Sunday Star-Tribune, March 25, 1984 – Wyoming
Family Weekly
By Steve Jenning

Tei Gordon, 13, very definitely means business

Everybody talks about the weather but nobody ever does anything about it—so goes the old saw.  Well, Tei (pronounced “Tay”) A. Gordon a 13-year-old eighth grader from Corvallis, Ore., is doing something: He’s making money from it via weekly newsletters that help building managers cut energy costs.

Known as The Energy Adviser, this young tycoon’s research enterprise boasts 50 corporate clients, including Fortune 500 heavyweights like J.C. Penney and General Mills, who pay as little as $47 a year for Tei’s service and, in the case of General Mills, save as much as $13 million in energy costs.

What precise service does Gordon provide that has attracted such an impressive client roster and so beefed up his bank balance in just over a year?

Every Monday morning, Tei rings the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (N.O.A.A.) in Washington, D.C., to gather information the agency collected the previous week.  The data concern so-called “degree days,” a measure of how much fuel is needed to keep a building comfortably warm or cool.

Such information is important to owners of large commercial buildings, particularly if they have buildings in several cities.  Degree figures coupled with calculations on evergy usage help landlords rate the efficiency of heating and/or cooling systems.

Tei receives these statistics through a telephone hookup, or “mode,” that connects his father’s office computer with N.O.A.A.  The material appears on the computer screen and is then printed out for Tei’s subscribers, who receive the reports by mail a few days later.

Though Tei has been the high-octane fuel behind The Energy Adviser, credit for the idea goes to a family friend, Arthur N. Orans.

A colleague of Tei’s father (who is a mechanical and electrical engineer), Orans started the service in 1982 but soon turned it over to the teen-ager through a licensing agreement.

“The kid is a pretty good marketer,” says Orans, who notes that Tei makes most of the decisions concerning advertising, promotion and client contacts for the newsletter.  “He’s got subscribers in North Carolina, Florida and Washington state—all over.”

But few of those customers know that they’re dealing with a 13-year-old, 5-foot-1 vendor.

“Thirteen, oh really?  I’d like to buy stock in his company,” was the reaction of E.R. Haduch, director of engineering for First Office Management in Chicago.  He uses Tei’s data to monitor energy in 18 buildings across the country.

“Thirteen?” echoed Ralph N. Bacon, an Oakland-based energy conservation consultant.  “You’re kidding.”

But this kid is a pro.  Until recently he worked only about half an hour a week and hired friends to help with tasks like envelope stuffing.  “But since I started getting a little publicity and more subscribers, it’s gone up to about an hour a week.  I’ve made $3,000 to $4,000 in the last year, and this coming year I expect revenues between $6,000 to $7,000.”

Even with that additional 30 minutes of work, Tei still has plenty of time to pursue his primary extracurricular activity: swimming.  Not surprisingly, on dry land he spends a lot of time playing computer games and nurturing his plan to major in computer science at college, preferably Stanford.

There has, of course, been a bit of ribbing from classmates about his success.  “But most of them are taking it pretty well,” says Tei: “And I’ve made a lot of new friends.”

Steve Jenning is a staff writer with the Oregonian in Portland, Ore.



The Star Tribune - Wyoming

March 25, 1984