The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Saturday, January 22, 2011
Current Affairs ... Food / Drink ...

In 1991 I was in my second year as a development officer with New Community Corporation in Newark, a non-profit community development agency. NCC had already started a number of small business ventures meant to create jobs for the low-income people of Newark, and maybe even leave NCC with a small profit to help start more businesses or build new housing or family centers. That was the theory, anyway; none of its businesses even returned a profit and almost all of them were closed by 2009. However, in the early 90s there was much hope in the air for NCC’s entrepreneurial outreach. It was going to be the next big wave in NCC’s efforts to lead the way to Newark’s revival.

As part of NCC’s entrepreneurial spirit, the leader and founder, Monsignor William Linder, immersed himself in the nitty-gritty of small business management. Aside from going to seminars and talking with vendors and business operators and bankers, he read as much as he could about the topic. His reading list included Inc. magazine, a business publication focusing on the little guys. Being new at the time, I was still one of his “trusted few” (he appreciated unquestioning loyalty, something I couldn’t do for long). So he would pass on some of his readings, including an occasional issue of Inc. This included the August, 1990 issue, which had as its cover feature a story about Rick Duhe and his failed attempt to make it as a soda-pop magnate, based on the spicy cola drink that he thought up. It was called Cajun Cola and it caught the attention of many newspaper writers and TV reporters around 1987 or so, as the next big thing; but it didn’t do well on the supermarket aisles and thus went the way of various other next-big-things that weren’t. (Interestingly, NCC’s business ventures would eventually go the same route, despite much initial media acclaim for Linder’s “social entrepreneurship”).

I read the article about Mr. Duhe and his adventure in soda capitalism and I was moved by it. It was well written and reflected the human / emotional side of what Mr. Duhe went through in thinking Cajun Cola up, in struggling to get it financed, produced and distributed, in receiving high praise from the food and culture critics, only to finally see his new-born business sink into a pit of debt and bankruptcy due to lack of sales. This was a real story about a real guy, an interesting young guy who grabbed for the brass ring and seemed to hold it for a few golden moments, only to watch it slip from his hands. The author described Mr. Duhe quite well, including his feelings of regret and depression at losing the funds that members of his family and friends had entrusted in his big idea. Mr. Duhe came across as a pretty decent fellow, not some greedy, power hungry capitalist wanna-be. He appeared to pursue the Cajun Cola thing as a matter of love and art, as much as an attempt to be his own boss and get rich. The final lines of the article, where Mr. Duhe ends a post-bankruptcy interview by getting out drinking glasses filled with ice and Cajun (and asking the writer what he thought about the taste), made for a nice finish; you couldn’t help but smile. I brought the magazine home and put it aside.

It turns out that I still have that issue of Inc and came across it recently. Since the time I first read it and now, a powerful information tool has swept the land and gained commercial acceptance, the acceptance that eluded Cajun Cola (and NCC’s business portfolio). I’m talking about the Internet and the World Wide Web, of course. So I went to my computer and through the good graces (and profit motive) of my service provider, I looked up Mr. Duhe, wondering what became of him. The 1990 article author prophisized that Mr. Duhe was not finished with entrepreneurship and implied that his bitter lessons in the world of small business would serve him well in the future.

It looks as if that prophecy was fulfilled. In 1999, Mr. Duhe co-founded a small company called “MediCor” to help other small businesses manage medical insurance claims filed by their employees (read, to deny paying those claims where legally able; e.g., workers compensation claims by injured workers, or doctor bills when a company self-insures its employee medical plan). He was working in the disability evaluation field both before and after the Cajun Cola episode, so he decided to combine what he knew from his profession along with what he learned in trying to start a soda company. This time it worked, and his company is doing well today; I believe that he is still the President of it.

Interestingly, Mr. Duhe also started a fundamentalist Christian outreach based on the Internet in 2002. This is called ” HandsForChrist.com “, and is run by volunteers who agree to counsel and pray for troubled people who contact the website seeking strength and support through their faith in Christ. It is a rather interesting ministry, and I don’t doubt that it does good work for many people (although you probably can’t go to it looking for sympathy for your problems if you are a fervent Moslem or Hindu).

So, Mr. Duhe is still out there. I’m glad to hear that. He sounded like a good and capable guy in the Inc article, and 20 years later he has done both good things (HandsForChrist) and capable things (MediCor). I hope, however, that he can bring his thirst for Christian mercy into the business world (as a former soda producer, he’s obviously a thirsty guy — sorry, had to say that). His company is playing with people’s lives when deciding whether to pay for a life-saving operation.

I hope that his employees try to be as fair and perhaps even merciful as possible when making such decisions — even though the whole point is to save money for the companies who pay his company’s fees. (Admittedly, much of what MediCor does is not so dramatic, and certainly there is the need to watch for fraudulent and extravagant claims). Hopefully the recent health care reform law will take some of that burden away, as it invalidates many of the fine-print excuses like “pre-existing conditions” used to deny claims for health care. I hope that Mr. Duhe remembers his experience as a loser, and his Christian desire to supporting those facing hard times, now that he’s become a winner in the corporate world by judging requests for help from those who have become losers and hard timers with regard to their bodies and their health.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:19 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, I’m struck by the fact that Mr. Duhe seems not to have been able to be successful in his business except by doing something negative–that is, denying insurance claims. My question would be: Is he denying only claims of people trying to defraud the insurance company(ies) he is working for? Or is his job to routinely deny all claims and force people with legitimate claims to appeal? I personally know of one insurance company that does exactly that.

    To me this says something seriously wrong about the health insurance business of some companies.

    And I have to comment on the wonderful care Representative Giffords is getting–planes to fly her from here to there for the best health care. As a Congresswoman she gets that. I wonder about those very congress wo/men who currently are hell bent for leather to repeal Obama’s health care plan all the while knowing that if something went wrong with them, they’d get the best care available, while the “ordinary Joe’s and Jill’s” of the country have to settle for their applications being denied routinely and forcing just those people who are most vulnerable to expend energy they may need for recovery on filing appeals.

    Or is there something I’m missing here? MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — January 24, 2011 @ 11:45 am

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