Ziskind.com > Writing > His Story: Morris L. Ziskind > Chapter Five - Deals, Deals, Deals

His Story: Morris L. Ziskind

Chapter Five - Deals, Deals, Deals

Over the years my practice grew. My large animal work and my growing small animal practice kept me very busy. I would get up at 4 o'clock in the morning and by five o'clock I would be on a farm working. Each evening I would come home to the office where the waiting room would be full of clients. If I did a horse call after office hours I might not get home till midnight. I worked very hard and I made a lot of money. Although I enjoyed my practice, I would be tired as hell when I got home.

When I had a call in Bergen County, New Jersey it would take two or three hours of travel. To make it worth my while, I would charge for travel time. Clients liked the idea of my coming to them, but they didn't like the idea of paying for it. No one had ever heard of paying a veterinarian twenty five dollars for a call. If they wanted me enough, they would pay that amount; at that rate I didn't mind the travel. I would go as far as Essex County, New Jersey. That is how I built my practice - doing the things that no one else wanted to do. That's why I was so busy.

Overwhelmed with the amount of work I thought raising my fees would eliminate some of the demand. While I couldn't handle all the work I worried I would lose business. If it is such hard work that no one else will do it, such demanding work that I cannot find anyone to work with me or spell me for a vacation, then I will raise my fees--by two dollars. However raising my fees didn't make any difference. They still wanted me. I just made more money. In fact raising the fees seemed to increase demand. Other veterinarians would recommend me to do large animal work. Finally I refused to do large animal work outside of my local area of Hudson County, New Jersey. It was difficult. A client would say "Oh Doc. You know me." I knew and liked a lot of these people. Nevertheless I refused to make calls out of Hudson County. That helped a little bit.

I'd get a call from Bergen County, which is over an hour drive away. "Are you Dr. Ziskind? Do you treat horses?" I turned them down. "I'll bring the horse to you" the client sometimes would say.

"Can't you get someone closer," I'd ask?

"No. Nobody wants to do it." So he brings the horse to me in a horse wagon. When I got good results I would get additional recommendations. I was so busy.

I tried to hire another veterinarian to work for me. It was difficult to even get someone to interview for the job. They did not want to come to Secaucus, which must have seemed like the end of the world to some of them. Applicants wanted to do small animal work, while I wanted someone to share both the large and small animal parts of my practice. While I probably could have gotten someone just to do the small animal work, what would be the point? Let him have the easy work and leave all the hard work for me?

I enjoyed the large animal work. You are dealing with a practical man - the farmer. He knows what costs are and has reasonable expectations. I could anticipate what he would say. That was not true of the small animal owner who could replace his pet for $20. He is willing to pay much more than the animal is worth. The situation is very different.

In small animal work they bring the animal to you, the conditions are cleaner, and you get a higher fee. You walk around in a white coat. Large animal work is done at a farm where everything is dirty.

One applicant came dressed in his white coat, neat and proper. I had just come from a farm all covered with crap and dirt. "You know you have to wear overalls to work in some of the places I treat animals. I do farm work," I said.

"Oh," he replied, like I had said a dirty word. "You mean I have to wear boots?"

"You go to a pig farm. What do you expect? Roses?"

When I tried out some of these fellows the new person would have office hours during the day while I was out on the farms. It helped relieve the load a little, but it never worked out. So I continued to work my growing practice alone. I tried to find someone to be a partner in my practice, but had no success. I wanted them to invest a little money reflecting their commitment. No one seemed to have any money.

I was earning a lot of money so I looked for ways of investing. I already was the first person in my family to have enough money to own my own home. My parents always rented. Now I had extra money and was looking for ways for my money to grow. While I dabbled a bit in the stock market I did not feel particularly knowledgeable so I concentrated on real estate.

Sometimes I would loan money privately. I was not in the money lending business but would deal with an individual who came to me needing money. If I knew and liked them I would want to help them. Unfortunately not all of my investments were successful. Sometimes they drained both my time and money.

Rebecca had a friend Phyllis whose husband Marvin was struggling to make a living. Phyllis had experience in business and thought that she and Marvin could be successful running a candy store. I wanted to help so I loaned Phyllis money. The candy store was the security for the loan. Periodically they would need more money to keep the store afloat. I did not have the time or interest to watch the store. Phyllis worked hard and did the best she could but was unable to make a success of the store. Marvin was a terrible businessman who took little interest in the business. Their marriage began to fall apart and eventually he walked out. I was left with the loan notes and store as collateral. To protect my investment I had to have someone that I could trust help in the store. Rebecca couldn't help because she was busy taking care of Jerry who was sick. I asked Belle, Rebecca's friend Reba's sister, to work in the store until it could be sold. I would run to the store between clients to see how things were going. Eventually I sold the store to regain some of the value of the loan.

Years later Rebecca, as was her custom, was reading the newspaper after the kids were in bed. She noticed in the obituaries that Marvin's father, a well-known, wealthy judge, had died. I figured Marvin would return for the funeral so I put an estoppel on his inheritance. I finally recouped my loss with interest. Rebecca demanded and deserved a finder's fee of $5000. She used that to start her own bank account. Until then I controlled all of our finances.

Another time a veterinarian friend, Arnold Fineman, came to me with a proposition. A friend of his ran a pet store in northern New Jersey. Arnold was anxious to get involved. I had the money and it looked like a good investment. So Arnold and I lent him money for his business. We trusted him because he was Arnold's friend. The guy always needed more money to buy stock for his store and nothing was coming back to us. It took a couple of years before we realized he was stealing from his business. I lost money on that deal.

I didn't have any experience with real estate until I bought our house and the other two properties on Paterson Plank Road. I had no choice about buying all three, which turned out for the best. That gave me the confidence to invest in other real estate. One of the first pieces of land I owned was on Tonnelle Avenue in Jersey City, New Jersey. That property was typical of many of my deals. I got the property because someone owed me money and gave me the land to pay off his debt. Although the property was on one of the most highly traveled streets in the area, it was a continual problem. I sank more and more resources and time into the property with little reward. I bought two additional lots to make it more attractive to a buyer. Meanwhile I was paying expensive Jersey City taxes. Eventually I signed a lease with Amoco to build and run a gas station. When the lease expired they backed out because the station was not successful.

So I became a landlord, rented the building, and had to deal with any problems. I might get a call from the tenant that the roof was leaking. This took time away from my busy practice. In retrospect I should have invested my money in the stock market, which required no service. Instead I got involved in deals, and then had to put in more money and time to protect my initial investment, all the time getting in deeper and deeper. Eventually I would sell, often taking a loss.

I thought about opening a branch veterinary office on the Tonnelle Avenue property. I explored combining that property with another veterinary hospital further down the street, the A and R Veterinary Hospital. This practice, run by two veterinarians was on the other side of the street. We almost had a deal but we could not agree on how to divide responsibilities. It certainly would have done as well as any of the other enterprises I tried on the Tonnelle Avenue property.

I also owned a piece of property fronting on the Hackensack River. I took over the property as settlement of a debt. The piece of land was too small to develop so I bought an adjacent piece to make it a larger, more valuable parcel. I held that land for many years. Finally the state of New Jersey decided to put in a new bridge and wanted to take part of the land by eminent domain, leaving me a small piece of land with no access. I fought the state for years before we agreed to a final equitable price. At one point, to demonstrate its value I had my son Jerry run a hot dog and lemon ice stand at the location. We bought an old walk-in truck, outfitted it with a freezer and a machine that cooked hot dogs. I arranged for an electric line to the truck. Jerry ran the stand during two summers vacations from college. It never made much money but it gave him some valuable experience. Again, one thing led to another. A small investment grew into a major time consuming project, which ended up generating negligible profit.

The "lots" in Woodbury, New Jersey were another deal. My parents purchased this land for investment. When they decided to sell I offered to buy it so they wouldn't lose anything. I took it over and paid the minimal annual taxes of about $30. The land was about an hour and a half from our home so dealing with potential buyers was time consuming. Whenever I was "in the area" I would drive by and check on those lots. When my children were adults and "in the area" I would have them drive by as well. Being "in the area" took some planning because there was no other reason to be driving down that road. For years the disposition of the land was in limbo because the state was planning to build an overpass widening the adjacent road. Potential buyers would not act until the state made the decision where to locate the road. Eventually I was able to sell.

I followed the real estate pages looking for investments. I was working in the Lakewood, New Jersey area doing state inspection work and investigated a small apartment house being advertised. I spoke with the current manager and liked what I saw. It had signs of neglect. There was an absentee owner and the manager had no interest in running the place.

I made one of the tenants the superintendent/resident manager and was quickly able to fill all the vacancies. The resident manager, Henry, was a very handy fellow eager to do necessary repairs. This saved me the trouble of finding someone to handle little jobs like a broken window or a jammed door lock. If Henry couldn't do the job, he would find someone who would do the job at a reasonable rate. His wife was a homemaker and could take phone calls, answer questions, and call me with anything she or her husband couldn't handle. He worked for me a couple of years and reliably looked after my interests. Unfortunately Henry was so competent he was lured away by another employer. Luckily Henry was still willing to do part time work for me.

Henry had only one problem. He often got drunk. We had an understanding. He could get drunk anytime he wanted, as long as it was on a Saturday! That seemed to work for him.

Most of the tenants were dependable senior citizens so it was a very stable situation. I interviewed potential new tenants. Henry generally collected the rent and took complaints. His wife kept the records of rent payments. If I needed to go to Lakewood to deal with a problem or collect arrears I would say to the kids, "Anyone want to go for a ride?" It took about 45 minutes to get there. The kids would sit in the car while I went in and dealt with the business.

I didn't want the tenants to know where I lived so I did not give out my home phone number. Part of the reason this was a successful investment was Henry. After he was lured away I got someone to replace him, but that did not work out as well. I kept Lakewood for four or five years before selling it. When I decided I did not like investments that involved services and being dependent on employees I sold it to one of the residents. It was a good deal for both of us.

About the time I decided to sell Lakewood I started to end my involvement in real estate and invest more in the stock market. Initially I was a trader. To be successful trading you have to be involved full time. Eventually I stopped active trading because I was losing money. I dealt with a number of agents who were just interested in sales. They had no interest in my needs - just selling some hot tip. It took me quite a while to realize that the rumors and hot tips were simply rumors to get you to buy. I would ask a salesman touting a company "Who told you? How do you know?" They did not like my questioning attitude. Some advisors only reminded me about the winners they recommended, not the losers. Everybody has both. When they only cited their successes than I ceased to trust their advice.

I ended up working with only a few sales agents. One was Robert. An effective salesman, he could convince me to invest in a company. Robert had gone to school to become a veterinarian, but then discovered he was allergic to animals. Robert never had his own veterinary practice but once worked for me when I wanted to go on vacation. Unfortunately he was a gambler - he played the horses.

Over the years I had a lot of winners and losers in the stock market. I based my decisions on street knowledge. Some of my most successful stocks were drug companies like Pitman Moore and Lederle. A big customer of these companies, I felt like I had inside knowledge and was particularly informed about their business. I knew more about these companies than some of their salesmen did. I could predict the need for serum from the demand for pigs. Pigs were needed in the production of serum. When the demand for serum went up, the price of the stock would as well.

Nevertheless, I had more success buying and selling serum from the drug companies than I had with their stock. I would hear a rumor of a pending price increase for serum and would buy large amounts before the price went up. I was buying thousands of cc. of serum at a time. If I made my purchase before serum prices increased a nickel per hundred cc., it meant significant savings. I would even borrow money to make such purchases. You had ten days of credit before you had to pay for the serum, which I used to my advantage.

My accountant Bill Gardner, my long time friend Stu Goldstein, and I formed a partnership to invest in the stock market. Our combined assets allowed us to buy shares in larger amounts. Stu had introduced me to Gardner, who was also his accountant. In time I learned my friends were not always as straight with me as I expected. Stu was supposed to telephone me of news that one of the drug companies was buying pigs. Since I purchased a lot of serum I needed to know that the price of serum would soon be going up. Instead Stu used the information for his own personal gain and "forgot" to call me. While I eventually was able to cover some of my loses, I lost money on the deal. I was so furious with Stu I did not talk to him for months.

Eventually I had to overlook this experience with Stu so Rebecca could maintain her friendship with Stu's wife. We never talked about it again, nor did I ever fully trust him again. Years later Stu and I were buying our drugs and medicines from a local pharmaceutical company that was failing.

A salesman in the company wanted to buy the company. He invited five veterinarians to invest in the company and be joint owners. I was thinking of the future and thought it might be an interesting business when I retired. The five included Stu Goldstein and me. We invested money to expand the company and pay off the previous owners' debts. Soon after we bought the company the salesman who had gotten us into the deal left. We needed someone we could trust to be general manager of the company. One of the reasons I got involved was that my son in law, Charles Tarino, was in between jobs. It seemed like a good match. However, Charlie did not enjoy the work at all. The daily commute from his home with my daughter Janet in South Jersey was much too long. When Charlie left the job the man we hired to be general manager turned out to be a thief. He would sell our merchandise privately to veterinarians off the books. He entertained lavishly and charged it to the company. Stu and I had no experience in the business and we learned the hard way. We thought it looked easy but we learned it wasn't. I was so busy with my practice that I couldn't watch what was happening. I felt responsible because I neglected being adequately involved. Some of the salespeople were stealing inventory and double billing for the same item. Meanwhile we kept putting more money into the business.

That experience was especially disappointing to me because one of my veterinarian "partners" was doing some petty stealing from the business as well. He didn't pay for supplies that he was "buying" through the company. He would have the company pay the postage on packages he needed to mail. I didn't believe it at first, but evidence came from a variety of sources and I was finally convinced of his deception. He lived near the business and would go there daily. He must have been aware that the general manager was stealing.

I got out of this business as soon as I could, which was not easy since it was a large business and difficult to sell. We were so heavily in debt that we were not able to make it successful. When we eventually sold we lost about $17,000. Losing the money was not as bad as the experience with my partner.

From these difficult, disappointing experiences I agreed with Rebecca that I would no longer go into deals with "friends", but only go into deals on my own. That limited the size of deals I could be in. I answered a newspaper advertisement run by business developers in New York City. The developers were a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Harmer. We established Hazi (Ha for Harmer, Zi for Ziskind). We bought some land in Manhattan, on 82nd Street that was used as a parking lot. Over time Rebecca and I socialized with the Harmer. However when we realized that Mrs. Harmer had a problem with alcohol we decided not to work with them on any other deals.

It was exciting to be involved in these deals. Like gambling, I never knew what would succeed and what would turn out badly. I always hoped for the best. Since I was making money in my practice I felt I could take the risk. I was not so conservative because I was making money. However when I examined how much I made from these deals and my stock market trading I realized the profit was not worth the effort. I did not get rich from my deals. I was too busy with my practice to be properly involved in these investments. The deals were very time consuming and I sometimes lost money at a very busy time of my career.

Next: Chapter Six - How I Got Rich | Index