Often I have written about how small business is so tough it will polish you to your best self, or grind you up. And, in twenty four years it provides ample opportunity to run smack into your limitations. Now in my case I’m a wee bit of a hot house flower and I wilt in the presence of excruciating detail or repetitive managerial tasks. So, I have major help. It has been my extrordinary good fortune to have Geneva Sullivan as my partner. She is my front line general in the war against entropy that is the daily reality of a coffee business. (If it was just me I would be one small shop with very arty espresso but constantly running out of napkins or the teeny light bulbs that go under the bars.)
Geneva is a founding partner at Vivace, having listened to my schemes for improving espresso since 1988. We got to know each other doing arabic belly dance gigs together with me on flute, Geneva doing cabaret as well as ethnic classical dance. She is a natural performer with a beaming, happy stage presence.
The front line on accounting, inventory, and computers is bravely held by Geneva. When we met she was a main frame computer repair technician at Unisys, working nights and arriving on jobs where the CEO is leaking money at $500,000 dollars per hour because the system is down. This was at a time when hardware repair had the whiff of a male hegemony and she would have to prove herself again and again. Usually in two hours she had them eating out of her hand. To say she has moxie is to refer to Mozart as a piano player. She also worked at Digital before joining Vivace full-time in 1991.
During this early time she earned a degree in vocational education at night by commuting all the way over on Bangor Navy base on the Olympic Peninsula. She finished, while working, and assisting in the beginning of Vivace. Might I just add serious work ethic to the moxie mix…one descriptive quip I have always liked is to say that if I was going to get stuck on a desert island with one person, it would be Geneva because we would make it back alive.
And over the years I have learned a lot about the nature of intelligence from her. Im all flash and bang, making intuitive leaps, and abohring process, a fire mind. Geneva is a stately intellect seeping into every aspect of a problem at her own pace, and illuminating each corner of complexity in an operation or process until it comes out whole and finished. We like to call it her water mind. And it is very formidable.
Recently she created a program to calculate what effect any price change on any item we sell, would have on the bottom line at the end of the year. Her program employs our actual sales hsitory to isolate the effect of, say, raising the price of a short Americano by 15 cents. So if we have to raise prices we just plug in options and tune until cost of goods sold and net profit line up exactly where we want them to be. In an early audit by the State of Washington resulted in a $100 refund for Vivace and the auditor pronounced us as one of the most organized small businesses they had ever reviewed.
Her nickname at work is “Hurricane Geneva” for the sheer energy she brings to any project. And of course, to improve a workspace or a system, you need to tear it apart first.