a lackadaisical approach to problems. Some major operational shortcoming in a particular region would be discussed. Normally I would have expected that I would have to fly out and discuss it first hand with the respective Sr. Vice President in charge and either accept any rationale explaining the situation or map out a corrective plan. This was not the case … instead Carl was to make a phone call to the party concerned and point out the shortcoming. The next month the same problem was there and another phone call would be placed … and the next month … and the next month. It almost appeared as if there was a conscious effort to avoid confrontation. While I learned to work around this mind-numbing cloud, it did eventually become quite annoying.

At the outset of the Qualex formation we had some 90 processing facilities functioning … with much duplication within some major marketing areas. This had to be reduced to 50 or 60 and there was considerable field work to be accomplished. Brian Seiler always took pleasure in travel and I enjoyed letting him run around the country as much as possible. I had enough on my plate. In spite of having promised Florence that my travel would subside with the move to Durham it became worse. But she held up and occupied herself best she could. There were now occasional business trips where she accompanied me and we enjoyed some significant and luxurious world wide travel.

Computer chips had already made their appearance some years back and were utilized in much of our industry state-of-the-art equipment. Personal computers were the new toys and I had one installed in my office some time in 1987. It was an IBM PC XT 5150 and it is worthy to note that it was the pioneer version of a PC containing a hard drive … mine had less than 50 KB of memory … it did have a dual 5 1/4 inch Floppy Drive. This was my first exposure to computers and I have been hooked ever since.

My business activities at Qualex were for the most part very rewarding. Other than operational challenges, which were many, we still retained the old Berkey R & D department in New Jersey … and this I enjoyed immensely. New product development continued to flourish from this group and I became even more deeply involved than previously.

My office move to Durham, North Carolina took place sometime in 1986 and we put the Spring Valley home on the market … which we didn’t actually sell until 1988. Initially we believed the house would sell better if it was still “lived in”. Accordingly at the beginning of our Durham adventure Florence remained up north, while I worked out of the Durham office. I would spend either a Monday or Friday in the New Jersey office so my time away was minimized.

When in Durham I lived in a hotel during the first 4 months or so and did some serious house hunting. Finally we located something that was palatable. Our new house was small but comfortable … with considerable patio access. I rented some furniture from Aaron Rents enabling me to move in and managed quite well … or almost quite well.

There was that one day after many months of “bachelor” living when I was bringing my soiled clothes into the cleaners. As I crossed over in the parking lot the bag containing my clothes broke. I scraped up my dress shirts and things, and holding this prized package under my arm walked into the store. There was only one person ahead of me on line, but that didn’t last long. Several people were behind me as I told the clerk I had so many shirts, handkerchiefs, undershorts etc. Perhaps I didn’t have my honest face on that day, but she insisted on raising each item up and counting … “1 T-shirt, 1 handkerchief, 1 underwear brief … “etc. etc. I was mortified and interrupted her, saying, “Stop! I accept your count … details are not necessary.” That evening I told Florence she had to come down and move in … which she did.

The other problem I had when living a single life was food. When I was staying at the hotel, this was relatively easy … just find a restaurant. The result was that all my daily meals were being taken in retail establishments and I very soon began to take on the proportions of an early pregnancy. When I finally moved into the house I bought a grill and decided to prepare my own dinners … the preparation was easy … steaks and chops each night. Problems occurred when doing food shopping … Entenmanns cakes, Haagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream, and other treats just flew magically into the shopping cart. Unfortunately my pregnant appearance was not aborted.

Durham was a quaint city with a little bit of everything. The major item missing was friends and Florence was alone far too many days. To her credit she found some part time activity helping foreign born children read and comprehend English. This took place in the local Public School. Her volunteer service was welcomed by the officials and she came and went as she wished. But it was still a long way from our previous Spring Valley life. This burden fell on her shoulders more than mine as I was still doing considerable business traveling.

During the warm weekends we frequently headed east to Wrightsville Beach where we had found a quiet part of the beach with an available apartment for rent. These were delightful days relaxing on the beach and dining in the evening.

Of course my annual fishing trips to Lake of the Woods in Canada continued. We managed a trip to Washington DC meeting up with our old Spring Valley friends, the Glatzers and Miles.

On a more personal side Florence threw me a surprise 60th bash at the Inverrary Country Club where her brother Jack and his wife Terry were living. After the early demise of Evelyn, Jack left Texas where he had been living for about 40 years and settled in south Florida. He meets up with Terry and they hit it off and get married. Terry had been a resident there and made the arrangements at their club for the celebration. It was grand party … all our kids, cousins and a bundle of friends attended.

In 1988 Vero and Larry decide to get married and we did the ceremony in Ellen and Alan’s house and another celebration in Inverrary. So our family continues to grow and take form. They visited with us several times after Ansel was born.

Jennifer and Brian would also join us on several occasions and they shared the beach experience with us. Not to be outdone, Marlene as well as Ellen and Alan came for several visits … and last but not least, our close friends, Lois and Marvin Rosenberg came and spent a nice weekend with us as did Norma and Ted Glatzer. These plus cousins dropping in on the way down to Florida for their winter stay did help make the Durham experience a bit more tolerable. From my perspective the 5 years we spent in Durham went quite fast … but not so for Florence I must admit.

March of 1990 was Florence’s 60th and I managed to throw her a small surprise dinner party down in Florida. She only expected Ellen, Allan, Jennifer, and Brian … perhaps Marlene as well … and was thrown almost off her feet when Larry, Vero and Ansel were discovered at the table.

Marlene is in Washington DC pursuing her legal career in Government. She has an encyclopedic mind … retains almost everything she reads … and is a prolific reader. With her Masters degree in English and a Law graduate from Harvard she is off and running. Larry graduated from Boston University with degrees in Biomedical Engineering and Philosophy … each with honors. We urged him to continue his education but this was not his chosen path. He, Vero and baby Ansel head off to France to operate a leased restaurant … which of course is an improvement from his previous adventure of dredging for precious metals at the bottom of some river in Venezuela. Little did we realize his entrepreneurial career was off and running. Ellen, who has a bright and alert mind … fast with numbers … had decided to interrupt her education and get married. Soon after, she joins Alan in Clemson, South Carolina where he earns his Masters Degree in Biology. They both eventually settle in south Florida. 

During the latter part of our Spring Valley years and throughout this Durham period Florence and I did a fair amount of business travel together. Especially those oversea trips and other unique places my business ventures took me. Additionally, Qualex held annual Officer Meetings … these being conducted in exotic resort areas such as Palm Springs California, Orlando Fl, San Diego California, etc. We had mucho time for fun and games. On one occasion, direct from our Palm Springs corporate event, she and I traveled to Caba San Lucas in the Baja Peninsular of Mexico. We met up with some old business acquaintances and did some deep sea fishing while staying at a very luxurious hotel.

I tried to make up for that very first trip to Belgium in 1962 leaving her in the Jackson Heights apartment with 3 children for close to 2 months … and Larry was only a few months old. Conscience is like a shadow … hard to shake.

Now back to my business arena. In early 1986, the Gretag Corporation invited me to speak at their symposium which was to be held the following January in Grindelwald, Switzerland. The topic I was asked to speak on was “Future Imaging-Emerging Technology” or as they had explained to me … the new digital technology – what is it, where is it today and what can we expect in the future … of course relative to consumer photography. This was 1986 and what I didn’t know about the topic would fill several volumes … I had no idea what a sensor chip looked like … I wasn’t certain what a pixel was, or why it was important … but I soon found out.  Florence of course joined me and we met up with Esso, Jr. and Sr. at the Gretag conference. During previous years I had bumped into this technology but never had the opportunity or the need to dig into it. This was my formal introduction to the new world of digital imaging as well as the wonders of the Swiss Alps.   I completed a rather intensive study as to where this new digital technology could fit within our photo processing industry and came away with startling conclusions … the most shocking was, “The photographic world as we know it today is being seriously challenged by electronic technology and will in time be replaced.”  I was asked to present this paper again in London at a different technical conference and to our Qualex/Kodak management during one of our annual get-togethers.  A number of eyebrows were raised and indeed within 20 years the demise of our industry was evident to all.

Towards the end of the 80’s I had become a bit tired of the slow and lackadaisical track the Qualex organization was on. This was soon to come to a head. I had put together many deals in my career which were beneficial to my company. Extensive negotiations would take place … a compromise agreement would be reached … and it was a “done deal” within a day or two. Additionally at Berkey we were very creative … we had to be if we were to survive. A great deal of our efforts were concentrated on creating items which gave us significant marketing advantages and which were to be produced routinely by our plants. These were novel approaches to the conventional develop and print package received by consumers after submitting their rolls of film for processing. Essentially these were strictly internal projects … developed by our R & D staff, produced by our plants, and enjoyed exclusively by my company and our customers. While this activity continued with Qualex a new opportunity came to my attention.  

The 1-hour mini labs were the hot item of the day and these were being installed in every major retail location that catered to consumer photography. The current version on the market at this time required a trained technician be on board to operate the equipment. I truly believed this needed change and visited with the major manufacturer of this equipment located in Japan (Noritsu Corporation) with a list of priorities which would make these “idiot-proof”. It was my aim to have the retail clerk merely position the film cartridge into a slot and poof … the required amount of prints would be ejected after the 30 minutes or so required for processing. I insisted that this concept belonged to Qualex and we expected to have distribution rights in the USA. A joint venture organization would evolve. An importing company would be created to handle the warehousing, sales and service. After several meetings it was agreed that this product could indeed be produced and Qualex and Noritsu would share the exclusive USA distribution of this novel product.

This was a milestone … for a film processing company to be involved in the distribution of such a state-of-the-art equipment was unique … and further, these sales would be to our retail customers as well as our competitors … all making for a very favorable situation for Qualex. I was very happy with the results of my 8 month project. I was planning to depart from their office on a Thursday which would get me back into the states on Friday. Prior to my departure both myself and the CEO of the company signed off in principal to the formation of the joint venture and agreed to a proposed wording for a press release which would be made public sometime the following week.

Before I departed I faxed all the data to Durham and requested it be forwarded to our Public Relations office. Specifically I asked my boss, Carl Hammil, to hasten the process … we had a real bonanza and I didn’t want to give the Japanese any time to change their minds. I explained that the USA sales office of this company would be up in arms once they got word of these arrangements. Sure enough when I got to the office on Monday nothing was done … Carl had to discuss this with several other people and then he was to fly it by a committee that wasn’t scheduled to meet for another month. Needless to say within 10 days I was informed that Noritsu had second thoughts and requested us to hold up publishing any press release.

This type of slow management style had been annoying all along … at Berkey, decisions were usually made quickly … procrastinations in Durham were a way of life. My work ethics were always … “Be Firm, Be Fair, and Be Fast”. This style did not fit in my present work environment. While this had been exasperating before, this last event broke the camel’s back. I tendered my resignation.

In my estimation Carl Hammil was no longer capable of running this organization … it had outgrown him … his passive and timid management style didn’t fit the times. Since I was to continue my discussions with the Japanese to see what I could salvage from all this, my resignation was held confidential. Several months later I was informed that Carl was retiring, perhaps being retired. He was to be replaced by a Kodak executive who had a reputation of being quite aggressive and a decision maker. I was asked, in light of these changes would I care to retract my resignation. Florence and I had begun to look south towards retirement in Florida and it appeared very inviting … and besides she had served her sentence and deserved some time off for good behavior … and, equally important, I realized I was no longer having fun at work. It had been a long, enjoyable and satisfying journey from cleaning coffee containers to being an officer of a company with sales of $650 million. I let the resignation stand.

I had just turned 62 and I “retired” … actually I became a Qualex Consultant until my 65th birthday which justified my “salary and benefits”. I was offered an office to work out of which I immediately refused and instead Qualex outfitted me with a new computer and printer. As soon as the word got around I had several other clients and “Herb Stein – Photo Imaging Consultant” was born. The retirement mold was being formed.

Being a consultant became quite challenging from the outset. I no longer had a secretary to perform my clerical chores. So there I sit in my little Durham bedroom/office attempting to print out some envelopes for mailing. I struggled and struggled, but was unable to pass an envelope through for printing … I did have at my disposal a huge HP Optical printer … extremely frustrating to say the least. I had no idea what I was doing. Florence relates she even hears me speaking to the printer. After several hours I throw in the towel and announce I am going out to purchase a typewriter. I am about to get into the car and have a change of heart … this blasted piece of equipment will not get the best of me … and I barge back into the house announcing the beginning of a skirmish of sorts. It took several days I confess and probably a hundred wasted envelopes but I eventually got it done. By the way, that first printer of mine weighed 50 pounds if it weighed an ounce.

Similarly many other chores were almost impossible for me to achieve … but via a lot of sweat eventually they all got done … like the time I was writing an article for an environmental advisory group and had to submit this in a three column format … in 1991 this was not an easy task … or at least so for me … literally speaking, it took me many hours to get this done.

In September of 1990 … with one foot almost out the Durham door … we did our 40th wedding celebration with a first class trip to Hawaii. We spent 10 days relaxing and touring the islands.

Before I close out on my corporate career I must make mention of some friends. Indeed there are several lifelong friendships which stemmed from my working career and continue to this day … Paul Boles, Abe Saland, Ron Wilson, Steve Noble, Fred Lerner, Maury Kahn, Craig Halverson, Peter Krause, and Bill DiMinno lead the pack. Most are currently retired.

Currently Paul Boles lives in South Carolina and up until recently we would spend an evening a year dining during the annual PMA show. Both he and Bill DiMinno were vendors with whom I was a prime account. The tug of war business relationships were respected on both sides and strong personal bonds emerged. Paul and I speak regularly as of this writing. His career encompassed being a Photofinisher as well as a manufacturer’s sales and marketing executive. He is a rare individual who is as bright a business man as he is true and warm friend.

Abe Saland was my very first close Berkey associate. In fact for a short time we both shared an office and our friendship grew with the years. We traveled together with our spouses to many a Photokina (in Cologne, Germany) and enjoyed each others company. Abe was one of the most astute business executive I ever encountered. The Saland’s live in Boca Raton and we manage to stay in touch via evening dinners.

Ron Willson and Steve Noble are both members of the PMA staff and were involved with various industry technical areas. Ron joined PMA in 1991 filling a new position as Director of Environmental Activities. I had been pushing for this area to be covered for several years. There were many challenges in store for him and he performed well. Ron retired a few years back and Steve assumed his duties. As the PMA technical consultant I worked very close with both and consider them warm friends. We stay in contact with the Wilson’s and manage to see each other about once a year. Steve is my current liaison to PMA. He has evolved into a fine young executive having enlarged his scope within the PMA organization and is my current primary contact. 

I met up with Maury Kahn and Fred Lerner back in my early days at Berkey photo when each had worked for me, but at different times. Fred was beginning his career repairing printers and became a member of my staff when the Lab Equipment division was getting started. He was a valuable asset. Eventually his career in Berkey flourished and he left to start his own Photofinishing business … which he eventually sold. Today he is an executive with Ritz Camera directing their online sales division and doing well over one hundred million dollars in annual sales. It was an enjoyable caveat when PMA honored with me an award and Fred, as president of the association for that year, was handling the ceremonies and introduced me.

Maury was a trained chemist and was hired to work in that area. He soon graduated to other aspects of Quality Control and was a member of my staff. It was a complete surprise to me when Maury announced he was to marry my secretary Carmen.  Also it was during that short “O’ Henry” departure of mine when Bill DiMinno hired Maury away to work as technical director for Konica Photo. He is active today as a member of an industry research team.

Craig Halverson also worked for PMA and was my contact for many years … both during my active career as well into my retirement days. He was blessed with a brilliant and creative mind, but was never fully appreciated at work. Watching him attack a project was an inspiration. More than once he had an assignment about which he had no technical knowledge at all. Within a remarkably short period that mental gap was completely filled with fresh new ideas and approaches. Our friendship continues to this day.

Peter Krause goes back to my Pavelle Color days where we first met. While we never had the occasion to do business together, he and I often crossed paths at various industry functions. We worked together for many years organizing various industry wide technical symposiums. During his peak years his mind was encyclopedic and our bonding was primarily technical in nature. Peter, who is about 10 years my senior, is not doing any traveling these days … we stay in touch via the phone. 

Bill DiMinno worked for Konica during my Berkey days and negotiated with me for our purchase of color paper. At that time he was a good friend and a dedicated negotiator. We had a great deal of respect for each other. He eventually switched to Fuji Photo and retired about 10 years ago. We dine with him and his wife Pat whenever our paths cross in the same city.

So we are just about ready for the move to Boca Raton, Florida.