As the head of three companies, Larry Adler has accumulated all the trappings of success.
He carries three sets of embossed business cards, retains a business manager and lawyer to advise him and often rides around town in a chauffeur-driven limousine.
Of course, Adler uses the stretch Lincoln Town Car for two reasons: He revels in it as a symbol of status and, well, he's not old enough to drive.
Larry Adler is 14.
The chief of a lawn and house maintenance business and a promotions and consulting firm, and a salesman for national toy companies, Adler is a startling package of ambition, savvy and youthful hype.
The high school freshman describes himself simply "as a normal kid with an unusual hobby."
Right now, while many of his peers are preparing for semester exams in algebra and history, Adler works 8 to 5 in the basement of his parents' Potomac town house busily researching potential investors and making plans to franchise.
"That's where the money is, you know, franchising," said Adler, leaning back in his desk chair, hands clasped behind his head. "To stand still in business is to fall behind."
Armed with a stinging sense of self-confidence that would put Michael J. Fox's character on television's "Family Ties" to shame, the thin, sandy-haired Adler has charged into the business world using relentless self-promotion.
The watchwords of success roll off Adler's tongue. Phrases such as "I'm thinking of applying for a gold card," "Would you like to see my resume?" and "I'll get you in touch with my lawyer" pepper his conversations.
Several weeks ago, Adler left behind his classmates at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, enrolling instead in a correspondence course.
Adler said he still sees his friends from school, meeting them to go to movies or play basketball.
"I've taught myself business, so I can teach myself the schoolwork," he said. "I missed quite a few classes because of business, so this fits better.
And for socializing, it's like any adult in business, I do that when I'm not working."
Adler's mother Rebecca Adler, an elementary school teacher in Prince George's County, said she decided to take her son out of school because Walter Johnson's work-study program -- a program she believes would suit him well -- was not available to freshmen.
She said she is working with school officials to reenroll her son in school after the holidays.
"I think there is a better education in a public school," Rebecca Adler said. "But the schools have to be flexible to him, too."
Adler's business career began at age 9, when he found himself bored with the summer laziness many children crave. Adler said he wanted some extra spending money and "something to do." So, he took his family's lawn mower and made the neighborhood rounds. In two weeks, he made $300, and like any smart businessman he reinvested his profits. He bought another mower.
More equipment, more lawns. It was the humble beginnings of Rent-A-Kid, his first business.
In another month, with the help of his older brother David and some friends, Adler said, he made $500 after getting the word out by distributing fliers and posting handmade signs on trees. Adler said he soon acquired 50 customers who paid the youngsters $7 to $10 to perform such tasks as mowing lawns, washing windows, cleaning houses and shoveling snow.
Rent-A-Kid now employs 60 part-time employes, ranging in age from 16 to 21, Adler said, and he is considering franchising the business in other parts of the country.
Adler said he later became involved with the toy business, after a trip to his aunt's store in Florida. There, he spotted small, brightly colored baskets he believed could be more successfully marketed if filled with candy or small stuffed animals. He contacted the manufacturer and arranged to be a wholesaler, selling 10,000 of them, mostly to card and gift stores, he said. He began attending toy and gift shows, and currently represents several national toy manufacturers, selling their wares to local stores. The second business, Larry Adler & Associates, was launched when its founder was 12 years old.
Business associates in toy sales, who say having a young representative helps them know what is popular and who pay Adler on commission, refer to him alternately as "one of our top people," "a good salesman" and "a persistent, driven young man."
Kim Kentner of Blocks and Marbles, an Indiana toy company Adler represents to area stores, said, "Oh, I've given up thinking of Larry as a kid. I mean, I only talked with him on the phone before I met him, so I thought he was older . . . an adult. But he's done well for us, so I couldn't spend any more time being skeptical."
Adler recently formed his third commercial venture, Kidcorp, in which he promotes a rock band and provides advertising advice to area businesses -- among them the owners of the limousine company he employs to get him to business appointments.
But Adler, who can coolly handle complicated business dealings, can just as easily bristle with the petulance of a child.
Adler sometimes exaggerates his already extraordinary achievements. He boasted to a reporter that his revenue is about $100,000 this year, although he said much of it has been reinvested into his thriving businesses. His business manager, Roberto O. Fernandez, 38, who has helped handle the books for about a year, said the $100,000 represents a "still impressive" two-year total.
In a lecture before a business class at Einstein High School in Kensington last year, Adler spoke quietly at first, appearing shy before the initial wisecracks of the doubting juniors and seniors. But as the students ended their balking and began raising their hands -- many half-seriously asking Adler to hire them after high school -- Adler turned on the confidence. He told them he had "never paid income tax." When confronted later by a reporter, he repeated the statement. He said he paid only sales tax, but later called back to say that his former accountant -- whom Adler fired -- told him that income tax was paid.
Adler would not disclose the name of the accountant. But, business manager Fernandez said income tax was not paid because the books weren't "in shape to do so."
Nonetheless, Fernandez credits Adler with being "an example to other kids."
"His energy is in the right direction . . . but he can exaggerate. He's a kid," Fernandez said.
Rebecca Adler said that although her son spends "90 percent" of his time at home in the basement office, she is pleased he is a "hard worker." She said her son is driven by "wanting money and fame and leadership. I'm not pushing, and if anything I'm trying to get him down a bit . . . . It's hard for people to realize it's like a hobby. He's just going in another direction."