I'm having lunch with our company banker today, and I have to tell you in all honesty that I am delighted at the prospect! Kerry Mayer has been our banker for over ten years, and during that time we've developed a close rapport and respect that can only originate from a decade of working through difficulties and hard times. Today's lunch is intended as a small celebration of the ten year anniversary of one particularly difficult time in the history of Mile High Comics, the day that we came the closest to going out of business in our entire 37 year history as a company.
To set the stage, during the early 1990's the comics business went into a state of near total collapse. I've already written about the causes and circumstances of that awful period in comics publishing history in several of my past columns, so I'm not going to cover that same ground today. Suffice it to say, however, that when any industry suffers a 77% decline in unit sales volume over a four year period, it is incredibly difficult for even the strongest participants in that market to stay solvent. In the case of Mile High Comics, we had been fairly conservative going into the early 1990's, and had thus managed to avoid most of the negative impacts caused by the bursting of the speculative bubble in new comics. When the 8,000 comics retailers who were not so fortunate as us were all forced to liquidate their inventories at distress prices during 1992-1996, however, they just about killed off our entire back issue mail order business. Since selling back issues by mail was (and still is...) the financial mainstay of our company, having that cash flow cut off caused us to sustain horrific losses. By the end of 1996, all of the annual earnings that I had diligently reinvested in the company from 1969-1996 were lost in a futile attempt to stem our operating losses. When we finally ran out of cash at the end of November 1996, the management of our bank demanded that I appear before them to explain why they shouldn't immediately liquidate the company.
To make a long story short, on December 7th, 1996 I gave a presentation in which I outlined my intention to reinvent Mile High Comics as an Internet retailer. I realize that seems like an obvious decision today, but you have to remember that in 1996, e-commerce was still an unfulfilled dream. There were a few pioneers, such as Jeff Bezos at Amazon.com, who were succeeding (sort of...) at retailing via the Internet, but for the most part it was still a great deal of pie-in-the-sky.
I need to stress at this point that bankers are generally quite conservative (they are, after all, entrusted with lending out other people's money...), and are thus not at all fond of hearing from a client that they are going to completely change their operating strategy in order to chase the dream of an unproven technological change. On that particular day, however, the circumstances facing Mile High Comics were so dire that it was clear to everyone in the room that the status quo was completely untenable. Without some sort of fundamental change in operating strategy, we had, at most, 90 days left before we became completely insolvent. That being the case, my presentation about the enormous potential benefits that would come about through a conversion to being an Internet comics retailer was welcomed by everyone present. As a result, while the bank still kept us on a very tight leash, I was given a six month window in which to show positive progress. When I met our initial goals within 90 days, the future of our company once again became secure.
I am recounting for you this bit of Mile High Comics history not to impress you with my prescience at having recognized early on the benefits of the Internet to comics retailing (Steve Milo of American Entertainment was actually a couple of years ahead of me in that regard), nor my adroitness at gaining forbearance from our bank. The issue that I really want to address today is one of relationships. As I said in the beginning, I am having lunch with Kerry Mayer today. Kerry was the most junior banker who participated in that fateful meeting in 1996, but she was also the one entrusted with the responsibility to work closely with me to make sure that all continued to go well at Mile High Comics.
Over the past ten years, Kerry and I have worked through many ups and downs, but the key to our relationship is that we have come to implicitly trust each other. I cannot emphasize how important earning the trust of others is in determining one's success or failure in business, and in life. I started off in business with a great deal of hubris and ego, believing absolutely that I could overcome any obstacle or difficulty on my own. If there is one key lesson that I have learned over the past 37 years, however, it is that earning the support and trust of others is the one element that will help you survive all other hardships.
Before I go on, I want you to know that I fully realize that my previous statement flies somewhat in the face of what you can see illustrated on TV and in films, where the business world is portrayed as a dog-eat-dog environment in which only the most conniving and evil end up winning. To be fair, there's certainly an element of truth to that negative representation, as more than a few sociopaths do ultimately "win" in business. But is the pursuit of wealth and power all that life is about? I think not. When you tie your own measure of personal achievement and success to your conquering of others by any means, I believe that you will never really find happiness. There will always be someone richer, more powerful, and just a little more aggressive than you are. If, on the other hand, you work diligently to help those who help you, a world of possibilities exists for doing good deeds. And as corny as it might sound, helping others really does feed one's own soul and spirit. Altruism is anything but, as it can be a clear path to achieving genuine inner peace, which is the most valuable an asset that any human being can possess.
To diverge for a moment, during the month of November I attended three major comics conventions. At those shows I met dozens of readers of this column, all of whom provided me with very kind feedback. One comment I did hear several times, however, was that they read the column "even though they had no intention of becoming a comics retailer." I found that statement to be the most heartening feedback of all, as while the points that I try to illustrate in my column have specific applicability to comics retailing, they also are intended as illustrations of my personal philosophy on life. I think that it is important to say that being truthful and loyal to those with whom you interact each day is critical to one's own inner peace. This is true regardless of the circumstances. None of us are saints or angels, so there will always be days in which we don't behave as well as one might wish. But if our underlying intent when beginning each day is to help those around us to achieve their own goals, then the odds of a positive outcome for ourselves are greatly enhanced.
In closing today's column, I wish to pass on to everyone out there my very best wishes. If you are reading this column, the odds are that we've been together for quite a while. I want to thank you very much for taking the time to read this column each month. After all, without your continuing positive support, I would have no reason to write down my thoughts. That's an exceptionally cogent point, as the effort required to write this column each month forces me to crystallize in my own mind exactly what it is that I think, and believe. In that regard, all of you are helping me to achieve the inner peace that I just wrote about. Thank you very much for providing me with a path to that wonderful gift. May the blessings of the world be on you, and those you love, during 2007.
Please send your e-mails to
your letters to:
Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221