The Faces of Entrepreneurship: Wade Linger, TMC
Issue:Winter 2015 : Articles
Wade Linger has started three companies since 1996. He is a serial entrepreneur.
Linger said his entrepreneurial drive might be attributable to a fear of boredom.
“I was in the U.S. Air Force for eight years,” he said. “They taught me to be a computer programmer. It made my career. I worked for a couple of large companies before starting my own. I found those jobs, one way or another, became repetitious. For some reason I can’t take that. As an entrepreneur there’s never a dull moment. You never know what’s coming but you look forward to every day because you know it’s going to be different. Since 1996 when we started the first TMC there has not been a dull moment.”
Linger established TMC — The Manufacturing Co. — to build ignition interlock devices for drunk drivers. “We formed the company and designed that thing and tested the prototype and never did get it to work well enough to go to market,” he said. “I guess you would have to say my first foray into entrepreneurship was not successful in that way.
“But it was successful in that the people on the board of directors of TMC who had invested some cash truly were angels. They asked, ‘What do we do next?’ I said, ‘One thing I do know is federal contracting and information technology.’ At that time Congressman Alan Mollohan and U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd were active in bringing those types of opportunities to West Virginia, putting the FBI center and the NASA facility and many others here. I asked the directors to have a little faith and put a little money in and we would turn the manufacturing company into a high-tech software services company. They hung in there with me and we ultimately succeeded at that.”
In those early days Linger went after a variety of work. Examples:
- TMC designed and built a system for a Parsons pallet manufacturer that used electric eyes and some computer code to direct wood so a sawmill would get the best yield.
- Linger challenged some TMC employees to build a product based on biometric technology that the company might be able to market. "We came up with a system -- you could put your finger on it and it would open a door, that kind of thing,” he said. “Today that doesn’t seem like that big of a deal but in 1997 it was.”
- A group from TMC trained the staff at assessor’s offices across the state on a newWindows-based system.
By 2004 TMC had 80 employees and about $10 million in sales. In 2005 Linger sold the company to Global Science & Technologies of Maryland.
In 2007 Linger established Wade’s Garage, a restoration shop for collectible and classic cars in the Fairmont suburb of Pleasant Valley. In 2010 he and others established a new high tech firm, TMC Technologies of West Virginia. Linger has interacted often with the Robert C. Byrd Institute over the years. Soon after he first went into business, TMC won a contract to help develop an RCBI network aimed at helping small machine shops win Department of Defense work. Wade’s Garage has used RCBI to build auto parts and train staff how to build parts.
For anyone thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, Linger offers someadvice:
- “Work for a year or two in the business for somebody else. If you make it through and still think you can do it better, do an honest analysis of what it’s going to cost. Who are your for-sure customers? Figure out how much money you need to last for a year if only half of those for-sure customers come along. Then double it and unless you’re in a horrible business you’ll probably be able to succeed.”
- Linger said a Harvard Business School program taught him that “you can be very good in a bad business and still fail. The business you want to go into might be even more important than you.”
- “Be prepared for a lot of work and a lot of sleepless nights and make sure you have a family that will put up with it. When businesses are succeeding they take a tremendous amount of mind share and time managing growth and success. When they’re failing they take twice as much. Your family can easily be lost in the process. It’s easy to stand back and say you need balance. But if you’re really an entrepreneur and you feel that the next great opportunity is in front of you or failure is just around the corner, it takes a lot of fortitude to put that in your back pocket and go to the Little League baseball game. But you have to do it. You don’t want to lose your family.”
Linger thanked Murv McDowell, his mentor and the first investor in TMC. Also he credited Mollohan and Byrd for bringing federal contracting opportunities to north-central West Virginia that enabled him to move back to the state, succeed and raise his boys in West Virginia.