Monday, August 19, 2013

Recollections: A small business merger in 1989; it was "business as usual" until it wasn't

The first Monday after April, 1989 was cool, cloudy and breezy in Washington, with the aroma of petals and blossoms everywhere after a mild winter.  I was working at 20th and M Streets in Washington for a small company called the “Consolidated Consulting Group”, or CCG, which was analyzing Medicare claims data and cranking out reports on usage for various clients, mostly associations of hospitals and health are providers.  This was the world of K Street. 
I was the only true “programmer-analyst”, and there were two terminals (emulated on IBM PC’s) with a link to the mainframes at Healthnet (Blue Cross Blue Sheld of VA) in Richmond, in a cubbyhole at the end of one corridor, next to two large Okidata dot-matrix printers.  Around 11:30 AM,  I was working on a simulation run when I saw “P ad B”, the two big chiefs from Richmond, walk into the office off the elevator. (Hint: there had been just enough time for them to drive up I-95 from Richmond.) 
 Quickly, the word spread that they would meet with each one of us separately that afternoon.
I had a normal hot meal at the Lunch Box, and then found an outdoor shoeshine on M-Street, a block away.   I don’t take the time to shine shoes and iron shirts, which I think makes very little difference (I know the advice to the contrary; I believe in permanent press, even if it takes advantage of low-wage workers overseas).
I was about the sixth person called in to the master office to meet P and B.  I had heard, “well, there will be restructuring”.  I saw them nod as I sat down, with the spring blossoms visible through a second story window.  (We were in what used to be the AARP Building.)   The younger man, B, immediately said, “What we want to do is to sell the business.”   I was part of the team that would go with the sale.  During the month of April, we would have to be acquired. 
Actually, we attracted at last three offers, and in early May were formally acquired by Lewin ICF; Lewin has become a well known health care and public policy consulting firm since then.  We would move over to Vermont Ave and 14th St, and as history would have it, I would stay there until January 1990.  “The rest is history,” as they say.
What was interesting from that point was that we faced a “period of transition”.  There was uncertainty.  There was a need for diligence.  There were details.  But there was confidence that it would be OK.
In fact, a few weeks later, in early May 1989, I went down to Richmond to copy all the files and bring back the data on tapes.  I couldn’t afford to miss anything, or have a wreck on I-95.  It sounds like a curious episode to reflect on more than two decades later, where we are so concerned about personal information, surveillance, and leaks.  Things could not be done that way today.
I bring this anecdote up because some “restructuring” is probably coming up in my online presence.  For one thing, I am working on getting out a “Do Ask Do Tell III” book, after more than a decade; and the rest of my presence may be re-organized to track behind the books the way my sites were when I first started all this in 1997-1998.  I’ll be talking more about it very soon on my main blog.   But my experience with “very small business” back in 1989-1990 (with CCG and Lewin-ICF) was certainly valuable for what it taught me, some of which still influences my thinking today.  I wonder what P and B would say.
Actually, back in September 1981, when I was contemplating CABCO (the Combined Medicare A-B Consortium in Dallas, which couldn’t get off the ground and never implemented anything because of turf protection among the Plans) I was interviewed (after direction from Wells Recruiting) by an entrepreneur running a company called simply “Computer Distribution”. The man was going to develop a property-casualty system on Dec-PDP-VAX minis, popular then.  I would be his only employee, working in a strip mall near where 183 and Stemmons met.  The contemplated salary was $27000 (not so bad for 1981).   It didn’t happen, and I wound up with Chilton (over on Fitzhugh in Oak Lawn) then.  (It would morph too TRW and Experian eventually.) I have no idea whether he got anywhere.  If someone he hired didn’t work out, “I would just have to tell you…” This may be the smallest company I ever heard of in the “mainframe” world.
I can fastforward to September 1, 1994, when, at USLICO in Arlington VA, we learned through the grapevine that we would be bought by NWNL in Minneapolis, to become ReliaStar (eventually ING). I learned about it crossing the street between two buildings.  Pretty soon, the following Monday, we had meetings about the merger, which happened in January 1995. The data center operations did not move to Minneapolis until June 1995, and applications were never merged.

Nevertheless, I recall a period of some months anticipating “change”.  I remember a newspaper ad that read “Change is good”.  That’s not the same as “Greed is good”.    Management will always say, "it's business as usual" until it no longer is.   
The most recent previous post on Lewin was on August 11. 

Picture: Aug. 2007, well before the Aug. 2011 earthquake, when the Washington Monument was open; we were located in the upper left part of picture.  

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