PhillyDeals: A longtime company man strikes out on his own

Larry McCarthy has signed on to the Doc Popcorn's PopKiosks franchise. He has a site at Christiana Mall and plans one at 30th Street Station. He doesn't expect to recoup his corporate salary soon but says he enjoys the work.
Larry McCarthy has signed on to the Doc Popcorn's PopKiosks franchise. He has a site at Christiana Mall and plans one at 30th Street Station. He doesn't expect to recoup his corporate salary soon but says he enjoys the work.
Posted: January 01, 2012

Larry McCarthy used to work for credit-card lender MBNA Corp., one of the big Philadelphia-area service companies that thrived in the years of Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, the debt-fueled, seemingly endless Indian summer of the long, now-lamented U.S. economic boom.

MBNA's bosses saw the writing on the wall. In 2005 they sold the company to bigger, dumber Bank of America, which thought it could still make money if it cut costs. McCarthy took on a new job - "managing the transition process" - reassigning, retraining, and dismissing staff.

"That became my role for the next five years," said McCarthy, as B of A went on to absorb U.S. Trust, Merrill Lynch, and, disastrously, Countrywide Mortgage.

In 2008, as bad loans finally froze the financial markets, Bank of America went on government assistance and had to stop buying new firms. It offered McCarthy what amounted to a demotion. The transition man, downsized.

McCarthy turned it down. "Some soul-searching," he recalled. "I was never the person who hated having a boss. I was loyal. I did what they asked." But he came to believe, at 50, it was time to leave corporate America. "Nobody's happy," he said. "Companies will continue to struggle, at least for the next few years. I thought it was time to go out on my own."

McCarthy and his wife invested part of his severance package in a regional franchise of Doc Popcorn's PopKiosks, owned by Rob and Renee Israel of Boulder, Colo. McCarthy has hired 15 people - from teenagers to his kid sister - at his flagship Christiana Mall site. He plans another at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, and more to come.

McCarthy doesn't expect to recoup his corporate salary soon. It's enough for him to work hard, in tune with the times.

People in his parents' generation hoped to work for big manufacturers like DuPont "all their lives," McCarthy said. People in his own generation job-hopped, often among the big financial companies that came to dominate the economy in the late 1900s and early 2000s.

"It's changing again, dramatically," he said. "You see a lot more self-employed people. Kids don't expect to go to a company anymore. We need to be flexible in how we work."

No magic

While the McCarthys are coming to grips with reality, the government in Washington is still fighting about how to get back to the way things were in 1990 - or maybe 1890.

The Democrats say they want to rebuild our increasingly third-world transportation system and put people back to work.

The Republicans say we're already spending too much money we don't have. They say cut taxes, ease pollution and drug-development laws, turn roads over to private companies, and the people who run businesses will gain heart and start hiring again.

Of course, if two-party gridlock continues, federal taxes will rise automatically when the tax cuts of the Bush administration expire at the end of this year, notes Jim Meyer, of West Conshohocken-based Tower Bridge Advisors.

Meyer doesn't think tax cuts will magically boost hiring. "I don't know of any data that confirms economic-growth rates and tax rates correlate," he told me.

How long, I asked, until Americans get fed up with record private profits that don't turn into jobs, and start demanding the government do what companies won't?

Not soon; look at the people we keep electing, Meyer told me. "If the rich and corporations aren't investing, it is because they can't find satisfactory risk-reward opportunities," he explained.

Meyer sees hopeful signs. Federal Reserve data show U.S. domestic business investment is following corporate profits back toward pre-2008 highs. So job growth is likely to follow, slowly, no matter who is president, Meyer told clients of Boenning & Scattergood in a newsletter last week.

It's easy to accept slow change if, like McCarthy, you've spent "conservatively" and saved your money. It's tougher, he says, for kids just coming out of school.

One of his own plans to join the Marines.


Contact columnist Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, JoeD@phillynews.com, or @PhillyJoeD on Twitter.

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