Friday, February 23, 2024 Feb 23, 2024
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Five hotshot entrepreneurs and how they’ve made it
By D Magazine |

You don’t have to know much about running a car dealership to realize it is one of the most competitive, frustrating, yet rewarding businesses around. You deal daily with an unpredictable economy and a fickle public. The beginning of each month is like the start of a race and the end of the month is the finish line. In between are long hours, financially risky customers, a swamped service department and, hopefully, a nice fat paycheck for your efforts.

In 1982, Joe Tigue sold everything he owned, left his comfortable California lifestyle, moved to Dallas and put up $180,000 to buy a floundering Ford car dealership worth about $1.2 million. It represented a lifelong dream taken at great personal risk.

Within two years, he has turned Westway Ford of Irving into one of the top 100 Ford auto dealers in the nation and paid back a $900,000 loan from Ford in 33 months instead of the expected five to seven years. Sales went from $22 million to $43 million. The number of employees rose from 58 to 108, and Tigue has become a millionaire. The public may know Tigue best as “Joe Greed” on the late-night television commercials he writes and stars in himself. He credits his quick success to luck, a booming market for cars in 1983 and 1984 and a lot of hard work.

“I’m really a car salesman,” he says. “I have a lot of fun with it. I still like to go out and help a customer. It doesn’t happen often now, but when it does, it gives me a thrill to know I’ve gained the confidence of the customer. I hate to say it, but that feeling of power kind of gives me a rush.”

Tigue says he has wanted to be a Ford dealer since he was a kid. His grandfather worked in Ford steel plants in Dearborn, Michigan, for nearly 30 years. Tigue’s father worked for Ford for 41 years, beginning in the steel plants and retiring as a labor union negotiator. Tigue worked on Ford assembly lines in Detroit to put himself through the University of Michigan. After graduation and six months into a Ford management position, he was drafted and entered as an infantry officer in the Vietnam War. He returned in 1971, and worked for the corporate side of Ford in California and later in the Southwest. But it wasn’t getting him any closer to his goal.

He returned to California and worked for several Ford dealerships, progressing from salesman to general manager to partner. The hefty sales commissions drastically changed his sparse lifestyle; he invested the money he saved in San Francisco real estate. While there, he gained the reputation as someone who could revive a troubled dealership. When he felt he had enough capital to buy his own dealership, he searched up and down the California coast. Finally, he was tipped off to the Ford dealership in Irving.

Now that Tigue has the touch-and-go part behind him at Westway Ford, he’s turning his attention to a less blue-collar consumer market. The more affluent market is more sophisticated and thus more demanding. He prides himself on his keen sense of consumers, and concedes that now may be the time to retire his “Joe Greed” car salesman character and the hard-sell message he delivers in favor of reaching a broader market with a more soft-sell approach.

There’s no place he’d rather work than in Texas, where, he says, automobile dealers are more respected than in any other state. But he’s learning quickly, “You just can’t take. You’ve got to give.”

-Angela Enright

CHUCK UNTERSEE is a perfectionist. He can no more tolerate a flaw in the photographs he shoots, than he can overlook the slightest nick in the Mercedes convertible he drives.

As a commercial photographer, Untersee works 14-hour days, never takes vacations and is constantly frustrated by people who quit too soon. Most of the time his obsession works in his favor, winning him a Cleo award, national advertising clients and a personal income that, he says, is in six figures.

Other times, his intensity, he says, is laughable. He could turn a higher profit without sacrificing quality if he didn’t take a photo assignment one step farther than the client demands. A case in point: the period pieces he photographed for Inter-First Bank. At Untersee’s insistence, all the Forties memorabilia was authentic, even items safely out of the camera’s view. To create a scene from an 1870s Americana-style photo, Untersee built a two-sided log cabin.

At 38, Untersee describes himself as an introvert who often drives everyone-from his tailor to his business manager-crazy.

“I have seen perfection, so I know it’s out there, even if it is rare,” he says, half jokingly. Then, he adds, “perfection wouldn’t be worth running toward if it were common.”

Although he’s been at the head of his profession during his 12-year career, Untersee got off to a relatively late start. After high school, he served a four-year stint as a photographer in the military. When he returned home, Untersee studied art at East Texas State University with the help of the GI bill. While other students took summer jobs, Untersee returned to Europe, where connections he had made during his Army stint came in handy. He purchased antiques at European prices, then returned to Texas, where he sold them for a sizable profit.

After graduation in 1973, Untersee landed a job with Francisco and Booth, a Dallas photography studio. He lasted all of six months before his independent streak led him to quit, borrow $20,000 and go it alone.

With little creative experience and even less business sense, Untersee could have been a sitting duck for anyone looking to take advantage of an inexperienced photographer. But Untersee’s timing could not have been better. Dallas was growing, and the city was ripe for aspiring photographers. His first assignments included a Neiman-Mar-cus catalog and a Tom Thumb ad. Today, his client list has grown to include assignments throughout the country for the likes of Bell Telephone, Whirlpool and Xerox. Locally, he did the flashy photo and film campaign for the 1984 Grand Prix. He has also worked with Ebby Halliday, Frito-Lay and American Airlines.

To create his elaborate sets, he says he’ll search the world over for just the right locale. But authenticity isn’t always best, as with a recent Lotto sports shoes campaign. Instead of doing the photo shoot in Venice, Untersee took his cameras to San Antonio, where a stone bridge across the Trinity River created the look the advertisers wanted.

Untersee’s exacting nature carries over into his persona] life. A few years ago, he purchased a 60-year-old house across from the Lakewood golf course, then pumped thousands of dollars into restoring everything from the mahogany paneling to the arched doorways and custom-made windows. The house, Untersee says, is not without flaws, but after endless battles with contractors, it comes close enough to his standards.

Several years ago, when Untersee expanded into the film market, he aimed for the same high standards he has always sought in still photographs, but the financial rewards were more difficult to attain. During the first year, he shot only three commercials. Today, his billings average three clients a month.

Now, Untersee has plans to expand into feature films and the motion picture industry. “I can’t imagine anything more satisfying or financially rewarding than directing a feature film of substance,” he says.

Untersee says he is not a business tycoon; he’s motivated by his goals and by the creative excitement films generate. And since his daughter, Anna, was born two years ago, he says he has tried to mellow without caving in.

“I’d like to make enough money,” he concludes, “that I don’t have to worry about the vulgarity of dealing with it.”

-Jan Jarvis

MICHAEL COPE SAYS his lifestyle hasn’t changed much since he took Inter-phase Corp., his 11-year-old microcomputer hard-disk company, public a year and a half ago. He did splurge on a pool in his back yard, but he still drives the same style and color of Mazda that he’s driven for years. His office is inexpensively decorated: no fancy desk, coordinated carpet and curtains or ob-jets d’art here.

But Cope’s modest lifestyle camouflages his sudden rise to fortune. His stock in Inter-phase is worth $4 million at recent market prices. Cope. 36, is the major stockholder, with 48 percent of the 2 million shares. Cope will say only this: “I have enough money now that I don’t have to think about how much money I have.”

Interphase, as Cope unabashedly explains, is a pioneer in the field of microcomputer and microprocessor applications. His key product is hard-disk controllers, the electronics that enable microcomputers to store huge file cabinets worth of data on metal disks. Interphase is considered by the industry to be the leading maker of high-performance controllers, which go into high-powered engineering and business computers. Cope estimates that 100,000 of these computers are sold each year. “We have 50 percent of the entire [hard-disk] market,” he says.

Cope is keen on the fact that as president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board, he can draw a strong line between the desires of investors for Interphase to grow quickly and reap profits and the more critical goal-for Interphase products to remain the leaders in the industry. Cope says his philosophy may not look promising on quarterly financial reports, but it keeps money flowing into research and development: “We are in this for the long haul.” They’ll have to be. With interest in high-tech stocks turning soft early this year, the price of Interphase stock in April was around $4 per share, a drop of $4 from the initial offering last year. Despite that, Cope says investors, particularly local investors, are scooping up shares as fast as they can. Interphase’s annual report shows that sales closed last year at a little less than $6 million, in contrast to $2.2 million in 1982. He’s projecting sales of $9 million to $10 million this year. In 1984, Interphase cleared almost $1 million in after-tax profits. “We expect sales of $50 million in two to three years,” he says.

The Nashville native attended Vanderbilt University; his introduction to Texas was as an employee of Texas Instruments. “I didn’t like working for a large corporation,” he says. He has slipped easily from the technical side of his business into the management side. He keeps an open-door policy with his 65 employees and holds regular meetings to recognize employees for good work or for creative suggestions in solving company problems.

He says it’s critical to keep his employees content because if they start leaving, it’s likely that Interphase’s emerging technology will walk right out the door with them and into the welcome arms of a competitor. “We have the cream of the crop here. My job is to remove obstacles from their personal and professional development. I work for them.”


“I WANT TO build an empire,” declares Christi Harris. “There is no reason why I can’t. I don’t mind saying it. If I fall, I fall. I’ll just get up and try something else.”

It’s that attitude that gave Harris, 33, the confidence to use $350,000 of her own money for an initial investment into the first Christi Harris Makeover Center at Marsh Lane and Belt Line Road in Carrollton last January. She combined the center with her corporate offices and warehouse full of makeup which supports the 400 people she employs in door-to-door sales in 17 states. Now she is ready to go national.

The dark-eyed, dark-haired, svelte model-turned-businesswoman from Anson, Texas, admits that her confidence waned during the months before the center was open. The biggest delay was installation of the carpet in the 7,000-square-foot facility. (The carpet pattern is Harris’ signature.) When the center opened, she thought that word of mouth would bring in the customers. But Harris spent opening day in March sitting face to face with several bored employees. A staff member suggested that it might be wise to advertise for customers in the local newspapers. Harris was unconvinced, but she “splurged” and paid an artist $210 to create the ad, then paid a newspaper $810 to place it in a Sunday supplement. “On Monday, the phone began to ring off the wall,” Harris recalls. “We booked 110 appointments in one day. It was like a slot machine.” By April, her staff of about 30 hair and makeup consultants had seen more than 7,000 men and women.

She says she learned she can control the flow of customers by placing or not placing an ad, just as easily as turning lights on or off. Harris bases the makeover center’s quick success on the fact that a woman can get a two-and-a-half-hour makeup consultation for $35, which is about $50 less than what other well-known Dallas salons offer. And a haircut by a hair consultant at $40 to $50 appeals to nearly as many men as women. Customers can also attend special seminars on topics such as poise, body language, wardrobe and nutrition.

Before starting her own door-to-door sales makeup company four years ago, Harris directed the modeling agency at the Barbizon School of Modeling and later was executive director of the John Robert Rowers Modeling School, both in Dallas. She also trained beauty contestants as the West Texas and Dallas County area director for the Miss Texas USA Pageant. Harris says the toughest part of running her direct-sales business and now the makeover center has been learning the business side. The marketing and money matters do not come naturally to her, but she is absorbing as much as she can. “I’m like a sponge,” she says. The high school graduate never took time to go to college: “College doesn’t teach you how not to make mistakes.”

Harris says she plans to build more makeover centers in cities such as Atlanta, Nashville and Fort Worth. She believes it will be easier to establish a makeover center if she already has her direct sales people working in the same city, since it gives the center immediate name recognition. She’s picked these cities with an eye toward attracting corporate accounts. Last year, Harris and her staff spent several months on site at various airports, giving self-improvement seminars to the ground ticket and service staffs of American and Midway airlines.

Harris, who still seems to be a little dazed at the speed at which her business is growing, says she often catches herself cautioning other people who have unusual business ideas that the risks are too great. That’s the same line people used on her.

“Now I understand why,” she says. “I findmyself being discouraging to other peoplewho have special business ideas. They justdon’t realize the work involved. You have tobe tough, honest-not cut-throat. I struggledfor six or seven years to get to this point.The past year and a half, my dream has cometrue.” -A.E.

IN SOME WAYS, Bill Beuck can take credit for bringing the Fort Worth Stockyards back to Texas. Before he came to Fort Worth several years ago, a large chunk of the North Side landmark was owned by New York investors. Today, the Beuck Co. and a handful of investors control approximately 90 out of 100 acres in the Stockyards.

That kind of buying power didn’t happen overnight. Beuck, 39, has been laying the groundwork since he graduated from Texas Tech University in 1969. His first job was at a bank, the ideal environment in which to develop connections in the real estate world. When John Scovell, a college buddy, asked Beuck to join him at the Dallas-based Woodbine Development company, a new real estate company, the young banker jumped at the opportunity.

After several large projects in Dallas, Beuck came to Fort Worth, where, on behalf of Woodbine, he worked with city officials, business leaders and historic preservationists in an effort to place the old Hotel Texas on the National Register of Historic Places. The effort led to the $33-million renovation of the downtown hotel into the Hyatt Regency Fort Worth.

At Lakewood National Bank in Dallas, where he started his career, Beuck saw how a community grew when it was given the financial support to restore aging neighborhoods. When he came to Fort Worth, Beuck says, he wanted to make the same impact on the North Side, where a string of bars, shops and restaurants were known as the Stockyards area. The most prominent landmark was Billy Bob’s Texas, a bar established by Beuck’s business partner, Billy Bob Barnett.

But it took patience, something Beuck says he lacks, and nearly three years, to get the Stockyards renovation off the ground.

The Stockyards project is far from complete, but a substantial portion should be finished in time for Sesquicentennial activities next year. Beuck wants to see more restaurants, retail shops and attractions suited for families in the Stockyards. In a cooperative arrangement with the city, Beuck and Barnett are restoring the Fort Worth Coliseum to the same impressive stature as the Livestock Exchange building next door. It is in the Livestock building that Beuck has a turn-of-the-century style office that reflects more than just his interest in restoration. It’s clear from the renderings scattered around the room that he has an eye on ambitious future projects that have little to do with history.

But his new projects, he says, will maintain the same commitment to design and quality as his restoration projects.

His investment company, coupled with his role as vice chairman of Triad Corp., has drained most of his free time, but it has given him the financial freedom to travel and race Porsches competitively. “What motivates me today,” Beuck says with confidence, “isn’t so much security as it is the chance to do interesting projects.”


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