When information technology professional Fred Menge was laid off by Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group seven years ago, he figured it was as good a time as any to start his own company. Versus joining the IT firm that Thrifty subsequently contracted, Menge built on his background in audit, compliance and information security — including the last three years of the seven he was with Thrifty — to form Magnir information management.
“I had my severance pay to get me started, but I never spent it,” Menge said. “If you're going to go into business, you're going to have risk,” he said. “But I tried to limit that risk, not spend the money and incur debt.”
Starting his firm took more “brain use than investment” anyhow, he said.
Today, Tulsa-based Magnir does business on both sides of the Turner Turnpike. Clients include Williams Companies, the city of Tulsa, Chesapeake Energy Corp., LSB Industries and McAfee & Taft law firm. His company employs nine and has annual revenues of $400,000, Menge said.
He said opportunities to serve the law industry have opened up since Magnir's acquisition last year of a digital forensics firm, specializing in e-discovery and litigation support.
Menge, 51, sat down with The Oklahoman recently to talk about his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q. Tell us about your roots.
A. My late father, whose maternal grandmother emigrated from Germany to Queens, N.Y., met my mom in Greece, where he was stationed with the U.S. Air Force following World War II. I'm the youngest of their seven children: a girl and five boys, including my two older half-brothers who my mother — to the dismay of her Greek family — had with an Italian soldier when Italy occupied Greece during the war. There's a year between each of us, except for one gap. I once asked my father about the gap, and he told me that's the year that color television came out. I grew up in Coral Gables, Fla., an affluent suburb of Miami, where I took shop, electronics and home ec in school — anything to work with my hands. My father had retired from the service and bought apartment buildings, which my brothers and I helped him renovate. On my 17th birthday, I enlisted in the Air Force, figuring it was the most efficient way to earn my college education. It required my completing my GED and the signature of my mom, who still lives outside Miami and has relatives in her hometown village in central Greece.
Q. Where were you stationed in the Air Force?
A. I worked four years as an aircraft mechanic in Holland in the Netherlands. I loved it, and the people there were, and are, friendly, kind and love Americans and our culture. But I worked the night shift, which was cold and wet. I met my wife, a Holland native, in a discotheque there. We married when I was 20, and moved to Del Rio, Texas, three hours southwest of San Antonio, where I served two more years at a radio control tower. I earned my associate's in electronics but it took me 13 years in all to complete my bachelor's in management information systems, including over seven years working in central Germany on the communications network of the Department of Defense, which was the forerunner of today's Internet. I moved to Germany because one of my brothers was stationed there.
Q. What brought you to Oklahoma?
A. Another brother worked in management for American Airlines in Tulsa, so I moved here in '92 following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the impending closings of U.S. air bases there. I didn't want to move back to Miami, because it was too crowded. The longer I've lived in Tulsa, the more I've come to like Oklahoma. There's a conservative mentality; the people are friendly; and there are wide open spaces. Perhaps most importantly, my wife and her family, who visit yearly, love it here.
Q. How did you choose your company name?
A. It's a combination of my kids' names: MA for Marissa; G for Gary, NI for Nicole and R for Ryan, and pronounced Mag-neer.
Q. In the early days of your company, how did you find work?
A. I scoured websites like Monster.com and Dice.com for contract work. My first big job was auditing the financial records of Fannie Mae in D.C., to which I commuted weekly. It was during the time that Fannie Mae was considering breaking away from the government, and I was part of a risk management team that was trying to pinpoint $7 billion that was unaccounted for. It turned out the money was misappropriated and not put on the books the right way.
Q. What is digital forensics?
A. It's the recovery and investigation of material found on cellphones and in emails. Phones frequently are investigated in cases of infidelity, perhaps in an effort to reach a settlement in a divorce case before it goes to court. We can find phone logs, locations where users have been, photographs and more. In corporate cases, almost always the smoking gun is found in email, where people have agreed to situations — just like in the recent Chris Christie case. We can scour email, looking for, say, five keywords that opposing attorneys agree on. Those may include an employee's name, a date or the name of an oil rig.
A key problem in the workplace today is professionals and companies don't get rid of emails when they no longer need them. Then, when and if they're sued, companies are liable to produce everything relevant to the case, which is very expensive. But if they don't have the material … don't keep it because they no longer need it, that's defensible. Williams Companies, for example, only keeps emails for 60 days.
Q. Do you primarily work from home?
A. I have an office in Tulsa at 1632 S Denver, but I mostly work from my home, while my employees primarily work on-site with customers. From my home office, I have a view of a pond behind our house, and get to see my grandchildren whom my wife watches while my daughter is at work. I recently called on a customer, and had to navigate through a cubicle farm before I reached him. And when I worked for Fannie Mae, I started out at a card table in the hallway, before being upgraded to the supply closet. I'm happy to now have the freedom to work where I choose.