We sat in John’s triangular office overlooking Peachtree, agonizing over yet another draft of a company budget with only one goal in mind – survival.
For three years we had rubbed together enough resources and fanned the embers of three neighborhood newspapers, all the while hoping and praying ad sales would catch fire and provide much-needed fuel.
So many had helped along the way. My friend Mike handled our incorporation for cost. My father loaned a couple of thousand dollars right after my first issue of Atlanta 30306 . He died two days later. When I needed to pay a computer bill, my mother put a check in the envelope. Ward left a steady job to become the only employee in my small company, and then together with Natalie, my first salesperson, pulled several 48-hour shifts.
My sister Van wrote a column for free. Her son John left a better-paying job at IBM to help me with accounting. My friend Charles and my brother Jack bought stock. Jan took a huge risk, deferring her salary for a year. I could mention many others.
There was always just one more dollar in the checking account. That was, until now.
We ran several models on the computer. Cut this. Don’t rehire that position. Quit mailing that. No matter what we did, it didn’t work. Despite my years of optimism, I was depleted and had finally given up faith. My staff worked for a month not knowing if they’d be paid. I wrote a front-page appeal in our Buckhead paper asking for donations, advertising or for an investor. I called CEOs for help – without success. The readers of Buckhead responded wonderfully – sending in checks for $25, $50 and $100 and heartfelt letters of support.
They sustained us more than they’ll ever know through what seemed like the final days.
I briefed my mom. “There’s no one in our family with any business sense that you could call,” she said. “They’re all lawyers or whatever. Call someone who has been through this before. Call someone like Tom Cousins,” the real estate executive.
“Yeah right, mom,” I thought. Then others whose counsel I sought mentioned his name as well. I had written him a letter five days before this meeting in John’s office. But his secretary said he was rarely in town, that maybe he’d see the letter one day and call.
Before the meeting I slid my personal American Express card through the charge machine and made a final cash deposit in our account. In John’s office, we struggled with the concept of an SBA loan, for which I’d have to pledge what was left of the equity in my house and add more debt to our monthly budget.
“It’s over,” I said to John and Jan. “There’s just no way. This is the end.”
For two years, John had maintained his confidence that we’d find a way through. But my verdict left him silent for the first time. Jan, resilient and never losing faith, looked at me and stood up. “I’m going to check my voice mail and see if the bank called about the loan.” We took a break. I wandered into my office. The phone rang. It was Tom Cousins. “I’d like to help,” he said. “Come by the house tomorrow.”
Over coffee in his living room, he said he always thought Atlanta should have positive newspapers. He read over mine. We discovered we believed in the same ideals, shared the same faith. As I stood at his front door, he shook my hand.
“Say hello to your lovely mother,” he said.
“I will,” I said. And thank her – and everyone else.