July 19, 2004
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Ever hear those cries for help, "My computer doesn't work"? They're
music to Rosemarie Mitchell's ears. Mitchell is CEO of Rolling
Meadows-based ABS Associates Inc., which runs help desks and supports
desktop computing for the likes of Motorola, Master Lock, Northwestern
Mutual and Blue Cross Blue Shield.
I got to thinking about Rosemarie after reading about Sun-Times
columnist Paige Wiser's computer problems. Wiser had to call in a trusted
source, her younger brother, who yelled at her as he was fixing the
machine. Mitchell's well-trained staff never yells.
Then there was Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg's travail. His
family's Dell computer crashed. It was saved by a late-night conversation
with a computer technician in India. This caused Steinberg angst over
outsourcing. He worried that his column-writing tasks might be outsourced
to lower-cost writers on the Indian subcontinent.
Again I thought of Rosemarie. Here's a woman leading an outsourcing
company located right here in the suburbs with no plans to go offshore to
Europe or Asia. She is thinking about expanding to Canada.
"We have a thriving business," says Mitchell. "Customers in the tier we
serve (typically 300 to 3,000 users) seem to like the fact that we're
close by. We become an integral part of the company which is difficult to
do when the company is overseas."
Mitchell created ABS with her husband, Tom, in their Barrington home in
1982, beginning as resellers for Digital Equipment Corp. "We started
putting systems together in the basement," says Mitchell. She migrated to
outsourcing help desks and desktop support because the systems were too
heavy to haul out of the basement. "We couldn't do it. The whole family
was pushing them up the stairs," she says.
Mitchell's company isn't huge. It's privately held and employs about
100 professionals serving nearly 150 clients. Client satisfaction and
retention are top priorities for Mitchell.
She's particularly proud of her newest client. "We just signed Kansas
City-based Overland Solutions Inc.," says Mitchell. "It's the first time
we've signed a deal outside 500 miles of Chicago."
Mitchell's not a flashy tech entrepreneur. She's proud of what's she's
built. She's happy to deal with those cries for help when the desktop
Polley's remote nears 50
Chicago's a pretty innovative town though we don't always recognize or
remember our innovators.
Take Gene Polley. Heard of him? In autumn 1954, Polley was assistant
division chief in the mechanical engineering group at Zenith Radio.
"Beginning in the 1930s, radios used wired remote controls," recalls
Polley in his Lombard home. "We were working on a wired remote for
television. I got a better idea."
He pulled together four photo cells and a flashlight-like device that
could change the channels, adjust the sound and fix the picture from the
comforts of an easy chair. The TV remote control was born right here in
Zenith engineers often gave Zenith founder and president Eugene
McDonald Jr. new products to test in his home. Without his boss'
knowledge, Polley included his remote in one test.
"The call came down from management: 'Get this thing right into
production,'" recalls Polley. His boss didn't know what they were talking
What inspired Polley's innovation? "The mystery of being able to
operate things at a distance intrigued me," he says.
Know a modern-day Gene Polley? He may be honored with a Chicago
Innovation Award. Complete details can be found at www.chicagoinnovationawards.com. Nominations are due July
Bits & bytes
GasPedal.net's Andy Sernovitz tells friends he's relocating to
Chicago. ... Ogilivy & Mather Managing Partner Michelle Edelman
shared insights on women and the Web at last week's Ad:Tech04 conference.
"Women are looking for information and relevance to their lives where guys
are much more information seekers," says Edelman, who advises companies
like Sears on their Internet use. ... Kudos to BIGfrontier's Steve
Lundin, who brought author and former Harvard Business Review editor
Joel Kurtzman to town. Kurtzman's out with a new book, MBA in
a Box. His ideas about companies stimulating successful innovation
through attention to social networks are impressive. ... Jeff Coney
rejoins the Northwestern ITEC today as director.
Michael Krauss is a Chicago-based tech writer and