Tuesday, February 7, 2023 Feb 7, 2023
Dallas, TX


By Angela Enright |

Eddie Bernke Johnson

The Activist

Eddie Bernice Johnson is the kind of person whose patience and intelligence bring calm to chaotic situations. She is. a thinker, but she easily articulates her thoughts. It takes a while for her to warm up to strangers, but when she does, the stories she tells about herself and the opinions she reveals about others are brutally honest.

Johnson spends most of her time as executive director of the Visiting Nurses Association, a private health-care organization that specializes in the care of elderly and home-bound people. But Dallasites more than likely remember Johnson as Dallas’ first black woman to be elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1972. She fought racism and chauvinism in the Legislature and was the first woman in Texas history to head a major House committee, the Labor Committee of the 64th and 65th Legislatures. She resigned in 1977 to serve as regional director of the Department of Education and Welfare under the Carter administration. At that time, she openly supported Bob Krueger for U.S. Senate and stated that the Democratic Party’s first priority was to “get rid of” then Republican Sen. John Tower.

Her exposure to state and federal government gives her one of the broadest bases of experience of any black leader in Dallas.

She is proud that she is one of the people who persevered when it looked as if the organization of Dallas first black-owned and black-managed bank might not pass federal approval. The Sunbelt National Bank in Oak Cliff is more than a year old and has assets of about $20 million, in contrast to the $1.7 million it took to start it. She says response to the sale of bank stock was so immense (mostly in $500 increments) that the board members made some of their own stock available for purchase, so that anyone who wanted to support the bank could. Despite that support, she says, it’s not uncommon for people from the black community to expect the bank to take on exceptionally risky loans simply because the bank is owned by blacks.

“We have to explain over and over again that we are a bank, and we operate with the same rules and regulations as any other national bank,” she says. “We are in it for the same purpose as any other national bank.”

Johnson is a member of organizations such as the Dallas Alliance, Goals for Dallas and the Women’s Issues Network. She most recently helped head the campaign committee for passage of the Dallas Independent School District bond package.

And her desire to do more doesn’t stop there. Johnson says her plans to run for U.S. Congress are not far away.

Gary Wood

The Investment Counselor

Remember late last year when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it had approved the use of the Dornier Kidney Lithro-tripter? That’s the machine that turned some urologists on their ears when they realized they could disintegrate kidney stones with shock waves and thus eliminate, in many cases, the need for surgery.

Little, if anything, was said at the time about how the machine from West Germany had been introduced into the U.S. medical market or why Dallas’ Presbyterian Hospital had been given the opportunity to have one of the rare machines by spring.

It was Gary Wood, president of Concorde Financial Corp., an independent investment advisory firm, who negotiated the highly unusual deal with the West German-based Dornier Systems (a multi-million dollar weapons manufacturer). The West German company had acquired the plans and knew it had something revolutionary, Wood explains, and Dornier wanted to bring it to the United States. Wood helped arrange for the $7.5 million in private financing that it took to get the machine clinically tested by three major U.S. hospitals, including the Baylor College of Medicine at Methodist Hospital in Houston. The machine was approved by the FDA last December.

Wood says it was his client, urologist Dr. Donald Griffith of Houston, who urged him to develop the deal. Wood then set up the company that is now Uro-Tech Management Corp. “It was not like a Texas business deal in which, no matter how big it is, it can go down in a matter of weeks,” says Wood, 34, a graduate of Texas Tech University. “This thing took more than a year, and the negotiations were tremendously laborious.” Wood says Dor-nier officials didn’t hold a high opinion of this entrepeneurial undertaking. Representatives of the $750-million-a-year company, he says, simply didn’t understand how or why a couple of doctors and one financial advisor could arrange such a complicated deal. “We were just a mystery to them,” he says.

At one point, InterFirst Bank Dallas stepped in for about two months and banked the deal when it looked as if Uro-Tech’s investors might not come through with their money as expected.

Wood, who was recently named to the prestigious think-tank, the Texas Lyceum, describes the lithrotripter deal as an “enormous bag of worms that I probably wouldn’t do again.” He says that Presbyterian Hospital signed a joint-venture contract in mid-January to acquire one of the machines. “There aren’t going to be very many in the country, but I thought it was important to have one in Dallas, since the deal started here.”

Michael Collins

The Venture Capitalist

A picturesque way to envision venture capitalist Michael Collins’ latest investment is to imagine Dallas riding a high-tech wave and his company, Expertel Inc., poised on a swell. The way he puts it is that the divestiture of AT&T has created unprecedented opportunities for entrepreneurs to fill voids in the telecommunications industry.

Before now, there was never a “one-stop” way for small-business owners to buy a telephone system tailor-made to their needs. AT&T’s forte is addressing the telephone needs of huge corporations, not small businesses. Collins says that he believes that Expertel is the first company to address the telephone-system needs of professionals such as doctors, lawyers or travel agents. Not only does it offer a selection of proven telephone systems, but it offers private consulting and equipment service, as well.

“I always looked in the venture capital business for situations where you could create a niche or take advantage of a change in an industry or tax law. That was what we were trying to do in the computer business,” he says. Collins was a co-investor with Norman Brinker in The Genra Group, a company formed two years ago to acquire retail business computer and equipment stores from Xerox Corp. After a slow start, Genra was sold last summer to a Canadian company. With his creation this year of Expertel, Collins says, “Rather than getting a niche, maybe we’ve got a crevasse.”

Collins, 40, is president of Collins Capital, a venture capital company with interests in real estate, energy and Ex-pertel. He is the son of former U.S. Rep. Jim Collins. He received his MBA from Harvard University in 1970 and was named by the U.S. Jaycees in 1978 as one of the 10 outstanding young men in America. From 1972 to 1982, he served as CEO of Fidelity Union Life and is acknowledged to have taken the company from $600 million to $1.5 billion in annual sales.

He credits the insurance business, which gave him a strong background in value-added direct sales (sales that offer more than just a product), as an important foundation to Expertel’s success.

“My attitude is that if you can sell life insurance, you can sell anything,” Collins says. “It sure is fun to be in a position to call people up and actually have them glad to hear from you.”

Collins says he plans to have stores in 35 cities by the end of this year and stores in 100 cities by the end of 1986. “I want Ex-pertel to become the generic word for business telephones,” he says.