Doug and Eric Becker started their business careers at the ages of 18 and 22, respectively. Now, three years and millions of dollars later, these brothers and their three partners are building a profitable and sizeable venture capital firm in Baltimore called Sterling Capital Ltd.
"Someone told me that if you are right 51 percent of the time, you will make money in this business," said Eric Becker. "We have been right about 90 percent of the time."
Sterling has a portfolio worth more than $25 million in real estate, radio station and computer investments, and the firm may enter the food service and publishing markets.
Sterling was founded on a winter weekend in 1983 when Eric Becker and his friend Steven Taslitz listened to Doug Becker and Chris Hoehn-Saric describe a new laser technology that stores up to 800 pages of information on a credit card-sized piece of plastic.
The group immediately began discussing ways to use and market the laser card, which was created and patented by Drexler Technology Corp. in Mountain View, Calif.
"We walked away from that meeting just knowing we were going to work together and start a business," said Eric Becker.
Neither Eric nor Doug was new to the world of money. Eric was working on a $3 million real estate deal with Taslitz while studying economics at the University of Chicago. Doug Becker earned $10,000 his senior year in high school from his own computer consulting firm.
The group initially tried to sell GM, Ford and Chrysler on the idea that the laser cards could store a car's parts and maintenance records. "We called Lee Iacocca and didn't understand why he wouldn't return our calls," said Eric Becker.
Detroit was not receptive to Sterling's ideas, but Dr. Frederik Hansen, a gray-bearded plastic surgeon who is a friend of the Beckers, was very interested. He assembled a board of doctors to advise them on the medical possibilities of the card, and introduced them to Jim Thornton, senior vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maryland.
Blue Cross spent about $2 million to develop LifeCard, a card that stores a patient's entire medical history and insurance information. Canon U.S.A. made the hardware needed to read the cards. Hoehn-Saric, Taslitz and the Becker brothers developed the software for LifeCard.
The LifeCard venture proved successful for the foursome who received a consultants' fee of $1 million dollars over three years, plus 20 percent interest in LifeCard, and royalties from each software system sold.
Blue Cross bought Sterling's interest in LifeCard International in 1985 for an undisclosed amount. Eight months later, Sterling bought five radio stations in Louisiana, South Carolina and Mississippi for $26 million. "We wanted to buy middle market stations in state capitals with diversified economies that may prove very profitable after 1990, when a Federal Communications Commission ban on owning more than a dozen radio stations is lifted," said Eric Becker.
The group brought in attorney W. Lawrence Patrick, who had 20 years of broadcasting experience at Gilmore Broadcasting Corp., to run Sterling Communications Corp. "There is always someone who is a better than us to manage the company. A good management team leaves us to pursue other projects," said Eric Becker.
The idea that expertise can be bought is central to Sterling's business philosophy. "There are a lot of good managers out there who don't have the opportunity to earn an ownership position in their company. We make them partners. The top managers of our companies earn equity in Sterling based on achieving mutually agreed upon goals," said Eric Becker. "I want to know that the guy who is running the show has as much on the line as I do, I want to know that he is going to turn out the lights at night."
Sterling's philosophy has worked so far. It has six companies in its portfolio. Its most recent acquisition was the Keyboard Skills Training Division of IDEAS Inc., a Beltsville defense contractor and manufacturer, now called KEE Inc.
KEE produces and manufactures computer training systems that were profitable but "undermanaged and underappreciated," said Eric Becker.
The foursome lured John R. Robertson, former corporate vice president and general manager of Eastman Kodak Co.'s Government Services Division, out of retirement to run the new company. KEE's executive vice president and chief operating officer is Anthony Cancelosi, former national sales manager of Control Date Corp.'s Training Products and Services division.
In the past seven months, KEE has grown from six employes to 33, from a sales staff of two to 10. "We are looking at new ideas and new techniques, we are basically creating a whole new company," said Cancelosi.
"It is fun working with these guys. They don't do things as systemically as someone who has been in the business for 10 or 15 years, but they are quick with fresh ideas," he said.
"They are not my boss. They do not come into my office and say do this and that. We work as a team and John Robertson and I make management decisions." said Cancelosi. ASSOCIATIONS Joe Belew, executive vice president of the Consumer Bankers Association, is replacing Thomas E. Honey as president of the group.
The American Financial Services Association has named Sheryl L. Peterson assistant director of legislative affairs. She will act at the association's liaison with the House of Representatives.
Susan S. Newman has been named secretary general/executive officer of the American Chapter of the International Real Estate Federation.
The World Future Society, a nonprofit scientific and educational association, named Timothy H. Willard director of communications.
The American Business Women's Association Checkerspot Charter Chapter named Susan E. Day president and Hazel Fellendorf vice president.
BANKING, FINANCIAL SERVICES Acacia Federal Savings Bank, an Acacia Group company, appointed Joseph R. Schellhorn senior vice president of the asset management division. Acacia Group's Acacia Financial Center named Cynthia Ann Lee director of equities and estate planning.
Potomac Savings Bank in Silver Spring promoted Charles D'Arco from senior vice president to executive vice president, and Sharon Lea Riggins from vice president to senior vice president.
Washington Federal Savings Bank named Karen Casteel vice president of construction loan servicing; Betty Gardiner vice president of purchase loans and post closings; Sheila McKenzie vice president of savings operations; and Bill Dubit vice president of finance and treasurer.
Sandy Spring National Bank has appointed Jean F. McGuire manager of the Layhill Office; Judith H. Bradford assistant manager of the Olney Community Office; and Shirley A. Connelly assistant manager of the new Leisure World Plaza Community Office.
United Virginia Bankshares Inc. elected Karen Hastie Williams and Gene A. James to the holding company's board of directors.
COMMUNICATIONS Comsat Corp. elected Arthur Hauspurg, president and chief executive officer of Consolidated Edison Co., to its board of directors.
Waverly Press Inc., a Maryland-based printing and publishing company, elected Carolyn Manuszak to its board of directors.
Jose Berrios has been appointed director of personnel and equal employment opportunity programs for Gannett Co. Inc.
The Journal Newspapers named Raymond M. Lane food editor of the Tempo section, and Alan Fogg news editor in Alexandria.
COMPUTER, HIGH TECHNOLOGY Martin Marietta Corp. elected Edwin I. Colodny, chairman and president of USAir Group Inc., to its board of directors. The company also named Robert G. Morra, now vice president of technical operations, to be a corporate vice president.
VM Systems Group in Arlington elected Marvin A. Schilder vice president of sales; Garbriel Goldberg director of Technology; Jane Wendelin comptroller of VM Systems Group; and Debra P. Shepard director of marketing.
Entre Computer Centers Inc. appointed David H. Davis vice president of field operations. Davis is the former senior vice president and retail marketing manager of the Mellon Bank's Western Region.
Star Technologies Inc. in Sterling named Helen S. Ryan manager of marketing communications. She will oversee Star's marketing and public relations efforts.
COMSIS Corp. appointed James N. Ridgell, former vice president of advanced programs with Vanguard Technologies Corp., corporate vice president for business development.Edward Mercer, an attorney and civil rights activist, joined the D.C. Office of Human Rights as associate director for case enforcement.
HOTEL, FOOD SERVICES Marriott Hotels and Resorts appointed Jim Diehl vice president of operations for Marriott Suites. Diehl has been with Marriott for seven years, most recently as general manager at Houston Marriott Galleria in Texas.
The Sheraton Washington Hotel named Linda Todd Riedel senior account manager and Glen Clinton rooms division manager.
The Calverton Holiday Inn appointed Nyna N. Werner director of sales.
Ellen Cole Edwards, formerly with the office leasing division of Rouse Co., has been named vice president of Subway Development Corp. of Washington.
INDUSTRIAL, MANUFACTURING Sampson H. Bass Jr. has been elected vice president of corporate budget for Ethyl Corp. Bass is the previous director of administration for Ethyl S.A., a subsidiary of Ethyl Corp., in Brussels.
Figgie International Inc. appointed James O. Jones Jr. president of its Geo. J. Meyer Manufacturing division. Meyer manufactures bottling and packaging equipment for the beverage and brewing industries.