The Sunday Oregonian, November 27, 1983

The Sunday Oregonian, 1983 (Sunday, November 27, 1983)


YOUNG TYCOON --Tei A. Gordon, 13, takes a break from the business he operates using his father's computer equipment and his own knowhow. Staff photo by Randy Wood

Youth discovers climate right for success

Of The Oregonian staff

CORVALLIS -- When Tei Gordon types, J.C. Penney Co. Inc. reads.
The Corvallis resident's business is not extraordinary only because Penney's and some 50 other corporate clients depend on his information to conserve energy in thousands of buildings across the country. What's remarkable is that Tei A. Gordon, computer data tycoon, is just 13 years old.

"By this time next year, my business will probably have quadrupled," the Western View Junior High School eighth-grader said last week, explaining that he has launched an advertising campaign in magazines. Would-be investors take note, however. The Energy Advisor service will remain privately held.

For more than a year, Gordon has used his father's computer to obtain climate data from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration each week. He translates the information into readable form and mails it to his clients months before they could receive it directly from the government.

At $47 per year per subscription, any kid can do the multiplication it takes to find out that Gordon makes more than $2,000 a year on the venture. You can't buy a new car for that kind of money? but then, what would Gordon do with a car?

"The most fun part of this is making the money and spending it," Gordon said. "I spend it on traveling and on computer games." The enterprise was launched when an adult friend, Arthur N. Orans of Philomath, passed along the idea to Gordon. The youngster sought out Lewis J. Ebner, a computer programmer who works for Gordon's father's energy consulting company, for advice on writing a program to hand the information. Gordon placed a small ad in an energy-conservation magazine, and the business was on the road.

Each Monday at 7 a.m., Gordon receives statistics from Washington, D.C., concerning degree days in 210 United States cities. Degree-days are calculated every 24 hours by determining how many degrees the average temperature in a city exceeded or fell short of 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Gordon arranges the information on a computer screen, prints it out and photocopies it for mailing.

Most of his clients have no idea the information they buy arrives by way of a child. Take J. William Haun, General Mills Inc. vice president for engineering policy in Minneapolis. Figures received from Energy Advisor are used to evaluate energy conservation in 145 of the conglomerate's buildings, Haun said.

"We want to be a leading company in the conservation field, and in fact we have managed to achieve a close-to 25 percent reduction in energy used per unit of manufactured product. Haun said, "On an annual basis it's saving us about $13 million."

How did he respond to the news that an eighth-grader runs the service? "Uh, what's that? A 13-year-old kid? Well, that's remarkable, "Haun said.

Ralph N. Bacon, director of energy consumption analysis for American Technical Services Co. of Oakland, Calif., said he relies on the data to supply clients with proof that conservation programs have saved money. Energy Advisor can supply the information in two weeks instead of the two months it take the government to publish the numbers, he said.

"A 13-year old?" Bacon asked. "You're kidding. Wow. What a trip."

Gordon, a competitive swimmer, who does 100 yards of breast stroke in 1 minute, 16 seconds, is used to dealing with incredulity.

"The rumor got around at school about it," Gordon said. "I just go along and say it's not true because nobody would believe me."

"The understated capitalist does hire friends on occasion to help stuff envelopes, however. And he plans to spend some of his profits on a school trip to Washington, D.C., and in travels to Japan to visit his mother's relatives.

On a recent Thursday, Gordon worked at a photocopy machine producing overdue subscription notices while his father, Richard A. Gordon, president of Gordon & Associates Consulting Engineers, closed up shop for the night.

"I've only got one complaint so far, the young entrepreneur said. "I let me father take care of them."