Ex-financier hopes success is in cards Innovation: Larry D. Unger spent 26 years in banking, only to be victimized by the trend of corporate consolidation. Now he hopes his electronic business card can start a new trend.

June 11, 1996|By Alec Matthew Klein | Alec Matthew Klein,SUN STAFF

A year and a half ago, Baltimore financier Larry D. Unger suddenly found his 26-year career eliminated by consolidation, that late 20th-century business rage. Now, he has invented what he hopes will become another industry wave: an electronic business card.

A professional made obsolete by the turn of global events, the 48-year-old entrepreneur does not expect to phase out the paper business card, one of the last holdouts from the office-culture pTC revolution. Yet other standbys have all but vanished with the relentless march of technology -- carbon copies, typewriters, a live voice on the other end of the telephone line. And Unger believes he has tapped into the future.

"It's such a simple idea, but no one's seen anything like it yet," he said. "This is one of the few original ideas I've had, and the bell kind of went off."

Called QuantumCard, Unger's concoction is contained on a 3.5-inch computer disc custom designed with graphics to show more than the traditional business card vitals: a name, address and telephone number. Loaded on Windows software, the Quantum program runs by itself over an average of five minutes with up to 22 slides showing highlights of a business, why a prospective client should deal with it and how to find out more -- all replete with jazzy colors and clip-art.

But will it sell?

"At the moment, it remains to be seen, but I'll tell you what: I wouldn't bet against him," said former Bank of Baltimore president Alan M. Leberknight, now dean of the College of Business and Economics at Towson State University.

What makes the electronic business card even more improbable is that it comes from the mind of a man who confessed that, "About four years ago, I had never touched a keyboard."

Now Unger carries two electronic business cards in each suit pocket as he peddles his wares: Through trade shows, direct mail and the Internet, customers can receive with-in 10 days a minimum order of 100 discs for $250 plus a $40 initial set-up charge, or 500 discs for $1,040 -- as much as 30 times the cost of a paper business card, but, he noted, containing a lot more information.

"We hope he has the same success that he's had in the past," said Howard Rosen, president of the CPA firm Rosen, Sapperstein & Friedlander Chartered and a partner in Unger's start-up firm, the Quantum Cos., in Owings Mills. "He was very entrepreneurial in a large corporate setting and now he's entrepreneurial in what we call a middle-market business."

That may be the only connection to Unger's former life. Everything else suggests a deliberate man who had built a career in finance. Starting in 1973: A bachelor of science degree in finance from the University of Baltimore. Moving up the chain from 1969-1974 at Commercial Credit Capital Corp. Launching a leasing subsidiary at Maryland National Corp. from 1974 to 1984. Turning around a losing leasing operation at the Bank of Baltimore from 1984 to 1995.

"It was just something I knew I wanted to do," Unger said of his life of finance. "I wanted to wear a suit, I wanted to be a big business guy, I wanted to be in a skyscraper and make deals happen, and I did all that."

Until he was swept up in the consolidating banking business of the 1990s: In the span of four years, shareholders led a hostile takeover of the Bank of Baltimore, First Fidelity bought it, then First Union swallowed up First Fidelity. Unger was being consolidated right out of a job. So it came as no surprise in the dead of winter 1994 when he was summoned to the wood-paneled 25th-floor office of Bank of Baltimore executive Joe Cicero.

"This is the day I hoped would never happen," Cicero said, bypassing pleasantries with his friend. The rest was understood, yet Unger said, "I certainly never imagined that I would not retire from the bank."

He left in early 1995 with a cushion -- stock options, company stock and a bought-out contract. And he went home to soul-search in the company of his wife, Sherry, his high school sweetheart, and their three children, Michael, 23, Karen, 21, and Robert, 16. But the only conclusion he drew was, "I wanted some time off."

Unger played with the idea of getting into the direct-mail marketing business. He looked at franchise opportunities, everything from a temporary help agency to an auto paint shop, becoming a small business owner not unlike his father, Sam, who had operated Hickory Vending, placing juke boxes and cigarette machines in restaurants and other shops.

But in the end, in July 1995, Unger founded Quantum Cos., invested $15,000-$20,000 of his own money and became partners with an old college classmate, Howard Rosen, and other senior partners of Rosen's CPA firm.

"While this wasn't in my grand plan, [consolidation in banking] makes a lot of sense, it makes the market more efficient," Unger said. "It just gave me an opportunity to do things I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise."

Pub Date: 6/11/96

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