Since he appeared with his microcomputer on the cover of INC. last summer ("Learning to Live with Micros," July 1982), Henry Lee, chairman of the board and president of Lee Pharmaceuticals in South El Monte, Calif., has become something of a celebrity. He says he has been flooded with letters and calls from dozens of chief executive officers and managers hoping to gain greater control over their businesses by learning the secrets of personal computing. As reported in INC., Lee had successfully integrated microcomputers into his company's day-to-day operation; many of Lee's correspondents were seeking his guidance on beginning the same process at their own companies.
Along with Lee's fan mail have come invitations to speak about computers to college audiences and at a data processing conference in Washington, D.C. And the story of Lee's adventures in microcomputerland has been retold in other publications, including Fortune, Chemical Week, and Personal Computing. "I've kind of gotten a taste for Hollywood publicity," the mild-mannered, 56-year-old CEO acknowledges.
Lee's odyssey into computers began in 1979. After getting comfortable with using a personal computer in his own work, he bought about 20 Radio Shack TRS-80s for employees of his dental and beauty products company and urged them to use the word processing programs for writing product reports. Long before the recession hit, Lee was relying on his computer to do general budgeting and to identify inefficiencies in his business.
The recession hasn't been easy for chemical companies, and it has been especially hard in the consumer-oriented specialty areas in which Lee Pharmaceuticals operates. Sales totaled $10.3 million during 1982, 34% below the previous year's revenues; the company posted a $1.3 million loss for the year.
In Lee's view, however, the company's performance would have been a lot worse without the micro. "[It] has enabled us to revise our quarterly forecasts in operating statements on an ongoing basis," he reports. As a result, the company has been able to adjust its purchasing and production in response to the latest numbers. In addition, extensive use of micros by the staff has permitted the company to get by with less technical and clerical personnel. "[Microcomputing has] improved overall control," notes Lee. "And we know a lot quicker when we're going on a reef."
Based on the numbers the computer has generated, for instance, Lee has been able to shift the company's marketing dollars away from troubled product lines -- such as a new skin cream -- and into a national television advertising campaign for its new nylon-reinforced fingernail strengthener. The computer has also generated data for graphs, which have allowed Lee to monitor the effectiveness of the TV campaign and other marketing programs.
So now Lee's attitude toward computers has come full circle. Before purchasing his first micro in 1979, he regarded them with mistrust. But, in the past three-and-a-half years, his mistrust has turned to admiration. During the recession, he says, "we've relied on computers as our combat information center, and they have really helped us control the damage."