The High-Tech Drifter

by Len Capelli


THE HIGH TECH DRIFTER, AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NARRATIVE BY LEN CAPELLI -  is a glimpse of the life, times and perspective of one seasoned executive as he replays his career. In this well-told tale, we learn how one results-oriented executive- VP of Sales and Marketing for hardware and software companies and for startups- navigates the waters of big business to become the Business Development Manager for the Commonwealth of Virginia, responsible for economic development and business development in Northern Virginia. He currently sits on the Board of a Renewable Energy company as a Director.

We begin with a note about his series from Mr. Capelli.

Many years ago when the movie High Plains Drifter, starring Clint Eastwood was popular I was socializing with some good friends. All of us enjoyed various degrees of success in the high-tech industry. One very good friend and a down-home philosopher, looked at me and said,

“With the number of companies you have worked for through the last ten years, you are the High Tech Drifter!” That was the day I started to think about writing a book by that name.

Later, I secured domain name, and a Gmail address with the same name. I played with an outline of a book, and it started to take so many different directions, I thought it might end up looking like a wagon wheel.

So there it sat as I got started on another project - writing a series of books about the Civil War experiences of a Texas Hill Country boy, attending Virginia Military Academy - his exploits during and shortly after the War.

The Sage Companion Project- connecting us  with a "deep-rooted enchantment with LIFE, CREATIVITY and   COLLABORATION" is now home to a series- possibly an "advance copy" for readers of The High tech Drifter.  I thought that I might have some things to contribute that would be interesting and even worthwhile.

So here is a new column, dealing with my journey through the Computer Industry and various high-tech side paths through the last 42 years.

I'm calling it High-Tech Drifter.



How I got into “High Tech”or at least what that meant way back in 1969

Going back in time: I graduated from College in 1968. I had changed majors, played a couple of sports, enjoyed campus fraternity life and was one of the first on the "5 Year Plan."


For those of us old enough to remember, we had a draft at that time and I had the "winning" lottery number of 27. A winning number was not a good thing, unless you really wanted to go to the jungles of Viet Nam and get shot at. I wanted to do my duty, but I was newly married and that brought a responsibility that meant I would go if I had to, but wasn’t excited about it.

Job Hunting with an "1-A" Draft Status

Looking for a job at that time with that 1-A draft status, was challenging to say the least. Most companies with good training programs simply would not hire you if they thought their training efforts could be in vain and you could be off to war. And that was regardless of your qualifications and skills. Due to my draft status, the five companies I had pinpointed to work for, turned me down. I did get an offer from Manufacturers National Bank of Detroit, a well respected bank in the area and the “Ford” bank in town. The job was as a trainee in the credit department leading to a position as a Loan Officer. It was a good and very respectable job and I was considered lucky to have received it.

Prior to starting, we got married and when we returned from our honeymoon, I was surprised by a next door neighbor who held out an envelope to me, like it has the plague.. . .it was my draft notice. Barely 3 weeks after officially graduating from college, the only department of the government that acted efficiently had sent my summons, to come on down to Fort Wayne and take my physical. I was about to be drafted. I decided to take action.

I enlisted in the OCS program to become and officer, maybe even a gentleman.

I enlisted in the OCS program to become and officer, maybe even a gentleman. Suffice it to say, until the day that I failed the physical, because of a bad knee from football, it was a little unsettled around the house and my job.



The Famous Fedora Fling

So, here I find myself - working for a major bank. I am in training to become a Loan Officer. I have to admit, I looked forward to understanding the secrets behind the hallowed walls of a major bank. I had always been intimidated by bankers, a trait I guess I learned from my depression era parents. They actually didn’t really trust banks and did most of their daily transactions using cash. They did have a savings account and savings bonds. I remember going with my Mom on occasion and watching the teller stamp the book and write in the new amount. Pretty mystical to a young boy.


A Duck in the Desert

I took to banking, at least to the training program, like a duck to desert; I was not destined to be a banker. I didn’t have the political savvy to know whom to suck up to, and I found most of the work tedious and boring. I mean how many Drachmas you need to convert to dollars using an old Friden calculator to understand that there is a better use of time for a college graduate.

However, into my second year in the department, I was allowed to work with the Accounts Receivable financing department. The job here was to go out to customer sites and do a physical review of their accounts receivable.

The purpose was to substantiate that the receivables were real, that they were being collected on a regular basis and that new receivables were also viable and would be collected. The ratios of old and non collected were very important to the amount of receivables financing that the bank would consider for the clients business.


"I took to banking, at least to the training program, like a duck to desert; I was not destined to be a banker.

I didn’t have the political savvy to know whom to suck up to, and I found most of the work tedious and boring."


The Banker's Dress Code

I finally got to the point where I was allowed to go out to client sites, and do a receivable audit. Wow, a real person from the bank all dressed up in my gray suit and gray Borsalino Fedora hat.


"Yes we all wore hats; it was strongly encouraged by the bank.

Some of us looked pretty professional; others looked like we were dressing up in Dad’s hat."


Flinging the Fedora

One day while I was performing an audit, a fellow was there from NCR (still National Cash Register at the time) doing a “System Survey”. I asked him what that was, and he told me, the company sent him out to do a study and then come back to the prospect with how a computer (Billing and Accounting Machine) would save them time, money and help to turn their inventory and receivables faster.

Basically he was doing the same thing I was, for different purposes. At lunch the second day, I asked what a man in his business could make. He said that personally if he didn’t sell anything else he would make about $35,000 but that he was pretty sure he would top $40,000. Being fairly analytical, I quickly calculated that was a lot more than the $750 per month that I was making, after a recent $50 per month raise. Four weeks later I accepted a position with Singer Business Machines, for $800 per month plus commissions and expenses. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.


Let's Hear it for the Boy!

My Dad, just thought I had going crazy, why quite a professional job like working for a Bank, and become a Salesman. He couldn’t understand why I would waste 4 years of college to just be a salesman. My wife just wondered if I would get a discount on a sewing machine.

I got the sewing machine for her for Christmas, my Dad never understood why people would pay me a lot of money to be a salesman...but I was out the door...


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