<em>The Butterfly Effect</em><br>Mind Over Machines' Puzzle Solver
Mind Over Machines founder Tom Loveland often flits around from one idea to the next, but he’s found at least one thing he’s certain of – the value of others’ ideas.
How do you breathe life into a press release? What leads a business to the point where it’s eager to tell the world what it has just accomplished, how it has been recognized?
I can’t help asking myself that question as I arrive for a meeting with Mind Over Machines Chairman Tom Loveland. We’re meeting because Mind Over Machines, a growing Timonium-based IT support provider, has just announced that it has been recognized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as the Small Business of The Year for the Eastern Region. It’s a meaningful award, singling the company out from thousands of other small businesses. That’s the press release.
But we’re really meeting because Tom Loveland is an interesting character. Tall, boyish, and bespectacled, he strikes one as a likely “techie.” Just the kind of guy to sort out a thorny software problem, to captain your slightly unruly IT department. (He can talk with those people.) It’s a partly accurate but incomplete perception. In actuality, Loveland is an adventurer, an entrepreneur with the kind of drive you’d associate more with Oracle co-founder, Larry Ellison.
Loveland founded Mind Over Machines in 1989. Today the company employs 50 people in three locations. Mind Over Machines has an impressive list of commercial and government clients including the National Institutes of Health. It provides them with system-specific IT support and tailored products like its Corporate Compliance Manager, a Web-based application which keeps track of everything related to corporate compliance (think Sarbanes-Oxley) from minute books to tax and committee reports.
Like its name, Mind Over Machines’ corporate slogan and driving mantra, “Making Computers Do Business Your Way” was coined by Loveland himself. It’s hard to say whether Tom has ever considered the reflective nature of the phrase. But for better or worse, he has made business do business his way.
The growth and accolades generated by Mind Over Machines during the last four years could not have come without the contributions of key players like Mind Over Machines president and CEO, Ron Monford, Loveland insists. Sentiments like this are often the expected clichés which founder/entrepreneurs offer upon recognition of their success. But for Mind Over Machines and Loveland, the acknowledgment rings true. You see, Tom Loveland literally left Mind Over Machines just as the enterprise was shifting into second gear.
The Peter Pan of literary lore is “the boy who never grew up.” For a good part of his career Tom Loveland might have characterized himself that way. He is fond of emailing a host of contacts to get their input on this issue or that, to relay a thought provoking idea. Not long after we talked, he emailed me the following self assessment:
“I was the kid who would assemble a toy, play with it once, then never touch it again. I like to win things… I like to figure out puzzles and get solutions started. But often I don’t enjoy following through on the full execution.”
Loveland refers to himself as a “butterfly,” likely to move from project to project. It’s an apt description but Peter Pan fits too. You may or may not know that the fabled character lent his name to one of the most successful seafood companies on the west coast – Peter Pan Seafoods. This company gave Loveland one of his first jobs, an experience to which he still compares new challenges, one which tested his resolve and capacity for work.
Fresh out of high school in Bainbridge, Washington in 1979, Loveland was looking for money and a little adventure before college. His father, a tax accountant for one of the big accounting firms in Seattle, informed his son that one of his clients paid big money for summer work. Peter Pan Seafoods needed workers for its Alaska salmon processing plants.
“It sounded exciting,” Loveland remembers
He would find some excitement, but mostly bone-grinding work. With a word to the right contact through his father, Tom was on a plane for King Cove, Alaska near Kodiak Island. He landed there amongst a diverse group of workers, local Aleuts, Philippinos, and Japanese.
“When we arrived, straight off the plane, they got us together and assigned us jobs. It was like being selected for a baseball team. Brad Sanders and I were the last two guys not picked for any of the teams they broke into. There was an assembly line and some people would cut fish open and rip their guts out, tossing the innards on the floor. Brad and I got pointed to shovels and we stood up to our shins in fresh, bloody fish guts under these elevated tables where workers were standing cutting fish. We shoveled for a couple of days until we were picked for some more exciting jobs.”
Loveland and his friend were asked (because they “looked smart” he surmises) to have a go at fixing some of the plant’s vacuum-packaging machines, a task at which they succeeded despite no experience.
“It was kind of fun because it’s a logic machine and it gave me the freedom to wander around. I could give people shoulder rubs if I felt like it.”
They likely enjoyed any massage offered. Shifts were typically 14 hours Tom reports, with one day off every 11 days. Work was life as evidenced by a slogan the Japanese workers had posted on a message board, “Always Work – Never Play, Because We Are Young.”
Young they were. Well organized they were not, a fact that led Loveland to his first brush with leadership outside of school. The workers were supposed to have a union representative each year, someone to ensure their rights were properly observed. At a meeting where Loveland and 300 compatriots had gathered to discuss such business, nothing was happening. No one was even willing to organize the meeting, until Tom stepped forward.
“We were all getting frustrated. I finally stood up and said, ‘Come on, let’s organize this and figure out what we need to do.’ Suddenly, I was the union leader.”
His role as union leader largely turned on ensuring that worker contracts were properly observed by both parties. Each worker signed a contract with Peter Pan wherein the company paid for their flights to and from the cannery as well as room, board and gear. A worker could opt out early, not complete the contract, but there was a catch. Unless a minimum number of hours had been worked, the worker had to reimburse the firm for his flight home. Given the relentless work, it was often distressing news.
“I saw your stereotypical small, frail young girl break down on the first day,” Tom recalls, “then just muscle through the whole summer. I saw big macho bruisers, crying like babies midway through the summer because they couldn’t take it, get shipped home.”
Loveland survived. In fact, he signed up for more work, joining the cleanup crew which scoured the plant at night. As a result, he learned more about the production machines and became a machinist. “More money, more freedom, more learning, more fun,” he says with a trace of satire. More “fun” meant working 18 hour days.
Tom worked at the Peter Pan plant for three summers, making $9000 to $16,000 for three months’ work. His tax refunds were bigger than his friends’ entire summer earnings he quips. But three stints of 90 days “at hard labor” took their toll he admits. The summer of 1981 was his last with the whimsically named seafood processor.
“Driving to the airport the second and third summer I was crying because of the memory of how hard it was. The second summer I went up a month early because I was a machinist and we arrived a few weeks ahead to get the plant ready. I’d been up there and got acclimated working only 12 hour days. Then the fish hit and all the workers came in on the plane. They’d give you rubber boots and waders, take your clothes and put them in some room which you’d find later. They’d send you to the cannery where fresh fish were piling up. You’d go and work a 40 hour shift. Only then could you get to your room, sleep, shower. When that 40 hour day hit again I wasn’t sure if I could stand it. My buddies who’d been there a couple years were like, ‘Come on Tom, you know you can. We always do it.’ Sure enough, by the end of that shift I was a machine.”
Compared to that, you’d expect college to be a breeze for Tom “The Machine” Loveland. His freshman year was spent at the University of Washington where, by the way, he took no computer classes. It wasn’t that difficult but, like the toys that Loveland would assemble and then discard, college failed to sustain his interest. In the fall of 1980, he matriculated at St. John’s College in Annapolis. Though highly respected for its “Great Books” curriculum, St. John’s was about as far as one could get from technical secondary education in 1980. But it was in Annapolis, a place where new adventures could be had.
Tom stuck with his studies at St. John’s for a second year but characteristically wandered off in the spring of 1982 – not geographically, just scholastically. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” Loveland says.
So he took some time off, a year in fact. Staying in Annapolis, he washed sailboats and worked for a pest control company. The work kept in him vittles (happily, Peter Pan didn’t sour his taste for fish and he remains particularly adept at picking out the best canned seafood) but little more. It did nothing to satisfy his interest in computers, a curiosity Tom had developed as far back as third grade when he’d “designed” robots. But another piece of intelligence from his father did.
His father had seen a magazine ad for a computer firm called SEEQUA with a West Street, Annapolis address. He mentioned it in a letter to his son and as soon as Tom got it, he sprinted off to the address, a vacant building he’d passed many times.
“It was a Saturday afternoon and I went running up there. It was an abandoned brick building but I started looking through the windows and I saw this big stack of keyboard boxes. I started pounding on the door. Pretty soon this guy comes down and I say, ‘Is this SEEQUA?’ He says, ‘Maybe,’ and I say, ‘I’d love to work here.’ He finally said they were looking for somebody.”
It’s doubtful that you’d remember SEEQUA Computer Corporation but they were hot stuff in 1983. Their star product, the SEEQUA Chameleon, could run a traditional operating system as well as the new MS DOS system. Information managers looking to hedge their technology bets loved the idea. Tom landed a job with SEEQUA but the firm was only paying minimum wage so he asked if he could work two shifts (80 hours) to make ends meet.
The job went well and he considered returning to St. John’s but there was something gnawing at Loveland. “I liked it a lot but my friends were doing more ‘techie’ things. They were at MIT, etc., and I felt like I was getting left in the dirt.”
Tom quelled the feeling by enrolling for the fall semester at the University of Chicago.
He would spend two years there, carrying a heavy course load but taking just three computer classes. When he wasn’t studying, he was working on the computer periphery. He first took a job with 1-800-PC-CONNECT, a PC wholesaler for which he took telephone orders. The following year (1984) he got a little more involved in the nuts and bolts, taking his first consulting job developing a dBASE II application for Alliance Insurance. Tom had no practical programming experience but, like the movie actor auditioning for a western who is asked if he can ride a horse, Tom “stretched the truth.”
Despite figuratively becoming a part of the computer industry and working in the Sears Tower, Loveland disdained the very idea that he was involved in the work for profit. His peers were taking all the computer science classes they could while Tom dabbled in this course and that.
“I was like, ‘Ick, all these people talk about is starting a computer job for $50,000 a year. Do it for the money?’ It was gross. I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t want to ruin my hobby.”
He didn’t, at least for a while. Loveland continued part-time as a programmer, taking a variety of courses at the University of Chicago through the fall of 1985. Then his mother passed away, the reasons unknown. “She just woke up dead one morning,” Loveland says with a trace of bewilderment. He packed his bags and moved to Oregon to be with his father. In addition to being with his family, he needed to figure out what his next move would be.
Tom still had not graduated. “Five years, three schools, no degree,” he admits matter-of-factly. Was he worried about not having graduated I asked?
“Not at all. It was a worrying thing for grandmom. Over the years I thought, ‘Should I be worried about this?’ I had a letter from the University of Chicago saying come back any time. I toyed with the idea but never followed through.”
Loveland’s lack of a degree has been an issue only once in his career when he tried to take on some projects for a firm which developed financial presentation software. Its CEO, a Harvard MBA, looked at Tom’s CV and told him that he saw an inability to focus. “I said, ‘Fine, I’ll do something else,” Loveland remembers.
But in late 1985 he was a young man living with his father. Away from school, he realized that computers were what really interested him and that making a living at something you enjoy was not at all “icky.” Casting around for a project, he decided he could use his connections at 1-800-PC-CONNECT to establish a business reselling PC equipment in the Northwest. He dubbed the new enterprise, Microcomputers West and took out an ad in The Oregonian newspaper.
Unfortunately, Microcomputers West had a brief life. Tom found customers but the equipment shipped to his new clients from the Chicago retailer was not what he’d ordered. His first customers happened to be Intel engineers and they called him on the deal right away.
“I was dumb, extremely naïve,” Loveland recalls. “There I was with no money getting on an airplane to Chicago to take the equipment back and saying mea culpa to my customers. It was a short lived venture but I learned some stuff.”
His first stab at starting a company blunted, Loveland was trying to think of something else when a phone call changed his course.
“I was up on the roof of my parents’ house, cleaning out the gutter and I got a phone call from a buddy from Annapolis who I’d met at SEEQUA.”
The friend was now with a small software development firm in Baltimore and was looking for help for its staff of three. Tom immediately agreed to become employee number four and moved to Baltimore to help develop war-gaming software for the Army, Air Force and BG&E. The small team worked in apartment-offices near Camden Yards in a tumultuous environment. The firm’s founder was by Loveland’s description an eccentric leader whose M-O included paying no taxes, disappearing for days in a manic depressive funk, and paying his employees just $75 a day.
“His office was in a loft above ours. He would sit up there and cackle, ‘Work minions, work!’ He was constantly on the phone. I never saw him write a line of code. Turns out, he is brilliant. He’s with Microsoft now.”
Loveland actually found the chaos amusing and stayed 13 months with the firm until he received a letter. After leaving Peter Pan Seafoods, he’d financed the remainder of his education with student loans – loans which he had not paid back. Uncle Sam wanted his due. The meager sum he was receiving from his present employer wouldn’t allow him to eat and pay what he owed so Tom struck out on his own again.
His erratic ex-boss had a prospective client whom he kept putting off for unfathomable reasons. Tom reached out to the contact and began consulting for him as a freelancer under the name “Brainstorms.” Midway through 1987, Brainstorms became “Higher Logic” a new company Tom incorporated in partnership with the gentleman for whom he’d been consulting. His partner, a well known high-flyer about town would bring in business while Loveland would assemble and direct a software development team offering a variety of solutions.
“This was also part of Tom Loveland’s education,” he wryly remarks.
Tom’s new partner was indeed well connected and had been quite successful. Their partnership would run for almost two years until, once again, Loveland opted out. He’d sensed something fishy about his collaborator from the start but things went well for a time. Then Tom began to realize that the other half of Higher Logic had stepped outside the lines financially. Sensing disaster, he dissolved the partnership and shut down Higher Logic, wisely making a clean break from his associate.
“He was really more about smoke and mirrors than anything,” Loveland explains. “I got to learn about honesty and dishonesty and I was able to learn about how to bamboozle bankers. I watched him do it. There’s occasionally a story in the press about somebody who’s done some bamboozling. I’m fascinated by those stories, partly because I was close to someone, watching this happen. I think it’s kind of like a game of musical chairs. People in business sometimes cross the line. My partner definitely did. But, if the music had stopped when he was working inside the lines, he would be lauded as a great business thinker, an aggressive genius. In his case, the music stopped when he was across the line and now he’s a criminal.”
The list of highly successful self-made people who have, at one time or another, acted “creatively” to achieve their aims is long. Loveland’s education included the realization that while shady dealing is in no way recommended, it happens more often than many in business admit, often with poor outcomes but occasionally with success.
Higher Logic had been developing tailored software for business. The variety of problems to which software solutions might be brought to bear fascinated Tom. By dint of desire as well as necessity, he returned to freelancing in 1989, forming a new one-man operation – Mind Over Machines Inc.
“It was just Tom again. Tom working out of his house,” he reflects.
The name, Mind Over Machines is important to Loveland, one he gave a lot of thought to. “I needed a creative name that had a little bit of flash and told a little story.” Today, he can’t remember whether he or his wife came up with the moniker but he asserts, “I have all kinds of evidence that it matters. Every two or three days, someone says, ‘I love your company’s name.” Though Loveland didn’t know it in 1989, the name would later become a commodity in its own right.
In the meantime, he worked as an independent, bringing in other freelancers as subcontractors when needed. Mind Over Machines was really “TOMInc” but successful enough. Through the early and mid 1990s, the company developed software systems for the Army, Johns Hopkins University, and Ciena Corporation among others. Landing and satisfying such clients was a challenge.
“It was hard. I’d go see the client during the day and I’d get the details and then after-hours I’d pass them to the stringer. I worked crazy hours constantly. Fortunately, my wife was in graduate school and we’d joke, ‘When are you getting home? Oh, midnight. Is that midnight programming time or midnight laboratory time?’ She’d come home at 2 am and I’d work til 3.”
Tom’s business grew organically through contacts and by reputation. There was no marketing, no investor capital, no bank line. Loveland refers to himself as Mind Over Machines’s first employee but by the mid 90s he had his second, an Azerbaijani who’d been developing defense software in the USSR while Tom had been doing the same in Baltimore. The idea of taking on a full time employee was a frightening but instructional experience he maintains.
“Being an entrepreneur is really good for personal development. It puts you in places that you don’t go to when you’re not a business owner. I’ve learned over the years to turn off worrying. What’s going to happen is going to happen. If I can’t affect it now after 5 or 6 pm, I just shut it off, close it.”
The ability to compartmentalize is a common entrepreneurial trait and one Tom would need to fall back on when he failed to generate enough work to keep his real “first” employee on. (Not a good day in my life,” he admits.) Though it was a setback, Loveland explains that it turned out well in the long run. Not long thereafter, he received a call from a nearby firm which had a vendor building a large national software platform for them. They didn’t quite trust the vendor and wanted Tom to eye the work.
They needn’t have worried Loveland concluded, adding that the software code was some of the cleanest he’d ever seen. Privately, he thought someday he’d like to hire someone who could write that kind of code. He’d get his chance a couple weeks later when the same firm called him in again to check the vendor’s progress. Listening to his client’s CIO describe what he thought was a major snag, Tom suggested a minor change which solved the problem immediately.
“I just talked myself out of two weeks work,” Loveland thought.
On the contrary, the firm tossed its vendor and hired Mind Over Machines to complete the project. While in transition, Tom met and hired the gent whose code he so admired.
“He wasn’t thrilled working for the vendor but loved the project. I suddenly had a contract for a year-plus worth of work and I got Bob. That was the real beginning of Mind Over Machines.”
The company slowly expanded, scooping new clients like National Registered Agents Inc. (NRAI), a firm it still serves. NRAI provides registered agent services and compliance tools for nearly 70,000 clients nationwide. Company CEO, Dennis Howarth, met Loveland in 1995.
“One of Tom’s clients I was friendly with had recommended I talk to Tom. I met with him and Tom was there as the developer of the software package. Tom showed me the package. We struck up a friendship almost immediately and a business relationship at the same time. I walked out of there telling him we wanted the product and it’s just developed from there.”
The product in question was an application Loveland had created called QCARD. Tom says he liked Howarth’s vision and simply gave him a license to use the software. Eleven years on, NRAI still uses a modified version of Q-CARD and has retained Mind Over Machines for a steady stream of projects and support. The episode is illustrative of the way Tom Loveland made a name for his fledgling firm. Loveland struck up relationships with other area IT vendors with specific products. Mind Over Machines became the “go-to-guy” those vendors referred their clients to when they encountered a problem.
“Call Tom, he’ll figure it out,” Loveland muses, “He’ll mold things, bend things, fix things. He’ll make it work – making computers do business your way.”
He’d also be there in the long run, he stresses. Many of Mind Over Machines’s commercial clients have been with the company for years, lured by Tom’s savvy and charisma, kept through the firm’s solid work and dependable service.
“He’s a unique individual,” Dennis Howarth declares. “There are very few people you can have a handshake with and conduct business for a number of years without any kind of formal contract. That’s Tom.”
The nebulous nature of “software support and solutions” is something Mind Over Machines’s chairman freely admits. It occasionally makes explaining what the company does difficult. “Sometimes, I joke, ‘Have compiler, will travel,” he says. But it fits Tom’s penchant for solving puzzles, one of which was about to take him away from Mind Over Machines.
Though the Internet boom was gathering steam by the mid-90s, Tom Loveland wasn’t part of it. He was too focused on his programming business to take note but his friends weren’t. Some former SEEQUA associates founded one of the area’s first ISPs, CharmNet, in 1994 and began nagging Loveland.
“They said, ‘Tom, you gotta get a URL.’ I thought, ‘I’m just a one man shop doing local stuff. What’s this Internet thing?’ But they insisted so I got MOM, Mind Over Machines. A few years go by and Manhattan and Hollywood start calling.”
In getting a domain name which was an acronym of his company name, Tom inadvertently captured one of the most desirable URLs on the net, mom.com.
“I was email@example.com. I found out that people around town were telling strangers in the bar, ‘I met this guy today who’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Isn’t that great?”
Hollywood and New York producers wanted the URL for various movies or series about mothers Loveland relates but their offers of $6000 or less didn’t interest him. Then he got a call from a dotcom player who offered six figures and equity in the new company he was forming. That got Tom’s attention.
“I almost signed the papers but I thought before I signed. ‘I should just check and see if we could do this ourselves.”
He ran the offer by a Baltimore friend who had been successful starting dotcoms of his own and a few other contacts. He found out the URL gave him a lot more power than he thought. Loveland took that realization to a Young Entrepreneurs Organization meeting in Baltimore at which the featured speaker was Jonathan Ledecky.
Ledecky’s name popped up last year in connection with an attempt to buy the Washington Nationals baseball team with George Soros but in 1999 he was known as the father of the “roll-up” on Wall Street. He’d built his firm, U.S. Office Products up to $3 billion in revenue in less than three years by acquiring a bucket full of small office supply stores nationwide, “rolling” them up into one entity and launching an IPO. He was embarked on a new venture which envisioned rolling up smaller Internet companies with synergistic connections and selling the lot on Wall Street.
Tom listened quietly to Ledecky’s speech on the Internet gold rush trying to summon up the courage to approach him after it was over. He did, telling Ledecky he owned the name mom.com and suggested that Ledecky, or some of his friends, might be interested in it. Tom went home and late that evening found a message in his inbox from Ledecky. The email suggested Loveland join the dotcom doyen’s new venture and the tempting prospects thereof. Most would probably have joined forces with Ledecky, figuring to have struck paydirt. But, after a couple meetings, Loveland, yet again, chose to go his own way.
“Suddenly, this was a very real thing,” he says of mom.com. The offers he’d had confirmed its potential and Tom wanted to harness that potential himself, win or lose. He found a partner (Michael Teitelbaum), raised capital through friends and family, and launched mom.com as an “affinity” site, a clearinghouse for all things related to motherhood from products to mutual support. “I was very clear, my friends remind me, about saying, ‘Who knows whether this is going to make it or not but let’s give it a shot.”
Giving mom.com a shot had implications for Mind Over Machines. To make the new enterprise a success, Loveland would have to concentrate his energy on it. That would mean leaving Mind Over Machines to someone else. Tom first sought suggestions for how to proceed at his executive network group meeting.
“I presented my situation with Mind Over Machines and mom.com, telling them what I wanted to do. I was just looking for advice about how to approach things. To a person, they said, ‘I don’t know anybody who can run more than one company successfully at once. You can’t do both.’ I was thinking, ‘I need a new group.”
Reviewing his options, Tom thought of someone who might have more practical advice.
“I had had met Ron Monford a couple of years earlier when he was president of one of Mind Over Machines’ clients. I got to see him in operation, liked what I saw. Our work there ended and I lost touch with him. But that summer, he was heading in the same direction with his own dotcom idea.”
Ron Monford is the sort of classically trained, experienced executive that Tom Loveland is not. Prior to reaching for his own dotcom vision, Monford spent 25 years in the men’s apparel industry. Schooled as an engineer and manager, he had no direct IT background. However, he had been forced to stay up to date on technology by the IT departments which reported to him as a COO and CEO. Though temporarily retired by 1999, he wanted to be part of the “New Economy” and figured that Loveland might have some good advice.
“A friend of mine and myself were interested in starting a dotcom company and I didn’t really know anyone in the local IT community to develop the website for us so I called Tom and asked him for a recommendation.”
Loveland’s response was probably more than Monford expected. He recommended himself.
“I said, ‘No need. Here we are. Nothing against your idea, but in this era of 18 year olds scribbling things on napkins and getting funded, no one will take seriously a couple of senior executives. You need to have a teenager on the team.’ So, I convinced him to include me and another gentleman as minority owners. We got engaged and reacquainted.”
Their re-acquaintance established, it was time for Loveland to ask for a recommendation. He asked if Monford would help him review candidates for leadership of Mind Over Machines.
“After one of those interviews, Ron looked at me and said, ‘I think we’re missing an opportunity here.”
Monford would take over as Mind Over Machines president himself, joining the New Economy by joining Tom’s enterprise rather than launching his own. The company had 15 employees in 1999 and while Monford initially envisioned coming in on a part-time basis, mom.com’s ramp-up saw Loveland leave the office entirely. That left Ron in charge of the ship.
“I was not involved directly in product development,” he explains, “but certainly in business development, client relations, creating an environment of accountability and organization.”
In many respects, Monford’s arrival was fortuitous. He gave the company the kind of consistent direction which its founder would have struggled to provide, a fact Loveland acknowledges.
“When I realized this about myself in early adulthood, I thought it was a weakness. I figured I should buckle down, diligently follow through on everything. After a while, I recognized my nature is my strength. I should continue following my nose, find interesting opportunities, recognize solutions, win them, and let others better than I am execute them.”
The realization allowed Loveland to “let go” of Mind Over Machines where other founders’ may not have been able to. The result was good for the company. Monford led Mind Over Machines into new commercial areas and brought in new people, injections the firm needed to take off. For nearly two years, Mind Over Machines grew and profited without Tom Loveland. Ironically, its next plateau would be achieved only with his return.
a good walk missed
Tom Loveland and his other partners made a reasonable go of mom.com for two years. But the tech downturn of 2000-2001 slowed the enterprise’s growth. Presented with a buy offer “too good to refuse,” Tom elected to sell the business. He spent several months winding it down, transferring it to new owners after which he anticipated taking a well deserved break.
“I was really looking forward to having a ‘walk-about.’ I’d spent so much time with my head down in the ditch that one of the things I wanted to do was to get a clue what was going on the technology community in Baltimore. I didn’t really know who the players were or what companies were doing what.”
But just as he was relishing the idea, Tom got another call.
“Ron called me one day and said something along the lines of, ‘Hey, we need a little help here. I don’t want to overstate it, but I was disappointed that I’d missed my opportunity to have a nice break. I was not 100 percent when I went back.”
Loveland says that Monford wanted the founder’s help in “making rain” or bringing in new business, a take somewhat different than that of Mind Over Machines’s president who maintains that he wasn’t surprised to see Tom return.
“I felt that at some point in time, Tom would come back. I didn’t know what else he was going to do with himself. He gradually began to talk to people in the local IT community, trying to get familiar with what was going on but he was definitely a part-timer at best until he began to get actively involved with business development.”
Taking a seat behind a desk at Mind Over Machines was difficult Loveland affirms, not because his return created an awkward situation but because he felt pressure to bring some business to the firm. Integrating with Monford as CEO and himself as chairman was a smooth process he maintains.
“Ron was doing a great job running the company. He’s brought along a lot of structure and some formality without being overbearing. Ron and I were very clear about chain of command and not confusing it.”
Had there been any misapprehension about their responsibilities, Mind Over Machines might not have been a happy place but a clear understanding and appreciation of each other’s talents helped both men make the transition.
“Tom filled a role and I filled a role,” Ron Monford agrees, “I continued as CEO and Tom as business development director and chairman. I think it was extremely smooth. He knew his strengths and vice versa.”
It also brought Mind Over Machines a new line of business. Feeling pressure to contribute, Tom Loveland found another puzzle.
“I sat down with myself and tried to think of how I could get a quick win,” he remembers. “That’s when I thought of the Federal government. I contacted a couple of old contacts to see what they were doing and one thing led to another and that’s how we got involved with the government.”
That involvement translated to a $1.5 million contract with NIH and the creation of a government solutions business for Mind Over Machines. A second NIH contract was signed in 2004 and more work is on the horizon. That work is enough to keep Loveland from getting the “itch” and taking off in a different direction he contends. Work for the Feds is a vast puzzle which he has as yet just begun to assemble.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce award is quite an honor Loveland affirms. “Seven companies in the country got this thing. We were singled out as a sort of model for our region. That’s pretty special.”
Special enough to put in a press release which is where we began. While it sums up the award effectively it cannot sum up what is perhaps the most important lesson in the education of Tom Loveland – his desire to make it his way when logic suggested he do otherwise.
“Somewhere in my gut I’d say, ‘No!’ There was the strength to just push harder and make that scary phone call.”
View original in SmartCEO