CEO: Clients seem to like fact that help-desk firm is local

July 19, 2004


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.

Close-by help

"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 computer crashes.

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 our hometown.

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 about.

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 Nominations are due July 30.

Bits & bytes'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 consultant.


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners