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Bridging The Gap

A CEO With Experience

Muller really is a musician. In fact, he did this interview from the studio, where he's recording his second CD. The story goes that in 1994, Muller was touring in the United Kingdom, when he was so sick of missing faxes, he had a brainstorm. JFAX was a hit.

But three years later, when the firm was solid, with a staff of 15 and sales trickling in, he felt he needed an older, wiser partner who could "take the company to the next level," says Muller. He hired Ressler, one of his major investors, as his CEO.

Ressler was then 38, a man who had been in business for his entire adult life and owned an investment and consulting firm. Ressler usually would invest millions in a company, take it over for a few months, and then, with his wallet fat and the firm a success, he'd move on. In Old West terms, Ressler was the sheriff that showed up, chased the bad guys out of town and rode off into the sunset with the girl.

At JFAX.COM, Ressler stayed longer than usual: He was the CEO for almost four years, and earlier this year, he stepped down but is staying on as the company chairman. Ressler and Muller's relationship was simple. Ressler worked on the day-to-day operations, like any CEO, while Muller was the frontman, handling the press and hunting for venture capital.

Weed out the rest to find the best. Gone Fishin' will show you how to lure a head honcho with a good reputation.

Muller didn't immediately hand the reigns to Ressler. It was a six-month transition period in which the two talked for hours, not only about the company, but also about politics, current events and music. "You have to have something in common other than just the business, and you have to like each other," warns Muller. "Otherwise, it just won't work."

Ressler agrees, cautioning younger entrepreneurs not to be too enchanted by an older entrepreneur's experience: "Make sure you have a partner who has the skills you need. Being older doesn't automatically mean they have the right experience."

In fact, both men say the 13-year age gap never really mattered. "Well, he's younger, thinner and better-looking," laughs Ressler, "but, otherwise, no. I don't think age really comes into play-at least not in our business. We brought different experiences to JFAX."

Exactly.

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the September 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Bridging The Gap.

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