Sarasota’s Jordan Fishman, 71, offers fellow business owners some sobering advice: Don’t trust anyone.
The president of Sarasota–based Alpha Mining Systems, a global manufacturer of industrial and specialized mining tires, says he put his trust in Sam Vance, an employee he had known for more than 20 years and someone he had considered a close friend. “Sam was always a good guy,” Fishman says. “He worked hard. He was smart. I knew his first wife and his son, and I knew his second wife and his daughter since before she was born. Sam was like family.”
Earlier this year, Sarasota Circuit Court Judge Robert McDonald Jr. ordered Vance to pay Alpha $59 million in compensatory and exemplary damages for willfully and maliciously misappropriating the company’s trade secrets, including copyrighted tire and wheel blueprints, pricing information and customer lists. The order is one of the largest trade secret judgments in
Vance, who is facing arrest for failing to appear in court, is also barred from working in the underground mining business anywhere in the world and is required to pay Alpha’s attorney’s fees. Vance is believed to be in
The saga leading up to the judgment is enough to make anyone who owns a business take Fishman’s advice to heart.
Fishman started his underground mining tire and wheel manufacturing business in
Alpha’s products are unique. The company develops, manufactures and markets underground mining tires designed by Fishman. Because they enable users to carry a tremendous load in the confined spaces of underground mines, the tires consist of never-before-produced, contain novel ply ratings, a patent-pending design, distinct markings and a unique rim guard design. No other entity in the world produces or sells Alpha’s designs or tire sizes; or, rather, no one did prior to Vance’s activities.
Fishman knew that in order to protect his business he would need to keep certain information close to the vest. His copyrighted tire blueprints were kept under lock and key. He limited access to the patent pending designs to the factory in
Customer list and pricing information were also kept under wraps. One tire can sell for as much as $6,000 and it wouldn’t do for the company’s factories and customers to get wind of Alpha’s margin. So Fishman established a seemingly foolproof system that kept buying and selling prices and customer lists separate. Of course, Vance, as marketing manager, had access to this information.
Vance’s scheme began in
Over a three-year period, Alpha lost $15 million in profits as a result of Vance’s turning over trade secret information to GTC. Early on, though, GTC had cut Vance out of the deal.
Since GTC was no longer willing to work with him, Vance branched out. Armed with Alpha’s blueprints, customer lists and pricing information, he approached the Dubai-based Al Dobowi Group and offered to assist them with developing an underground mining tires and wheels division. Al Dobowi is now manufacturing Alpha tires in
Fishman says the case against Vance was just the first step in reclaiming his business. He met with Al Dobowi officials in 2006 to convince them to do the right thing. “I took the blueprints and all the intelligence we had collected on Vance’s actions at the time and flew to
While the victory in court provides some vindication, Fishman wonders if he will ever recover from the betrayal.
“You can’t believe what you feel,” he says. “You feel like somebody has come in and just taken your heart out. It’s like somebody came into your house and stole your wife and kids and the dog. That’s the feeling you get, like somebody came in and stole everything that you’ve done your entire life. It’s wrong. It’s just so wrong.”