The following article is from the Startel National Users Group’s newsletter, The Galaxy. The article was written by Donna West and published June 21, 2013. To see the original article, please visit: http://library.constantcontact.com/download/get/file/1102816912141-263/Galaxy+2nd+2013.pdf.
Gary Pudles is a familiar figure at SNUG and throughout the industry. He is always willing to lend a hand, to help someone out, and to give of his time and talents – and those of his employees. Whether he is giving a presentation – complete with dollars and sense —or acting as auctioneer for one worthy cause after another, or sharing information behind the scenes, he is willing to put himself out for the folks in our industry. His unselfishness in these regards has helped most of us in one way or another.
“I want to give back! I have had incredible gifts bestowed on my life,” Gary Pudles exclaimed. “I believe that on my worst day I still have so many more blessings than many people have on their best day!” When you think of the strife, and the life conditions in the world, many of us in the answering service business do indeed have incredible blessings; some of us recognize that more than others and use that knowledge to have fun with their lives. Gary is one of those people.
“I DO have fun,” he acknowledged. “I enjoy every single day! I have a great time with my family, friends, and businesses. I taken calculated risks and sometimes I just take great risks, but most of the time things turn out well.” Simply being in this industry involved a series of risks that many people would not have taken, but look where Gary is now.
Most people know that Gary worked for Muzak in Washington for about five and a half years. The company provided services to over 3000 businesses in the DC area installing and maintaining music and sound systems. “It didn’t dawn on my while I was working for Muzak that we were actually a customer of the kind of business I would later own,” he said, “but answering service was a part of my business life even then. I would go into work and review the fax from the night before which showed the service calls that came in. Messages were on the old thermal-fax paper and I would mark it up and give different pieces of it to each department for their follow-up. I was a consumer of answering services and I like to think that gave me some insight as to the service quality I wanted to provide.”
“In 1996 my ex-wife and I packed up our children and moved to Philadelphia as my job changed. I wasn’t particularly happy in my new job and I ended up browsing the internet looking for a business to buy. I wanted something with stability, flexibility and recurring income. I found something similar to Muzak and put together an investment plan to purchase that business. At the eleventh hour the plan failed to jell. This was in January, 1998 and I made an agreement with my ex-wife that if I had not found something to buy by August 1 would go back to being an employee somewhere. That was something I really did not want to do, so my search to find a company to purchase became almost all consuming, so much so my friends started calling me “the Lee Iaccoca of nothing”.
Gary found several answering services for sale that were within an hour of his home thanks to Steve Michaels and Connections Magazine. He wrote out a business plan and set out to find investors. He saw an article in Connections about Bill Robertshaw and contacted him at his office in Princeton, N.J. “Something ‘clicked’ for us almost immediately,” Gary acknowledged, and a friendship was born. “After our first meeting I went back home to put my plans into effect while trying to convince Bill to invest in my new venture. Ultimately I couldn’t tie in all the numbers for this venture and I knew that the bank was not going to lend me the money I needed to make the purchase I wanted. By now I had been out of work for five months and it was time to do something.
That August 1 deadline was looming so I called Mr. Robertshaw and asked if I could come to see him. After some more great conversation, he offered to sell me a service in Allentown PA. He named a price and I said, “I don’t have that much money.” Ultimately, I wrote Bill a check for just about all the money I had in the world, then I had to ask him not to cash it until Tuesday, because I needed to move the cash into the account. I used my knowledge of the law and business transactions to write a six or seven line agreement and just like that, we were partners! After six plus months of unemployment, I was now the President of AnswerNet, a name that I had secured prior to our negotiations. I had 20 employees and we were billing about $50,000.00 per month. Incredible!”
“Bill had offered me the use of an empty office in his Princeton building and I thankfully took him up on the offer. It figured it would keep us close while I was learning the business. About a week later, Bill told me about another service for sale out on the west coast.” Using the first service as collateral Gary ALMOST had enough for the purchase. “I was about $100,000.00 short so I asked the banker if he did Home Equity Loans. He did, and within days I had another service!”
“What an exciting time that was,” Gary laughed. “It was so much fun and it was so scary, good scary but still scary. By March 1, 2000 we had 30 companies and people in the industry knew who I was. Today AnswerNet is the largest privately held answering service in the world. It boggles the mind. I could never have done it without Bill Robertshaw opening the door. His strength in expense management has taught me so much. I had only basic knowledge of the answering service, and was able to leverage my other business experiences and legal skills with a willingness to work 18 hour days, but Bill provided that little extra that allowed me to be successful in the TAS industry.”
Gary’s passion for life extends to his family as well. Today Gary is engaged to his “best friend” Melanie (aka Mel) and together they have five children—two from his previous marriage (Jesse, 20 and Jana, 17) and three from hers (Nicole, 20, Elyse, 17, and Ryan, 17). “When we moved in together we had five kids all in high school. We were like the Brady Bunch on crack,” Gary jokes. And now, Mel and Gary are less than 18 months from becoming empty nesters.
An appreciation for life and a love of people resonate throughout Gary’s stories. “In my lifetime I have had many moments of clarity that have shown me what life is all about, and how to live it well,” Gary mused. “I remember when I was in high school and was the only boy on the student council. I was unhappy about something that was happening at my prom. That evening one of the teachers noticed my angry attitude, stopped me near some beautiful flowers and asked, ‘What’s the matter, Gary? You are about to graduate, you are here on a beautiful night with a beautiful girl, be happy.’ He made me see past the minor disappointment and taught me to always smell the flowers.”
“It isn’t always easy to move past disappointments but I have learned they come with life and we need to handle them with grace. I remember running for the ATSI Board of Directors, and I lost. It wasn’t so much that I lost but I had done a lot to help ATSI and I felt disheartened that I lost to someone who had done little for the organization. I was devastated. Eventually my work was acknowledged by the organization and I went on to serve four years on the ATSI Board. I have spent a lot of time on ATSI over the years and I was incredibly proud when my friend Allan Fromm presented me with the ATSI’s President’s Award.”
“One of my best ATSI experiences has been my involvement with the ATSI Owner’s Forum program,” Gary continued. “Betty Porter had donated money to begin the program, and although we had slightly different views of the way it should be formatted, this program has been very successful for ATSI, and more importantly for the members who have taken part in it. Every single person has benefited from what they learned and have gone on to run a more profitable company. And we had FUN participating in it.”
“I have had great fun working with ATSI and CAM-X, being the master of ceremonies and the auctioneer for the fund raisers, for Breast Cancer and for the SNUG Education Foundation has been a blast; I can’t imagine anything more satisfying and exhilarating as being involved in those programs. FUN doesn’t begin to describe it. And the cherished friendships that we form – they are fun, and so much more.” Gary added, “Our industry friends form a network that is also a safety net, we are there for each other. I value and…truly the word cherish is the right word… some of my most cherished friendships are within the SNUG organization. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“Running a business is FUN; running a multi-site, complex business is insane fun, it makes your head spin. It is all about forward thinking and calculated risk-taking, you just have to be willing to reach out and take that decision and make it yours and make it work. I have been amazed and grateful for the SmartCEO program, the Inc. 500 programs and the opportunities they have provided for me. To interview John Scully, the former CEO of both Apple and Pepsi, was incredible, what a thrill. None of these amazing things would have happened if I had not signed that check for my life savings and joined this incredible industry.”
“Everything I do is designed to help companies run better – not my way – but by having a platform that will help people run their business the way they want to. I want to help build business processes and identify priorities. I want to help companies operate better because it is more FUN to have a successful business.” He enthused, “And a successful business isn’t that difficult to attain. In our industry being 20% profitable is enough for a good living. Being 40% profitable is fantastic, it’s more than fantastic it is great fun! And we are so lucky we can DO that!”
FUN… Gary Pudles is all about fun, “I AM about fun, life should be fun, I play fat guys tennis every Saturday and sing and play my drums in my basement when no one’s around…that’s fun too. I travel and that’s more fun. Recently, I’ve been to the International Startup Festival in Montreal, Mel and I went to Italy, and we took our family to Costa Rica and Mexico, and just recently at the SNUG conference in Newport Beach, Mel, Jana, Elyse and I went to jail! It was all great fun.”
“And my family, my wonderful ‘his and hers family is becoming our family”, Gary smiled, “My great kids and Mel’s great kids and how we all get along is fun! It is all about love and fun, and fun and love and fun. I have a lot to be thankful for and lots of people to thank for helping me get to this point in my life. I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!”