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HOW I DID IT

Dealing With an IPO Nightmare

Dale Ball took his company public, lost control of it, then was shown the door. He talks about his lessons learned.

Dale Ball, Ball Fabrics

Courtesy Subject

Dale Ball, founder of Ball Fabrics

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Dale Ball started Ball Products in 1984. It became one of the largest manufacturers and sellers of tennis-court products in the U.S., and Ball took the company public in 2003. Less than two years later, the man whose name was on the door was out.

Everybody thinks it's great when you grow, and it is. But we never slowed down enough to ever get solid. We had really good vendors who were willing to work with us, but still we never really did have enough cash on hand. That is why my son Larry and I decided to go public. We were trying to bring money into the company so that we could get solid and then continue to grow. It doesn't do any good to have a giant company and not make any money.

Admittedly, we didn't know what we were doing. Unfortunately, we had the wrong people take us public. The team of investors that put the money in to take us public didn't know what they were doing, either.

Shortly after going public, we got in a total disagreement on how to run the company. We just didn't see eye to eye. We still had, by a large percentage, voting control of the company. They wanted the stock to go up more, but they didn't set aside any funds of their own to promote the stock. They wanted us to promote the stock. I told them we run a manufacturing company and that our job was to build the company. I'm not a stock promoter.

Eventually we just became at odds over everything. They didn't get the results they wanted, we didn't get the results we wanted, and everyone was terribly unhappy. They threatened to sue, so we gave up voting control strictly to keep the peace, never thinking we would have to let them run the company. It never entered either of our minds that they would come in and fire us and take over the whole company—which they did.

They just came into our office with a witness and said we were fired. They offered us a severance package, but we refused. I'd never been fired from anything in my whole life. For someone over 65 to get fired for the first time, from his own company no less, it was quite a shock.

They really didn't know anything about running the company. A year and three days later, they closed their doors. It was bittersweet. We still owned 31 million shares of stock between the two of us, so when it all went under, it was a tremendous financial loss and a big loss emotionally as well.

Two months after getting fired, we started our new company, Ball Fabrics. My other son, Jon, founded it with us. After all those losses, the following year was one of the most rewarding I've ever had. The day we opened, 10 of my best employees showed up here instead of over there. We had great support from our customers that allowed us to get the new business going and actually make a profit the first year. It was amazing.

I can tell you one thing, we won't be taking in any partners this time around. They say you pay for your education regardless of how old you are when you get it. We certainly did there.

IMAGE: Jillian Tamaki
From the July/August 2011 issue of Inc. magazine




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