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“Defining Moments”

The book can be purchased at www.donald-green.com.

Proceeds will be donated to the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra.


Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment of select chapters from “Defining Moments,” the autobiography of telecommunications entrepreneur Don Green (see all the excerpts).

Green founded his first company, Digital Telephone Systems, in Marin County in 1969, growing it to $60 million in sales by 1976. In 1987, he co-founded Optilink in Petaluma. In 1992, he co-founded Advanced Fibre Communications in Petaluma, which grew from three employees in 1993 to 800 in 1998.

He later gave $10 million to help create the Donald & Maureen Green Music Center at Sonoma State University.

Eventually Green would become known as “the Father of Telecom Valley” in Sonoma and Marin counties.

In charting his path through the business world, the book details Green’s acquisitions and skill in each new business he embraced. The following chapter details a single encounter, and Green’s choice of subtitle tells it all, “How not to do business.”


Chapter 61: World Travels

My company, DTS, was approached by a company in South Africa wanting permission to license and possibly manufacture one of our products, the D960 concentrator. We needed to send someone to South Africa. The logical choice was Chet Stevens, vice president of international sales. I decided to accompany him. We hoped to negotiate the licensing terms and evaluate the company’s manufacturing capabilities.

After a twenty-three-hour flight and a long drive from the airport, Chet and I arrived at the corporate offices. From behind the reception desk, a tall blonde woman, wearing a short skirt and a tight sweater, told us to take a seat. “Mr. Staulker will be with you in a moment.”

It was actually fifteen minutes before a tall, lanky man appeared. Mr. Staulker, whose title was Executive Vice President, greeted us warmly and ushered us into a conference room.

Mr. Staulker and his associates were friendly, reasonable, seemingly capable people. Although the contracts and licensing terms were quite complex, communications went smoothly and the contracts appeared ready to be signed just after lunch on the third day.

Once we had all returned from lunch, I rose to say thanks for an acrimony-free negotiation. “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you all, and I’m confident the terms we have negotiated will benefit both of our companies.” I went on to praise their manufacturing division.

After a round of smiles and nods of approval, Mr. Staulker announced that the president/owner, Mr. Johns, would like to meet with us. Mr. Staulker left the room and returned a moment later with Mr. Johns. He was a short, heavyset man with a shaved head, close-set eyes, and thin lips that seemed to disappear into his face.

As he stood at the head of the conference table, I noted that although his suit was obviously expensive, it was made of a shiny material that only served to emphasize his short stature and protruding belly. His square-cut diamond pinky ring glinted as he reached into his breast pocket and pulled out an enormous cigar. Then, with exaggerated flair, he produced a cigar cutter and clipped the tip off. From his pocket he brought out a silver lighter, held the flame to the cigar, drew deeply, and expelled a nimbus of smoke.

As I sat there watching this theatrical display, I had the distinct feeling that Mr. Johns viewed the conference room as his personal stage and us as his captive audience. He never introduced himself, but instead began reading the contract aloud. Periodically he’d grunt or mutter terse phrases like “We don’t do that” or “That’s not going to work.”

“Defining Moments”

The book can be purchased at www.donald-green.com.

Proceeds will be donated to the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra.

I sat quietly for some minutes, feeling my patience slip away with each complaint over terms we’d just spent two and a half days negotiating. Before he’d gone through half the document, I stopped him.

“I don’t mean to be rude, Mr. Johns, but may I ask what you are doing?”

He looked up from the contract, and his thin lips curved into an arrogant smile. “I am just checking certain points of the contract to see if any adjustments need to be made. You’re a businessman, Mr. Green, so I’m sure you understand.”

I felt anger and disbelief bubbling up inside me, but I wouldn’t let it show. In a calm, firm voice I said, “We’ve just spent two and a half days doing that. We didn’t come all this way to negotiate with an executive not empowered to make the final decision.”

I paused for a moment and gazed around the conference table. All eyes went from me to Mr. Johns. His face still wore a haughty smile, but now it seemed to take all his concentration to keep it there.

I continued, my voice rising slightly, “And furthermore, Mr. Johns, I find your business practices unethical and your behavior unprofessional. This farce of negotiations was a big expensive waste of time.”

I looked at Mr. Staulker and asked, “Would you please call us a cab, sir?”

Looking stricken, he replied, “Of course, Mr. Green.”

As Chet and I left the conference room, I could hear Mr. Johns, a pained look on his face, struggling to explain to Mr. Staulker how he had just fumbled away a profitable business opportunity.


Postscript: Journal readers of “Defining Moments” have followed Don Green — who grew up in war-torn England — have gotten a glimpse of Green’s impact as the “Father of Telecom Valley” in the North Bay, and his contribution to the Sonoma State University music center. But Green, and the love of his life, Maureen, also proudly raised a family.

In 2006, Green learned he had Parkinson’s disease. The disease has progressed, steadily degrading his motor skills. “Parkinson’s has slowed me down some, but has not stopped me from continuing to lead and active life,” he writes.

In 2010, his Maureen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. “What began as a minor memory loss has progressed to include an inability to recognize her children or feed herself.” She now requires full-time care. “Sitting with her, I take her hand in mine and recall all those wonderful years I shared with this independent, intelligent, beautiful woman. Those cherished moments enable me to be grateful for what I had rather than sad for what I’ve lost.”