“I could never have imagined myself as a partner. I could barely pass a typesetting test when I started.”
Linda Ross and Realm have come a long way since she was hired 25 years ago when owner Joel Petrower opened the Atlanta office of his Stamford, Connecticut company, then known as Petco Design. The staff has quadrupled, and she’s been a partner now for 17 years, supervising all production and the company’s evolving IT.
Her journey almost ended, however, before it began.
Though Linda had experience in the ad department of a local newspaper doing mechanicals and setting type, Joel told her that she would have failed her typesetting test if his very picky chief typesetter in the Connecticut office had seen it.
“But Joel saw something in me,” she says. “Joel and Lenny Vacarro [former president of Realm] taught me everything they know, and enjoyed doing it. And they saw my interest in the technology used to do the work. Soon my on-the-job training extended to systems administration and IT.”
That training came fast during long weeks Linda calls, “crazy busy.” The average day was 12 hours, and 13, 14 or more hours a day was common serving a couple of clients. So much time was spent at the office that Joel had food delivered constantly. “I think I gained about 20 pounds back then,” Linda says.
She has seen many changes in the subsequent years. Weight has gone down. The number of clients has gone up. But with IT her focus, that’s where some major changes have taken place.
“In the early 90s, it was uncertain if Apple would make it. I remember when their stock was $8.00 a share. Now, thankfully, Macs are very much a part of our world here,” she says.
“My first Apple computer was a IIfx with 4MB RAM. The processor was 40MHz.” Linda confesses, “I think it’s still in the data room because I’m an Apple hoarder.”
“Our first server was a small 500MB external hard drive. Now we have a gorgeous new 4TB Mac Pro server.
“And the Internet certainly has revolutionized business. We used to use AOL to send electronic files to printers, but we also made sure to send a floppy disk and, in some instances, a mechanical as well,” she says. “Now floppies are long gone, and everything is uploaded via a fiber network.
“Smaller, faster and more user friendly. Those are the biggest IT changes I’ve seen.”
And what about those moments that still stand out 25 years later?
“Wellll,” Linda says sheepishly, “I once deleted an entire folder off the server. What we’d been working on for a day and a half was lost. This was in the early days of the agency before routine backups, so we had to work until 2 a.m. to reproduce all the files.
“But even such a catastrophe brings back good memories. The project was a success, and it brought everyone in the company together to make it happen.”
And as a co-owner of the company, living through economic downturns and the recent recession still linger in her memory, too. “We suffered along with everyone else, wondering what the future held,” she says. “There were a lot of sleepless nights, but we came through stronger and with a clearer vision for the future.”
That vision includes evolving and changing to stay on top of industry challenges that the next 25 years will bring, such as enhancing Realm’s electronic presence and building on its digital capabilities. But Linda knows that continued growth takes more. It takes relationships.
“Equipment, projects, work spaces – they all come and go,” she says. “But people who cross your path whom you’re able to connect with and serve? That lasts. And there is no better feeling in the world.”
As we celebrate our 25th anniversary, we continue to highlight members of Realm’s family that have seen so much of our more than two decades of growth in Atlanta.