Sometimes the biggest obstacle to making a business comeback is a personal one. Salesman-turned-entrepreneur Wallace J. Light became all too familiar with this kind of struggle when he waged a battle against drug and alcohol abuse that threatened not only his business but his life.
Window Man, the residential window-cleaning business Light started in 1989, is expected to ring up $250,000 in sales this year, and its reputation for excellence has been lauded by local media. Window Man's client list of 2,000 crisscrosses California's Silicon Valley, leaving sparkling panes on the multimillion-dollar estates of some of the high-tech capital's richest and most famous residents.
When you talk to Light, 51, his enthusiasm threatens to overflow with every syllable. This is a man who definitely ate his Wheaties this morning. You sense that accounts of his accomplishments are not exaggerated. Yet how he revived the flagging business that flourishes today is nothing short of miraculous.
The place he occupies these days is a comfortable one, but it's not Light's first rendezvous with financial success. His circuitous route to the top began in the Air Force, where he served in Southeast Asia and gained a background in airborne electronics.
Upon leaving the military in 1970, he earned a degree in electronics and, for the next decade, worked around the world as a technical and logistical services advisor for an engineering contractor to NASA's Ames Research Center.
Surrounded by opportunities in the burgeoning technology industry of the early 1980s, Light made an easy transition from electronics engineering to electronics sales. Affable and people-oriented, Light was soon pulling in a six-figure income.
"When you're hot, you're hot," says Light of those glory days. But his enjoyment of the sales game was short-lived. "I could go out and book a million-dollar order, [and the response was] `What are you going to do next?' " he says. "I was making a lot of money, but after a while there was no satisfaction."
Zooming down the management fast lane as a regional and then national sales manager, a vicious cycle began. Increasing disenchantment with his career led to increased attention to his inner party animal; Light turned up his drinking a notch and added cocaine to the mix.
His judgment was becoming cloudier, and his career decisions showed it. In 1988, Light's sales career began a downward spiral, as he bounced from company to company. "On a typical day," Light recalls, "I'd go to lunch, drink brandy and a couple glasses of wine, come back, sit in the office comatose, and head home at 3:30--and then stop off and have drinks on the way home."