Richard Gordon has been using voice mail for 11 years to manage worldwide operations at his $20-million company. The president of R.J. Gordon & Co., a Los Angeles-based consulting firm, checks his box every 10 minutes, also forwarding and creating messages for the 150 employees, customers, and vendors who are on his Meridian Mail system. Here are some tricks he's developed along the way for getting the most from his phone:

· Use the "remote notify" feature to set up voice-mail boxes for important clients and vendors. Gordon has set up boxes for about 30 key clients and vendors all over the world. Now when employees call a client in Asia, they don't have to worry about a time-zone difference. Moreover, important vendors, like the company that repairs Gordon's phones, are available 24 hours a day simply by calling one easy-to-remember voice-mail-box number. The voice-mail system rings a preprogrammed number (usually the office number) that the vendor has provided. A vendor checking messages hears, "You have a message. Please enter your password to hear it."

· Use the system to reach key personnel in an emergency. For each key person, Gordon has programmed up to six phone numbers -- for example, home, cellular phone, beeper, overseas office -- where he or she can be reached. If a problem arises, a staffer sends a voice-mail message to the key person's box, marked "remote notify urgent." The phone system does all the work, dialing all six numbers in succession and leaving a message at each one.

· Use the system to remind people exactly what the system can do for them. Gordon's full-time telecommunications manager regularly sends out bulletins to remind users of powerful features, like ways to tag and forward different kinds of messages.

· Use the system to save on long-distance calls. Key here is the "09" access feature. When Gordon is overseas, he dials a toll-free number to access his voice-mail box. After he listens to his messages, he enters "09" to dial out and then dials the phone number and the pound key, and he's connected -- at U.S. rates.

· Use preprogrammed voice-mail lists sparingly. "Trying to remember who's on each list gets confusing," Gordon says. Five or six lists is his limit; they include a list of top managers and one of his accounting and legal team. For other broadcast voice mail, he just creates a list of who needs the information at the time.

In 1991 Gordon upgraded his old dedicated phone system to a private branch exchange (PBX) and bought Meridian Mail to go with it. The cost: $65,000 for 14 users. Since then he's spent another $30,000 on phone and voice-mail upgrades to accommodate the current 150 users. His offices use electronic mail also, but Gordon prefers the phone. "You can use it anywhere," he says. "I couldn't manage without voice mail."