First start: Management trainee in family business Catalyst: Near-fatal accident Fresh start: Founder of telecommunications company
Gary Frank seemed set — predestined isn't too strong a word — for a career in his father's business. He and his brother, Joseph, expected to become vice presidents of National Power Equipment, a manufacturer of steam-generation equipment based in Newark, N.J. But they had to pay their dues first. In 1986, when Gary was 26 and working on the shop floor, a two-ton steel boiler crashed down on him. The blow severed his left hand and, as he soon came to understand, changed the course of his life.
He was unconscious for nearly two days. For 12 hours surgeons worked to reattach the hand. And that was only the beginning: Frank would require 12 more surgical procedures and two years of extensive rehabilitation.
Fit enough to work again, he could have returned to his father's company. A job as an outside plant supervisor was waiting for him. But Frank turned it down. "I felt like, since this whole thing threw my life up in the air," he explains, "perhaps this might be a good opportunity to go into a new field." With many free hours a day to inquire into other possibilities, he soon was zeroing in on the fast-growing field of telecommunications, and, with his tenacity, becoming, he recalls, "the biggest pain in the butt to every telephone company this side of the Mississippi." Within a week, he had amassed a "library of information."
By 1990, he had a bright idea: building a company that offered automated telemarketing services (the company has since added prepaid telecommunications services) based on technology Frank himself had devised. To that end he founded VoCall Communications Corp. (#17), based in Mountainside, N.J. To finance the start-up's first PC, Frank borrowed $5,000 from his father, who had become reconciled to his son's departure from National Power.
Though Frank's hand still isn't fully functional, his stewardship of the company appears not to have suffered. VoCall posted revenues of $47 million last year and now employs 120. The son of a Holocaust survivor originally from Hungary, Frank credits America for much of his success. "It's so much the land of opportunity," he says, "that you can have one hand tied behind your back and still make it."