Blog Barista: Jim Kunz | May 15, 2019 | Culture | Brew time: 5 min
KL&A was conceived at the Original Pancake House. It’s where John and I agreed to form the company and sketched out our growth plans during breakfast. We decided to start working together in an office building in Lathrup Village that my father owned. The building was mostly vacant, although it did come with a tenant who was a jeweler as well as a clock and watch repair specialist. We asked him to consolidate his display cases and equipment in two of the back offices, then moved into the front part of the building with each of us taking an office. Shortly thereafter, we officially formed Kunz, Leigh & Associates Inc. We ordered business cards, stationery and envelopes, and set up an Ethernet network so we could share the one printer we had—using wonderful Windows for Workgroups! We thought we had it made in the shade!
During the first few months of company operation, I was wrapping up a contract with the U.S. Customs Service, developing property management systems and procedures for them. I travelled quite a bit, mostly to Washington DC, Indianapolis, and field offices from New Orleans to Miami and up the coast into Georgia. The work was interesting, but not very lucrative for KL&A. I mean, like $45 an hour! Even worse, the time I spent working for the Customs Service was time that was not spent developing KL&A. John and I agreed that I needed to end my engagement with them and focus on KL&A full-time.
For some reason, in the early days of developing the company, we seemed to spend a lot of time developing marketing pieces—one-page practice summary sheets and tri-fold brochures, outlining the type of work we wanted to do. Those initial practice areas were:
- Organizational Planning
- Information Systems Planning
- Systems Development and Implementation
- Systems Integration
- Project Management.
We spent weeks and weeks writing, revising and tweaking these marketing pieces. Eventually, we realized that just having nice marketing pieces and dropping them in the mail to friends and former clients wasn’t generating any business! We gave ourselves a swift kick in the ass and decided to amp up our outreach program.
John and I started a phone call campaign, reaching out to former clients of ours from our days at Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC Consulting), as well as colleagues from work, former business partners and anybody else we thought might be a good source of information – or a consulting engagement! It’s hard to believe nowadays, but back in 1992, email was not really yet in widespread use and the internet was just getting going. We signed up for internet access using Compuserve and was given the wonderful email address of 72262,firstname.lastname@example.org. Really trips off the tongue, doesn’t it? Dial-up access, lots of local phone numbers, pay by the hour, but not much to see or do yet.
Our First Project
The first real project we landed was a business process reengineering engagement with the Michigan Department of Public Health. Dave McLaury was our first client during that initial project. In fact, we’re still working with him today! He’s now an independent consultant supporting CHAMPS and Michigan Medicaid. The first project went well, but was not really a systems development project, which is what we really craved back then. We found it difficult to convince potential clients that we were a credible system development shop, especially because we only had two employees!
We performed a few other small consulting projects for a variety of clients in the Detroit area. It helped pay a few bills, but I can safely say that the first ten months or so, neither John nor I were able to pull anything resembling a salary out of the company’s bank account!
Our First Development Project
Our first year proved to be tough. We were just about at the point where we thought we might have to throw in the towel. But then, we received a Request for Proposal from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (in the mail, of course) for a cash receipts processing system. We did a little intelligence gathering and learned that (1) their desktop database standard was Paradox, and (2) their budget for the project, including hardware, was a whopping $30,000. We took a deep breath and decided to go for it. We pulled together a proposal, basing the planned system on the newly released Paradox for Windows, along with a Novell Netware server. To make a long story short, we got the bid and were awarded a contract. Now, we had to deliver!
Both John and I participated in the design (JAD) sessions with MDNR. For the most part, John was the developer while I focused on hardware and networking. We followed a Rapid Application Development (RAD) approach which is not too different from what’s now called Agile. John worked hard to develop prototypes that he could install to obtain client feedback and make system improvements. The client was used to an old character-based system where they were in effect heads down data entry clerks. Learning to use a mouse was brand new for them and they didn’t want any screen feedback or warnings that might slow them down. My key challenges were two-fold: (1) figuring out how to load the Netware network drivers so the clients could access both our Netware server as well as the State’s Token Ring network without rebooting their PCs, and (2) getting Paradox for Windows to communicate with the serial remittance slip printers.
Eventually, we got that system implemented. Our first project was done! Although we probably made something less than minimum wage for our time, we had a happy client and the start of something big. Because John had established communications with the State’s general accounting system, we were able to interest other State agencies in the system we built as well. Over time, we’ve made major platform changes to the system: moving the application to MS Access, moving the database to SQL Server and Oracle, and eventually developing a browser-based client application. Functionally, we subsequently added invoicing, accounts receivable and considerable other capabilities and interfaces to the system, which now exists as MiCaRS. The system is currently used by 16 of the 19 agencies within the State of Michigan.
Setting the Stage for Success
Those early days formed the basis for a strong partnership and sound company. Although the growth rate of KL&A was considerably flatter than the growth rate we originally sketched out on that napkin at the Pancake House, our growth rate has remained positive since 1992. We continue to be amazed at the talented people we’ve been able to hire, the tremendous work they’ve been able to accomplish, and the happy clients we have as a result. I’m so glad that both John and I enjoy pancakes!
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