I started at FedEx corporation in 1988, as a part time job during college. The problem was, as a part-time employee, I made more money than some of my full-time friends – so the lure of a FedEx career led to full time employment as a FedEx driver within a couple of years.
A FedEx “station” is a complicated place, with lots of mechanical, electrical, and pneumatic apparatus around to facilitate the movement of packages and information. Word got out that there was a “generalist” technology person in the midst, and within a time, I was the DADS technician – an on-road courier who has attended special training to repair (plug and play) the truck radio systems that were used to dispatch drivers, and collect package tracking information.
This “extra” role led to relationships with the radio engineers and station service technicians that were officially responsible for keeping all of the technology in the facility alive and healthy. They realized that they had a trusted ally, and that I could fix things for them, and they would not have to make a site visit. They began stocking parts at my station, so that I would always have a ready supply of repair components. Station management realized that by devoting some of my time to technical and mechanical work, would allow the station to continue to operate smoothly, and have issues corrected quickly, in exchange for a small hit to the station budget, of having an on-road courier that did not spend all of his time delivering packages. I even had my own special route assignment: HUD (Housing and Urban Development.)
I honestly was not a fan of package delivery, it was a very stressful and out-of control experience for me – but it was a stepping stone to greater things (FedEx, at the time, was one of the few Fortune 100 companies where it was still remotely possible to move into and up the staff ranks, without a college degree.) Being an efficiency guy, I was always looking for ways to save money, and alleviate process and logistical problems around the station.
One major issue at a facility with vehicles is keys. Keys would inevitably accidentally go home with couriers, and there was no real process in place to track this. I implemented a hierarchical key structure, using FedEx’s own Primary-Secondary-Tertiary method – and this process involved several layers of management. There was the Line Keys, the management backup box, and the senior managers backup box. A great process, but it was costly to hire a locksmith to make 150 sets of keys. So I formed a relationship with a wholesale locksmith, acquired a used key machine. Equipped with the proper blanks from the local shop, I made the keys and stamped the ID rings myself, saving thousands.
I discovered I really loved solving challenges and reducing failures caused by weaknesses in the system – and I discovered that most weaknesses were a result of the original designer having a different intended use-case for the product. Failure points most always were the result of a usage different than intended. For example, we had expandable roller-decks that could extend out from a conveyor belt, to allow the easier movement of packages. However, these roller-decks had to be “flipped up” at the attach-point and out of the way, in order for the roll-up doors to the outside of the building to be closed – every single day and night. The attach points were never designed to be a pivot-point that held the entire weight of the roller-deck, and the bolts often broke at that point. Simple fix, over engineer the attach points using larger grade-8 bolts, washers, lock-nuts, and lithium grease to reduce wear. After leaving the facility, I visited 5 years later, and the roller-decks still had not failed since the “upgrade.”
After four years, my time in Ground Operations came to a close, and I was blessed to have an opportunity to take my technical (and computer) skills to a training position, training customers on how to use the then new & free DOS-Based FedEx customer shipping computers. This was a great opportunity to help integrate those devices into customer workflow, and allowed my troubleshooting skills to grow exponentially. After 5 years in that position, I was blessed to become the manager of the Northern California team.
It was a troubling time in our department – customer support and training was morphing from being a customer service position, to more of a technical integration business – we were being asked to integrate customer systems with our systems, to make shopping a by-product of processes that a company already went through to ship a package. This really got my efficiency juices flowing, however there were some rather frightened folks on the team – that really did not have the skill set (or the desire) to become technical integrators – it was not how they were wired. So they were caught between doing work they disliked, and maintaining a path toward retirement. In addition, FedEx was morphing from the 80,000 employee company when I started, to a 250,000 employe true global entity – which includes the loss of some of the “heart” of the company that so many of the early employees grew to know, love, and champion – adding to the somewhat troubling climate in our department. The movie “Castaway” did a good job of creating the “vibe” of the company back in the early 90’s- and each one of us received tickets to the movie. I remember management talking about the struggle to partner with that movie – a FedEx plane had to crash in the script – and up to that point, FedEx had not had any major disasters.
In this role, I was able to really stretch my shepherding skills – and help the team through their transitionary period (lasting several years.) I was also able to help some employees find roles that fit their core gifting a lot better than where we were headed as an organization. More than anything, I was able to communicate value to this team of dedicated people – that part of the period was filled with great joy – I have an innate love for people. The un-fulfilling part of this role was that I was becoming a spreadsheet manager. “Column A is the hot-button this week” upper management would say, “ We need to lower that by 10%.” “Lowering that number by 10% will raise other numbers in different categories,” I would say. “Those categories are not of concern this week” would be the reply. My technical and problem-solving skills were languishing, looking for an outlet. This, combined with my creativity in building solutions, resulted in me often doing the right thing for a customer, and bending the rules right to the edge to get it done. I became an ally with sales, and was able to secure many large accounts for the company using this strategy.
But it wasn’t right. So in 2005 I left 17 years at FedEx, and became the Operations and Technical Director at a small church that I was attending. Ministry is the answer, I thought… And I dove-in head first. I found great outlets for my creative (there’s that word again) problem solving abilities – there were always things that needed to be done, but were not in the budget. For example, we inherited a building that had an older Lucent telephone system. At least I think it was, you could not see it for the bundle of wires that surrounded it. To even start programming it to our specifications, was going to be a $2500 expense for the guy with the magic software to come out. So I started investigating VoIP, and built my first Asterisk-Based PBX using old computer hardware, and used Cisco phones from eBay – all for the same cost as the initial Lucent visit would be. I still use VoIP technology as a huge cost-savings telephony solution for churches today.
But something was happening. I was envisioning things that needed to happen, but without a team, I was the entire implementation team. That was the non-life giving part of the process for me, and I began to think that I was just lazy, and needed to “suck it up.” Being the technical brainchild behind the churches infrastructure, as well as the chief implementor, was burning me out – I was “the guy” for everything technical, and it was taking it’s toll on my marriage and family. So I began to consider options. At that point, with my “Finance Hat” on, I told the church board that we needed to cut back – the church was not growing as fast as predicted. And since I was the only non-pastoral executive staff, I laid myself off.
What to do now? My highest level of enjoyment came from church AV/IT infrastructure at the time, and I loved solving church technical problems creatively. I had already done some “side” work in that area as well, and had even picked up a few product lines that as a dealer – things that I believed in and could help churches move ahead. So I decided to “dive in” full time as an AV Consultant/Integrator – complete with my mountain of personal debt accumulated during the regular income that I was accustomed to as an employee. I even had a few (brave) churches give me big projects, that came out very well, and are still in operation today. Unfortunately, I knew little about pricing and business, and I pretty much gave everything away. No real income, no capital, and lots of debt. You can see the economic crash coming – and that hit in 2007.
Stripped down to nothing, I began asking “What do I want to do when I grow up?” I had no idea. I tried many things, from project management, to business coaching, and many points in between. All had components that got me excited, and I even had things to offer in those areas, but there were parts (usually around execution) that were definitely outside of my wheelhouse. Though the business coaching experience, I developed a dear friend in Joh Hittler http://evokinggenius.com who helps executives and teams move to breakthrough levels of performance, by focusing on what they do well (and outsourcing the rest.) He took me through many exercises, and what I discovered rocked my world.
I was not Technical (at the core) at all, as I had thought that I was.
No, in fact, I’m as creative as the starving artist that you know. It just so happens that my paintbrush is technology tools, not paints, markers, or charcoal. I creatively arrange technology tools in cost effective and unique ways to bring results and capabilities that arte stable, and extremely cost effective. What a breakthrough! I understand technology deeply, but I’m not the guy who enjoys writing computer programs for hours into the night (I had tried, and never found it fulfilling – the fulfillment for me was the understanding of what it could do, and how it could do it, and making it all work as part of an ecosystem.
So now we arrive at Axia Concepts today. I’m so honored with what God has allowed me to do, and for the organizations that he has allowed me to interact with. The slogan “Mega-Church Technology for the Local Church” is never more true than today. Traditional consultant-integrators utilize tried and true methods to solve production technology challenges and needs. This usually results in separate and diverse systems for many of the different disciplines that make up a church’s production technology. Mega churches are used to the complexities of this, and often have budgets that can support the varied aspects of their technical world. My desire (and my joy) is to bring technology that would be otherwise out of reach of the local church (or small organization) and make it a reality. This is done through creative means, so that budgets not originally designed for this level of technology can support it. The results have been dramatic, and inspiring. Our next level of growth involves growing this concept, while still retaining it’s efficiency and creativity.
God’s definitely going to have to help with that one – but I’m up for the challenge!