Copyright 2007 Sioux City Journal, By Dave Dreeszen, Journal business editor
NORTH SIOUX CITY -- It's an improbable success story, the likes of which we may never see again.
At age 22, Ted Waitt dropped out of college, quit his retail job nine months later and returned home to launch a personal computer business. Defying the odds, the fledging company, which he and a friend started on his father's Sioux City cattle farm, grew into a multibillion-dollar enterprise and dominant player in a crowded personal computer industry.
How did Gateway 2000 prevail at a time, in the late '80s and early '90s, when hundreds of other competitors all across America failed?
"The workforce, the people that made up Gateway, is what enabled us to do it," Waitt said. "This community is great. I really don't think it would have been possible for us to do what we did with Gateway and do it anywhere else."
Looking back on it now, Waitt said he should have kept Gateway's corporate offices in North Sioux City, where the quirky, cow-spotted direct-marketer achieved its greatest success. In the process, it transformed the local economy, creating more than 5,700 jobs at its peak.
"The thing I would definitely do over again is the whole San Diego thing," Waitt said, his voice trailing off. "That was probably the single biggest mistake."
It's the first time the retired CEO has publicly acknowledged regrets about moving Gateway's headquarters to suburban San Diego in 1998. His words likely affirm what many Siouxlanders, including past and present Gateway employees, have long contended -- that the company went astray after exchanging its salt-of-the-earth Midwest roots for laid-back Southern California.
Waitt said the corporate staff in San Diego never fully embraced the value-driven culture that had worked well in North Sioux City, where the company kept a sales and operations center.
"It was much more money-oriented. It was much more short-term oriented," said Waitt, who retired as chief executive a year after the move, only to return after a disastrous second-half performance in 2000. "And there was different leadership in place at that time that incentivized that -- and changed the company, I think, indelibly."
Waitt, 44, made his comments in an interview last month with the Journal -- his first since Taiwan-based Acer Inc. completed its $710 acquisition of Gateway, which had steadily lost sales and market share. The deal ended not only Gateway's 22-year run as a stand-alone firm but also Waitt's ownership in the company he co-founded. At the time of the sale, the billionaire was still the largest shareholder, with about a 20 percent stake.
The interview session at the North Sioux City offices of Avalon Capitol Group, the private investment firm Waitt owns, represented a reunion of sorts for some of Gateway's key early players. Also on hand were Avalon's Dave Russell and Shane Hartnett, who were among Gateway's first employees, and Waitt's fellow Gateway co-founder, Mike Hammond, known as "Hammer" to his friends.
During the hourlong session, the old pals and colleagues laughed, joked and reminisced about how the computer maker got its start and what life was like in its heyday.
It took a series of fortunate events for Gateway to exist at all.
A chance meeting
In October 1984, Hammond accompanied a friend to the University of Iowa-University of Michigan football game in Iowa City. At the time, the 23-year-old Hammond was employed at a computer store in Des Moines, where he had grown up. After dropping out of a Missouri college, Hammond worked as a diesel mechanic before taking the retail job.
At the game, Hammond met Waitt, an Iowa sophomore majoring in marketing and business. The son of a fourth-generation cattleman, Theodore W. Waitt was born and raised in Sioux City. In 1981, after graduating from North High School, he briefly attended the University of Colorado in Boulder before transferring to Iowa.
Hammond's job at the computer store intrigued Waitt, who had just blown his midterm exams and had started looking for a full-time job. He figured he could learn more from real-life experiences than the classroom.
After driving to Des Moines on a Thursday to check out the store, Century Systems, Waitt reported to work the next Monday.
That first day, Hammond, who had studied punch-card-style computer science at Missouri Southern State for a year, took the top off a machine and walked Waitt through each component.
"He just picked it up immediately," Hammond recalls. "He never asked the same question twice."
As he learned the ropes, Waitt marveled at the willingness of customers to spend $3,000-plus on computer systems over the phone without ever meeting the salesman. Nine months after they began working together at the store, Waitt and Hammond decided to start their own venture, hatching a plan to fill a niche market.
At the time, Texas Instruments had stopped selling software to support a popular model of personal computer. Waitt and Hammond envisioned setting up a mail-order business, allowing TIPC owners to buy add-ons to run IBM-compatible programs.
'Mo Mo' to the rescue
Waitt's father, Norm Waitt Sr., a fourth-generation Sioux City cattleman whose business had fallen on hard times, offered them space rent free in a two-story farmhouse, where he had his office and cowhands once bunked.
"We could live upstairs and work downstairs," Ted Waitt said. "Our biggest expense was filling up the fuel oil tank when it ran out. It was expensive."
And, by the way, Waitt and Hammond also were expected to help load cattle trucks that often arrived in the middle of the night.
They still needed seed money to get their venture off the ground. They wrote a three-page business plan on a rented Compaq computer and took a floppy disc to Morningside College to make copies because they didn't own a printer. The two young men then pitched their vision to nearly every bank in town. The answer was the same everywhere they went.
"Their first question was, 'Do you have any money?'" Waitt said. "We said, 'No, we don't have any money.' They said, "Then, we're not going to loan you any money." We said, 'If we had any money, we wouldn't need to borrow any.'"
"At that point, it wasn't looking real good," Hammond added.
Waitt's maternal grandmother, Mildred Smith, came to the rescue. Smith, affectionately called "Mo Mo" by her grandchildren, pledged her $15,000 certificate of deposit at Security National Bank as collateral.
"They had so much confidence in us that they loaned us $10,000 against a $15,000 CD. We're still trying to get the other $5,000," Waitt quipped.
'There was an opportunity'
After Labor Day weekend in 1985, Waitt, the marketing specialist, and Hammond, the technical expert, launched their startup business, called TIPC Network. At their side in the farmhouse were two dogs, Jake and Bunky.
Few people expected the venture to survive.
"A little computer company in Iowa? Who thought it would go anywhere?" said Mark Schmith, who passed up a chance to be one of Gateway's first half-dozen employees, figuring then he could get more dates at his job as a disc jockey at a Sioux City night club.
Initially, Waitt and Hammond advertised in a Texas Instruments trade magazine and charged a $20 membership fee for users to gain access to a catalog of TI peripherals and hardware. They sold the add-ons at cost plus a 10 percent markup.
Within the first four months, TIPC Network had generated $100,000 in sales. Mo Mo's nest egg was safe.
With the phones ringing from morning to night, the pair went days when neither showered. "We'd get the product in, we'd sell as the phone rang and pack and ship all day long until we were tripping over stuff," Hammond said.
They largely neglected the financial side of the business the first few months. Sales invoices and unopened bank statements piled up in desk drawers.
"I called the bank every day to find out how much cash we had on hand," Waitt said. "If we had cash, that was good. We knew we could buy stuff. If we didn't have cash, that meant we had to sell stuff."
He eventually asked his older brother, Norm Waitt Jr., to straighten out the books. "He says, 'I'll do it if you make me a full partner.'" Ted said. "I didn't think twice about it."
Norm Jr., who started work in February 1986, just before graduating from Morningside College with a finance degree, also had no hesitations joining the upstart business.
"Obviously, I believed it had a chance to be something. I had no idea what," Norm Jr. said. "I thought there was an opportunity and they needed someone like me."
'The way people really wanted it'
By January 1986, the company had moved to Sioux City's Livestock Exchange Building, it rented 5,000 square feet on the third floor of the century-old stockyards area structure for $350 a month.
With its TI add-on revenues piling up, Ted Waitt and Hammond moved closer to their original goal of selling complete computer systems. In 1986, the company experimented with assembling its own PCs, selling machines primarily to local customers, but those sales accounted for only a small part of that year's revenues of $1 million.
Ted Waitt still recalls the company's first big local sale. Dave Russell's father, Larry, a computer programmer at Western Iowa Tech Community College, ordered 18 PCs. "It was huge. He helped us out a lot," he said of the elder Russell.
Gateway's national breakthrough came in mid-1987, after Texas Instruments launched a program to let its buyers trade in their old TI machines for new IBM-compatible PCs for $3,500. Waitt and Hammond knew they could put together a similar system, with off-the-shelf components, for just $1,995 plus trade-in of the old unit.
Their first computer, powered with a 12 MHz 286 processor, offered 1 Mb of memory, a 20 Mb hard drive, two different floppy disk drives, a keyboard with function keys and an EGA color monitor -- all for one price.
Ted Waitt saw the potential for offering more fully configured systems than the stripped-down, lower-end models that were prevalent at the time. By negotiating with multiple suppliers for the best prices for components and directly marketing the systems to the end user, the company could cut out the middleman and keep costs low.
"We configured it the way people really wanted it," he said. "They couldn't build it themselves for that price."
Computers from Iowa?
In late 1987, the company incorporated and officially changed its name to Gateway 2000. In February 1988, Gateway placed a full-page ad in Computer Shopper magazine. The now-famous ad displayed a picture of Norm Waitt Sr.'s cattle herd, with a Sioux City water tower prominent in the background. The headline in bold letters asked, "Computers from Iowa?"
In a magazine full of ads with pictures of computers, Gateway's folksy spread stood out, subtly telling customers that the low-cost products were made in the Midwest by a reliable and trustworthy brand.
An enormous nationwide response followed, with Gateway's sales exploding to $12 million in 1988.
With phone orders flooding in, the company quickly outgrew its space in the Livestock Exchange Building, where workers put up with steaming heat in the summer, an often balky elevator and offensive odors from the nearby hog and cattle pens. The office space, furnished with used furniture, included a dozen or so small, interconnected rooms, "like a mini maze," says Bud Reynolds, who started as a part-time shipping clerk in late November 1987.
In the fall of 1988, Gateway moved its 28-member workforce to a 15,000-square-foot building in Sergeant Bluff, near Sioux Gateway Airport. The new, larger plant had an air of bustle and excitement. Telemarketers handled thousands of incoming calls daily. In the production area, employees, working in teams, assembled more than 200 systems a day for shipment.
"We were there to 10, 11, 12 at night, every day, seven days a week, making calls, building computers," Reynolds says. "It was fun. You could work 12-, 15-hour days and be excited to get to work the next day."
T-shirts and jeans were the standard attire in the informal work environment. Socks and even shoes were optional. No beer was allowed on the sales or production floors. Except after 5 p.m.
"We worked together. We played together. We had fun together," Waitt said. "We built relationships that lasted a lifetime."
'Awesome' bonus checks
Like Waitt and Hammond, most early Gateway employees were in their early to mid-20s, with little or no formal education beyond high school.
Reynolds, desperate for a job to support his young family, was hired through a state-funded job-training program. Shane Hartnett was just 17 when he started working in the box room. Dave Russell, Gateway's first purchasing director, had previously managed a Bishop's cafeteria. Tom Grueskin, who knew Waitt from their junior high days and later roomed with him in Sioux City, had been working at Metz Baking Co.
The "senior" early employee was Grueskin's father, Earle, who was 58 when Ted Waitt brought him in in July 1988 to help line up local financing for the company.
"Until we moved to Sergeant Bluff, I was practically twice as old as anybody else in that organization," said Earle Grueskin, a former Woodbury County supervisor.
In its earliest days, the company relied on informal networking to hire workers. "We recruited a lot of people at one-thirty, two o'clock in the morning in bars," Waitt said. "We told them to show up on Monday. And some of them actually showed."
Norm Waitt, Jr. said the company mostly promoted from within.
"If people thought they could do a job, they got the job because we were in such a hyper growth phase. That's the way things worked back then," he said.
Hourly pay for most jobs started at slightly above minimum wage, but in the early years those wages were supplemented with fat profit-sharing bonuses.
"Once every four weeks, you'd get a bonus check for $750," said Mark Schmith, who joined the company as the 267th employee in 1990, at age 22. "That was twice your regular paycheck. It was awesome."
As Gateway's reputation grew, sales mushroomed, hitting $70 million in 1989, up from $1.5 million the previous year. Shortly after arriving in Sergeant Bluff, explosive growth again forced the company to find larger quarters.
This time, Gateway moved across the Big Sioux River and the state line into neighboring North Sioux City. The firm initially acquired some 80 acres in a new business park carved out of corn and soybean fields on the west end of the then-sleepy little town.
From a business standpoint, Waitt said, the decision to leave Iowa was easy. Because South Dakota has no personal or corporate income tax, and its workers compensation and unemployment taxes also were lower than Iowa's, Gateway could lower its costs and stay more competitive.
As Gateway celebrated the grand opening of its new 33,000-square-foot plant in North Sioux City on Jan. 15, 1990, bulldozers already were moving earth for the first in a series of expansions.
Bigger than Dell
Gateway, which arrived in North Sioux with about 200 workers, went on a hiring spree almost immediately afterwards. By the end of 1990, employment had grown to more than 1,500 and revenues had nearly quadrupled from the previous year, to $275 million.
The next year brought even greater growth, with sales hitting $626 million. Inc. magazine crowned Gateway the fastest-growing privately owned company in America in 1991, citing its dizzying 26,469 percent increase in value in just five years.
In 1992, Gateway's sales topped $1 billion for the first time. The homegrown company was selling more PCs than other direct-marketers, including its arch-rival, Dell. The spectacular rise surprised nearly everyone except Hammond and Ted Waitt, who back in their farmhouse days had sat down at Norm Waitt, Sr.'s desk and drafted a huge organizational chart. "We aimed high," Waitt said. "I remember sitting at Little Ritchie's with 20, 30 people, saying our goal was to be No. 1 in computers."
Gateway thrived on Waitt's core philosophy of providing more value for the money than anybody else. It custom built PCs to fit individual needs and backed the systems with great customer service and a lifetime of technical support.
Gateway's fun-loving, folksy image also sold customers on the company itself.
Playing up its Midwest roots, Gateway in 1990 officially adopted cows as its mascots, but not the beef breeds grazing on the Waitt farm. Instead, the company began shipping its products in white boxes with black swatches, resembling the markings of a Holstein dairy cow. The black and white design reduced shipping costs.
More important, the cow spots screamed Gateway, becoming nearly as familiar to the public as some other well-known icons of the time, such as the Nike swoosh.
The cool CEO
Besides its trademark cow spots, Gateway became famous for its idiosyncratic, chain-smoking, Diet Coke-drinking chief executive.
Wearing his thinning hair in a ponytail and shunning the traditional suit and tie for blue jeans and cowboy boots, Waitt didn't fit the mold of a Fortune 500 CEO. He walked around saying the word "cool" and blared rock music in his office.
Waitt's knack for salesmanship, anticipation of technology changes and willingness to gamble on innovative new ideas and strategies kept Gateway one step ahead of its competitors.
"His marketing savvy and sense, taking risks, was absolutely unbelievable," Dave Russell said. "He was very, very dialed into what he was doing. Right or wrong, he didn't look back."
Personable and engaging, Waitt inspired intense loyalty in his employees with his regular-guy management style. He frequently stopped by production and sales facilities, sometimes jumping into the assembly line or taking a call himself. He'd also secretly listen in on calls and shell out cash bonuses on the spot to salespeople who answered the phone quickly or provided outstanding service.
As CEO, he embraced input from the rank and file and kept them regularly updated on Gateway's progress. In the early days, he'd bring in pizza to late-night workers and shut down the phones and office and take the entire staff out to lunch. The monthly employee luncheons continued until there was no longer a local eatery big enough to hold the rapidly growing staff.
"There was nothing more important to Ted than to stand up and tell everybody what was going on with the business," Reynolds said. "He was constantly projecting his vision so we could all be a part of it."
During Gateway's early years, Waitt lived on $200 per week and was often broke by the time the bars closed on Saturday night. When Gateway went public in December 1993, just before his 31st birthday, he became a multimillionaire overnight. So did his brother, Norm Waitt, Jr., who had remained a silent partner after stepping down as vice president of the company in March 1991.
"It had become a little more institutional at that point and my brother and I had different ideas about the company," said Norm Waitt, Jr., Gateway's early financial guru. "I felt like I'd done my thing there. Personally, it was time for me to do something different."
Under the 1993 initial public offering, Ted Waitt kept a 50 percent share in the business, while Norm Waitt, Jr. had 35 percent. The sale of the remaining 15 percent, or 10.9 million shares, raised more than $150 million.
For multiple Siouxland investors, it became "almost a badge of honor" to buy stock in the homegrown company, said local broker Dan Pecaut. Those who bought at the IPO price of $15 per share and later sold at the right time made a bundle. The stock, which later split two times, hit an all-time high of $84 in November 1999 before tumbling downward and losing 90 percent of its value.
With the infusion of new capital from the initial public offering, Gateway pushed heavily into overseas markets, opening plants in Ireland and Malaysia. It also continued its torrid domestic expansion, most notably here at home.
City within a city
For a half-dozen years, new construction at the North Sioux City complex continued nearly uninterrupted. One giant metal building after another, named for the central and South America countries of Mexico, Peru and Argentina and the Pacific Ocean, rose out of the ground. At any given time, some 100 construction workers were on site, creating a boom for local contractors, who were used almost exclusively for the work.
Gateway's sprawling campus eventually grew to some 1 million square feet of office, manufacturing and warehousing space -- the equivalent of nearly 20 football fields.
"Once we were finished with a building, there were people ready to move in," said Earle Grueskin, the Gateway executive who oversaw all the construction.
In its heyday, Gateway added 40 to 50 new workers each week. "Through '97, we were just trying to get enough bodies in there to match up with the amount of business we had going," Hammond said.
By the late '90s, Gateway's workforce peaked at more than 5,700 -- more than double the population of North Sioux City itself -- and passed then-IBP Inc. as the metro area's largest employer.
"Back in the mid-'90s, you essentially had a small city operating out of those metal buildings out there," said Jim Wharton, a former executive assistant to Waitt. "The place hummed. It was open 24/7."
Some 80 percent of the workforce lived in Sioux City, with others hailing from towns throughout the region.
Sioux Cityans living on the north and west sides made the daily commute in often bumper-to-bumper traffic on Military Road, then a winding, narrow two-lane street that crosses the Big Sioux River into North Sioux. Late arrivals faced a long walk -- and a bitter cold one in the winter -- from the back of the vast employee parking lots, which covered several acres.
Siouxland's economic boom
Gateway's spectacular rise helped the local economy more quickly recover from the devastating farm crisis of the mid-'80s and the demise of the Sioux City stockyards a few years later. High school and college grads, who had been leaving in droves for bigger cities, found career opportunities at Gateway in such diverse fields as engineering, tech support, sales and manufacturing.
"We saw a reversal of our brain drain for a while," said local businessman Bob Scott, who served as Sioux City's mayor during much of the '90s.
Residents from outside the region also flocked to the high-tech jobs at Gateway, sparking a boom in new home sales and construction. At one point, fewer than 100 homes were for sale on the local market, down from the nearly 2,500 houses listed during the tough economic times of the mid-'80s.
Gateway's multimillion-dollar annual payroll became an engine that drove additional growth in the metro area, from the computer suppliers that came to town to be closer to Gateway's plant to the secondary jobs created at restaurants, retailers and other businesses.
"I don't know of any corporate entity that had such a positive impact on a community in such a short time," Wharton said. "What that company did during its prime years here is unprecedented."
In 1998, Gateway dropped the 2000 from its name, before the coming millennium made it obsolete. That same year, it also dropped a bombshell on the community.
On April 7, 1998, Gateway announced the relocation of its headquarters to San Diego. As workers arrived at the North Sioux City complex that morning, managers immediately called them into meetings. They watched a video presentation of Waitt and Jeffrey Weitzen, a former AT&T executive Waitt had brought in as president and his eventual successor, explaining the strategy behind the move.
The news came as little surprise to most employees, who knew Waitt had bought a $14 million seaside mansion in La Jolla, Calif., a few years back and had been spending more and more time at the warm-weather home with his then-wife and four children.
"We knew it was coming," Schmith said. "A lot of people felt it was a mistake."
At the time, Waitt and Weitzen insisted the new West Coast headquarters would be good for Siouxland because it would help the company recruit more highly skilled people to fill senior executive positions. Many top candidates, they said, balked at the prospect of living in lightly populated southeast South Dakota, with its harsh winters and unglamorous nightlife.
Here's what was left unsaid then: Waitt wanted to take a core group of his veteran top managers with him to San Diego, but nearly all turned him down because they wanted to stay in Siouxland.
"They said, 'Wait a minute, you want me to leave? I'm five minutes from the office now. I can buy a house for $200,000, where out there it's $1.2 million. I've got to drive 45 minutes to work and live in a smaller house. I can't play golf. And my kids have to go to a worse school. What are you, nuts? I'd make the same money or a little bit more; what's in it for me?'" Waitt said.
Marking their territory
Waitt recruited a series of vice presidents from other Fortune 500 firms to help manage the growth. The company, he said, "always struggled to add the necessary policies and procedures without becoming too bureaucratic and slow moving."
"I don't know if we ever got it right," he said.
Looking back, Waitt likens the decision-making of some of the outside executives to "dogs pissing on trees."
"They all wanted to mark their territory. They all wanted to put their mark on something. At the end of the day, it whittled away what was there," he said.
If he had it to do over again, Waitt said, he would have grown Gateway more internally, promoting from within to a greater degree.
"We didn't always have the confidence of what we were doing, but we knew more of what we were doing than a lot of the people we brought in," he said.
Waitt has no second thoughts about his decision in 1999 to step away from day-to-day management of the company, pointing out he handed over a "damn good business." In 1999, Gateway posted record profits of $427.9 million on record revenues of $9.6 billion. The company was generating more sales from non-PC products than ever before and had more than $1 billion in cash on hand.
In hindsight, Waitt said choosing some of those he put in charge to run the business after he left was "just as stupid" a decision as moving the headquarters.
"They overmanaged and screwed it up," said Waitt, who stopped short of singling anyone out. "They did things short-term to make the income sheet look better, which damaged the balance sheet, which sold the future of the business. So, when times got tough, there wasn't as much to rely on."
The managerial missteps happened at a particularly bad time, just as the dot-com bubble burst and the national economy slowed. In the fourth quarter of 2000, Gateway suffered a $94.3 million loss.
For the year, the company blew through nearly half its cash, and its stock price tumbled 75 percent. Both employee and customer satisfaction also hit all-time lows, particularly frustrating to Waitt, who as board chairman had asked for monthly reports on each measure.
Back to basics
In January 2001, Waitt ousted Weitzen as CEO and reassumed the post himself. He fired eight of Weitzen's top managers and rehired or reinstated his longtime allies, including Hammond, Russell and Bart Brown, who had joined Gateway in 1989.
Adopting a "back to basics" plan, Waitt dumped several Weitzen-era policies, restructured Gateway's operations and re-emphasized its core business of selling PCs. "We had to basically rebuild the business because the business model was broke," he said.
Unfortunately, Gateway fell short of returning to its glory days. As the PC business grew increasingly commoditized with multiple players and small margins, the company never again seriously challenged industry leaders Dell and H-P.
With losses mounting, Gateway withdrew from all its overseas markets and began massive layoffs in its global workforce, which peaked at nearly 25,000 in 2000. The company shuttered its manufacturing plants in Virginia and Utah and call centers just up the road in Vermillion and Sioux Falls, S.D.
The downsizing also hit hard in North Sioux City, as hundreds, and then thousands of workers were let go. The manufacturing plant in North Sioux, where millions of PCs had been assembled, also were shut down for good.
In 2004, in a final bid to turn the business around, Gateway bought low-cost rival eMachines in 2004. Waitt gave up his chief executive duties for good, turning the duties over to eMachines CEO Wayne Inouye. A year later, Waitt stepped down as chairman, succeeded by Rick Snyder, his trusted No. 2 during the 1990s in North Sioux City.
Under Inouye's management, Gateway closed all of its remaining retail stores and shelved the computer electronics business that Waitt had worked so hard to establish. When he left, Waitt notes, Gateway was No. 1 in big-screen plasma TV sales and the fastest-growing seller of digital cameras.
After agreeing to be acquired by Acer this fall, Gateway sold the professional part of its business to Idaho-based MPC Corp. The dual sales essentially split the remaining North Sioux City workforce in two. Each operation now employed about 450 people.
Though Gateway's best days are gone, Siouxland continues to benefit from those early successes, say local leaders. The company created a great deal of wealth for the community and developed a talented pool of tech workers, a number of whom went on to start their own successful businesses.
Waitt and his family also donated millions of dollars to local charities and quality-of-life endeavors, helping fund a variety of causes, including college scholarships for at-risk youths and the renovation of the historic Orpheum Theatre.
"The bubble came and went, but we have these legacy gifts from the Waitt family," stockbroker Dan Pecaut said. "It's really helped our community."
"How do you argue (Gateway) wasn't good for the community?" Scott said. "Ted never forgot Sioux City and never forget his obligation to make it a better place. You'll never hear me saying anything bad about Ted Waitt."
While others, particularly those who lost jobs, may disagree, it's hard to ignore the economic, cultural and philathropic advances Gateway brought to the community.
Asked what Siouxland would be like without the company Hammond and he started, Waitt grows silent. Asked what Gateway meant to the community? He pauses and then says quietly: "We tried to make a difference and make it a better place. And it was a good run."