Before we were interrupted by sexual pursuits I was left unemployed and in a high rise apartment in New Jersey. Olson Brothers’ Eastern Regional Operations had collapsed, the Blue Anchor plant would never be built and I and the General Manager did the final functions of closing it down, and then I was unemployed in a strange land.
Lois had left the University of Pennsylvania’s chemistry department when we moved across the Delaware River, so we were in somewhat tenuous shape that January of 1973. I received a few week’s severances pay, hardly enough to see us through the month. I had immediately gone to the Pennsylvania Labor Office and applied for unemployment. (I was now living in New Jersey, but the job had been located in Pennsylvania.)
Unlike the difficulties I would someday face with theDelaware Employment Insurance, Pennsylvania approved me very quickly. Meanwhile I was sending out resumes and checking the want ads. One ad that caught my eye was for a job with a company called Bestline. I dialed the number and they gave me a date and time to go to the Cherry Hill Inn.
I went expecting an interview. Instead I was ushered down a hallway outside a large ballroom filled with chairs. There were finger foods and drinks on tables lining this corridor. A man with a clipboard greeted me, took my name and invited me to indulge in the edibles. There were quite a number of people nibbling at finger sandwiches ambling about. After a while we were each handed a folder and directed to find seats in the ballroom. The foldercontained a small booklet and several forms. Once seated the lights dimmed. A spotlight picked up a well-dressed fellow stepping out on a stage down at one end and he enthusiastically began explaining Bestline to us. The products were cleaners and waxes. It sounded like we would be selling these items like some scrub-it-up Amway peddlers.
A sales job, I had no interest in a sales job. I had tried training to sell Encyclopedias door to door for Colliers a few years earlier and left the training after a week. I did not consider myself any kind of salesman.
But no, we weren’t sales staff and this was not some salaried position. This was a great opportunity. As they say on TV, there’s more. This wasn’t just a peddler’s position. We would be like little individual franchises for Bestline designated local distributors. It wasn’t that we would take simply take customer orders and Bestline would ship out the product to fill what we sold. No, we were expected to buy the products up front, like buy a whole garage full of the stuff, at a discount beneath the retail price, of course. The initial discount was 30%.The greater your sales, the higher discount you would receive, up to 52%. Sure, Bestline would get their money and we would have to actually sell all the junk to get back our investment plus any possible profit.
Yet, that wasn’t all at all! Selling wasn’t the main point. If youreally wanted to make money then you would recruit other local distributors. You yourself wouldn’t wear out your shoes going door to door, you would bring in your friends and neighbors into the scheme to order their own garage-size supply to sell and you would collect a commission on their sales. You only needed to recruit ten people to do it and then convince them to recruit ten of their acquaintances to also do it. Those ten would sent a cut to your original ten, and in turn your ten would pass on a percentage to you for of all these now 110 people. You would soon be rich as Bill Gates.
It was clear to me this was a good old fashioned Ponzi scheme. If you were at the top of the pyramid perhaps you would actually make something, but there would be diminishing returns down the line as each spin off group attempted to find ten suckers to be their own salesmen. For the scheme to work each person involved had to hook up ten more people. Think about it. If I got ten people and they got 10 people each, then I’d have 110 people passing a share up to me. And if those additional 100 people each got 10 recruits there would be 1,010 people sharing the loot with me. But for those people to earn anything they would have to keep recruiting. Twelve layers down and you would need to have 100 Billion Bestline dealers. You’d have to be recruiting on other planets because the population of Earth in only 7 Billion.
They really put on the pressure to sign an agreement right there and then. It felt as if they would let you out of the place until you did, but despite their ganging up on me and calling me names, I managed to break through the gauntlet and angrily stomped out.
Bestline was taken to court more than once and judgments brought against them for fraud and false claims.
People v. Bestline Products, Inc.
[Civ. No. 46034. Court of Appeals of California, Second Appellate District, Division Three. August 25, 1976.]
THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. BESTLINE PRODUCTS, INC., et al., Defendants and Appellants
(Opinion by Potter, J., with Allport, Acting P. J., and Cobey, J., concurring.)
Humphreys, Berger & Pitto, P. C., Donald A. Drumright, Cotchett, Hutchinson & Dyer, Joseph W. Cotchett, Meis & O'Donnell, Owen P. O'Donnell, Gallucci, White & Kelley, Thomas E. White and Irving Reifman for Defendants and Appellants.
Evelle J. Younger, Attorney General, E. Clement Shute, Assistant Attorney General, Herschel T. Elkins and Michael R. Botwin, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.
Appellants Bestline Products, Inc. (hereinafter "Bestline Products"), Bestline Corporation (hereinafter "Bestline Corp."), William E. Bailey, Robert W. Depew, David L. Eastis, James Rohn and Larry D. Huff appeal from a judgment dated December 21, 1973, in favor of plaintiff the People of the State of California. The judgment (1) permanently restrained defendants from operating or participating in a marketing program embodying proscribed features which the court found were in violation of Business and Professions Code section 17500 fn. 1 prohibiting "untrue or misleading" statements; (2) required defendants Bestline Products, Bestline Corp., and Bailey to offer to make restitution to victims of the Bestline marketing program, and (3) imposed civil penalties of $1 million jointly and severally, upon defendants Bestline Corp. and Bestline, Inc., $250,000 upon defendant Bailey, $100,000 upon defendant Eastis, and $50,000 each upon defendants Depew, Huff and Rohn. [61 Cal. App. 3d 885]
I needed have fretted about my situation for long. Three weeks after I applied for unemployment compensation my first check came. However, by then I had acquired a job with Welded Tube Company of America. I went from nothing to having a good salary and the extra bonus of three weeks of unemployment checks.
Welded Tube was located in South Philadelphia on world-famous Weccacoe Avenue. You’ve all heard of Weccacoe, haven’t you? It is a slanted street running between Snyder and Oregon Avenues, paralleling Christopher Columbus Boulevard about a block over along the docks. The plant andoffices of Welded Tube took up most of the west side of the street, there wasn’t much on the east side. Railroad tracks ran alongside the plant. There was a little shack down near Snyder that sold hoagies and other sandwiches, one of the few places to buy lunch nearby.
The offices and plant are still there, but the sign says HyundaiRodan, which doesn’t seem to have anything to do with cars. But across Weccacoe it is not some wasteland anymore it is a large shopping center containing a Lowe’s, a Best Buy and an Ikea (right).
Welded Tube had another plant in Chicago, but Philadelphia was the headquarters. The founder was a native Philadelphia named Lou Baylis. He had started out in business with a push cart collecting and selling scrap metal. From that he built the largest manufacturer of structural steel tubing in the USA.
Baylis was Jewish and the upper management of the company were all Jewish and mostly his relatives. It had stock, but it was all privately held by the management. The vice-president was Lou’s son, Melvin Baylis. Another executive was Allen Baylis, either a nephew or cousin. Didn’t see him much. Melvin often put him down.
The real force was Jean Wexler (right) She was the Secretary, both to Mr. Baylis and on the Board. She is who hired me and she was a tough cookie who carried out Lou Baylis orders with an iron hand. Her brother, Sam Wexler was the main salesman and Ann Cooper, a sister also worked there. The controller was Dick Shafritz.
The rest of us were gentiles.
My first position was as an assistant bookkeeper and I reported to the Head Bookkeeper, an older man whose name escapes me.Even in this lowly position my salary was higher than what I had been making at Olson Brothers. For some lucky reason, every time I changed jobs I began at a higher wage. I had been making $7,800 a year when Olson’s closed; I started at Welded Tube at $8,060 a year. When I left Welded Tube 6 years later in 1978 I was making $17,000. My next position was with a medical center and I started at $18,200. Two years later I got my first position at Wilmington Trust at $20,000. That was 1980 and when I retired from Wilmington Trust my salary was $65,000 plus an $8,000 Bonus and a number of stock options.
I was at Welded Tube three months when the head bookkeeper left the company suddenly. Dick Shafritz, (left) the Controller, who ran the clerical and accounting operations put out an ad for a new bookkeeper, but I went to him and told him I didn’t think he need do that because I was sure I could handle the full bookkeeping. He therefore took me up on my offer and I was doing all the book work.
By the way, Jean Wexler hated how messy Dick's office was. He had papers everywhere and his chair was festooned with notes. On one of Shafritz's vacations, Jean came down and cleaned up his desk and office. When he came back he was flummoxed; he couldn't find anything.
Anyway, as I began keeping all the books, I noticed a consistent discrepancy in the figures. This was constantly being noted as a balance adjustment in the overall reporting. It bugged me and I began searching through the records stored in a side room. I had time to do this because I once again brought my organization skills to improving the processes. Finally, I uncovered the initial reporting errors and corrected the books and brought everything into balance.
After six months on the job, I was promoted to Assistant Controller. In this position I continued with all the bookkeeping and added such accounting functions as the monthly balance sheets, income statements and other reports. Now I also worked closely with the auditors and in the preparation of the annual report.
Lou Baylis did hire an Accounting Manager and I reported directly to him instead of Dick Shafritz. His name was James Schlief, called Jimbo by his friends (right). He came from the accounting firm of Ernst & Young and had his CPA. He and I hit it off great and I loved working for him. This affinity toward each other would pay off eventually.
Baylis had a computer system installed, the main piece being an IBM System 3. Hee also hired an Operation System Manager, another person whose name I can’t recall (am I getting senile ) even though he and I got along well. In the picture on the right he is the fellow kneeling down in front of the Christmas Tree. (I’m not in the picture because I took the picture.)
There were a number of malfunctions with the System 3 (right) and Lou Baylis fired the computer. He hadn’t liked the idea of getting the thing to begin with, but once he fired it he realized we probably did need some modern technology after all.
He had already booted the Operations System Manager out, though. Next thing I knew I was off to IBM for schooling in the System 3 Computer, and when I completed the course, I was named Operations System Manager as well as Assistant Controller. I got a raise for now doing both jobs, a situation that gave our outside Accounting Firn, which was Ernst and Young, fits. They argued that it was a conflict of interest, but Baylis wouldn’t be budged.
He wouldn’t be budged on his hatred of the System 3 either, and despite having got me trained on that machine, he decided to get rid of it completely and replaced it with a Sperry Univac BC/7 System. I was sent off now to the Sperry Rand Corporation to learn the BC/7 operation and how to program in a language called RPG-II.
I came back and reorganized the Computer Department, did all the programming for the system and wrote the procedure manuals.
I had two young women performing all the daily jobs, while I attended to keeping the books up to date. One of my most firm rules was backing up the system. They were to do this at the end of each day. Storage was done of these large hard disks and the backup did take a bit of time to perform. One day there was a bad thunderstorm and lightning struck a transformer on the roof of the plant. It fried the disks in the computer. My workers were very upset, but I told them not to worry, just get the backup. They kind of turned pale. It turned out they hated backing up so much they had skipped doing it. We now had to reconstruct our billing and other information from the paper records. If they hated to do backup, they didn’t after that. They found working late manually entering months of records much more tedious than the backup had been.
I did very well at Welded Tube and it became my longest job since leaving ARCo, I was to work there 6 years. The picture on the right is me, well, most of me at the BC/7 console in the Operations Center. But life is always full of transitions.
A lot will change in my life during the time I worked for Welded Tube, a whole lot!