They're Baaaaaaack!

A Prosperous Union

Todd Bernstein, L.A. TEL (formerly Corporate Telecomm)

Then & Now
No. of employees
1991: 20
2001: 40
Sales
1991: $3 million
2000: $4.3 million
Biggest change
Corporate Telecomm merged with L.A.-Tel in 1999.

While We Were Away
Hot cell phone in 1991
The Fujitsu Pocket Commander, weighing in at a chunky 10.2 ounces and costing $1,195
Hot cell phone in 2001
The Kyocera SmartPhone, weighing in at a low, low 7 ounces with a built-in Palm PDA, costing $499

From an on-fire go-getter to a more mellow leader, life has changed considerably for Todd Bernstein, founder of Corporate Telecomm, since we last spoke with him in 1991. Though he still works from the same Van Nuys, California, location providing office phone systems, his company changed size and shape after merging with L.A. TEL in 1999.

"[The merger] was a good way for me to grow on a personal level and to instantly increase sales," says Bernstein, who took the lead role as managing member of the new company. But the change presented its challenges: Bernstein says it took about six months for the two company cultures to truly merge. Combining offices so the two groups of employees could work together helped. "We [didn't want] a 'we/they' mentality," he says. "Finally, people realized we're all the same company."

Over the years, Bernstein's ridden out the ebbs and flows of the changing economy. A dip in sales during the recession of the early '90s hurt, but Bernstein continued to run the business conservatively, always keeping enough cash on hand. His philosophy when times get rough: The owner is last one to get paid and first one to go without.

While Bernstein's economic instincts haven't changed, his role has. He says he feels more like a manager than an entrepreneur-instead of being involved with every meeting and decision, he delegates now. He sees himself steering the ship, not so much working the decks. "You get more mellow as you get older," he says. "When I started, it was [all about] burning the midnight oil. Now I'm 39, and I've got three young children. You just sort of take the perspective that you're working for a quality of life, and you need to bring balance [to it]."

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This article was originally published in the March 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: They're Baaaaaaack!.

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