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Small Business

A Higher Calling Than Profit

By Fran H. Oh

In the same vein, we decided shortly after receiving the diagnosis to start a family, and we had three children in the years between 1993 and 1997. In the meantime, I suggested building our dream home -- and we did build it in a Boston suburb. If you stop living just because you're told you're going to die, that's when you do, in fact, begin to die.

In 1993, we incorporated our sole proprietorship as Electronic Business Solutions, bought a headquarters building, and began setting business goals -- for two, three, five years out. We were even thinking about an IPO. Most significantly, by 1997, besides having three beautiful children, a dream home, and a growing company, it was clear that Tony's cancer hadn't recurred, largely because of the proton therapy he had been receiving. I remember driving him back and forth to the hospital from our home in the suburbs, thinking how much harder this must be for patients who had to come from a distance -- living in tiny apartments, being physically, as well as emotionally, away from home. And it was then, before Tony's death, that I first thought about giving back, doing something "when we sell the company." At that time, that goal was going to be my after-retirement project.

A HIGHER CALLING. In the years since Tony passed away, I've approached the running of our company -- and, indeed, entrepreneurship itself -- as a means to accomplish what I first set out to do in those happier times. While rebuilding Electronic Business Solutions hasn't been easy, I've recovered from mistakes I made, and I've brought a heightened business savvy to the absolute necessity of getting the job done in order to achieve a goal more substantive than profit.

In the spring of 2001, for example, I hired a chief operating officer (COO) who, I had thought, would bring the necessary leadership and deliver on certain sales objectives, only to be taking aback when none of that happened. Instead, early in 2002, he said he intended to buy the company and wanted me out. He delivered an ultimatum: Sell or I'm leaving with the entire management team. He ended up resigning shortly after learning that I would not hand over my company. His reason for resigning was our inability to remain a Sun partner. "Sun will never reinstate your partnership," he said, "and without it, I can't deliver what I promised you."

The lesson was that, to build the company I desperately needed for the sake of my larger goal, I would have to do it myself. Likewise, for most of 2002, I took over the critical imperative of convincing that major partner, Sun Microsystems, to allow our company to continue to resell Sun products. Our relationship with Sun was key to our survival -- and yet Sun was terminating its programs with resellers.

Rather than accept Sun's tactics, I knew that I could prevail. I had the determination to win back the contract because I was striving for a goal that was more important than profit. I also knew that I couldn't approach Sun on bended knee, begging for our survival. So I did my homework, studying Sun's plans for the year ahead to uncover a niche in which our company would enable Sun to increase market share without a costly investment.

After six months of battle, I prevailed, signing in October as one of Sun's eight OTP partners (OEM technology providers) in the U.S., and the only one in the East. No one -- and I mean no one -- thought that would happen. We secured two programs under the new contract, and we are looking forward to a bright future.

THE FUTURE BECKONS. My goal for Electronic Business Solutions and its 20 employees is to lift revenue above $20 million, from the $10 million we achieved in 2001. Also, I want the company to turn the corner to profitability.

However, it is the larger, long-term goal upon which I am focused -- the one that has inspired me to revitalize my company. Indeed, focusing on that goal has been the difference between believing that I could only go so far and knowing that I could go SO FAR! For the next few years, I expect to be running Electronic Business Solutions. Thereafter, I hope to take the leap to attending full time to my larger goal of establishing the memorial to Tony. Already, I have been in touch with MGH about possible plans for the housing for cancer patients.

The irony has been that my focusing on this higher calling has enabled me to become a more effective entrepreneur. If my goal was to make money for my family, or myself, I couldn't have accomplished what I have now. I already had that. It was the challenge of the higher cause to help others that pushed me further. I have asked myself many times why Tony had to die. I was angry and mad, but as a positive person, I found the answer. Tony's death will be justified only if I help many other lives. It has been a good grieving!

Fran H. Oh is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Electronic Business Solutions, Inc. EBS is a Billerica, Massachusetts based company, incorporated in 1993, providing Systems Integration, Software and Storage to companies throughout the world.

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