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ENTREPRENEUR PROFILES

6.19.98  
It's Oliver North, Live from the Small-biz Summit!


Colonel Oliver L. North has endured combat in Vietnam's jungles, the scrutiny of Congressional investigators, and lately, notoriety for his boisterous right-wing radio talk show. But what's missed amid the infamy, North says, is the fact that he's well-acquainted with the humble turf of the small-business owner: He's the principal behind Guardian Technologies International, a 21-employee manufacturer of security and spy gear in Dulles, Va.

Those small-business links compelled North to host his daily radio program from the harshly lit hotel lobby at the National Federation of Independent Business' Congressional Small Business Summit. As he scrambles to set up the show -- jotting down guests' names and statistics on a yellow legal pad -- he intones against the "government-imposed hurdles" that he talked so much about during his Virginia Senate campaign and that have become a rallying point for other conservatives.

"The regulatory burden alone is enormous," says North about Guardian Technologies. "I don't understand the idea that one size fits all, that we have to live with the same regulations that GM does. I don't have 40 in-house lawyers and accountants to look over every regulation we get, but I've got to dot all my i's and cross all my t's."

Part of those duties include paying state worker's compensation insurance, but North was proud to say his workforce was "remarkably devoted" and had never filed a claim against the manufacturing company.

But not all businesses have it so easy, North reminds us. Government regulation lurks everywhere. He brings up the case of Richard Devos, founder of Amway. "In today's environment, he could not do what he did 30 years ago," North grouses. "He could not have put soap into containers in his garage without the government nailing him on environmental regulations."

North quickly gets back to preparing for his radio show, and before long, clamps a pair of thick headphones around his head. Tinny speakers spit the show's introduction into the lobby, and North is officially on the air. Small crowds of convention-goers gather to hear his message, which is advertised as "The Common Sense Radio Show" in a thin banner strung overhead.

"He knows what it's like to compete in the marketplace," says Bill Sullivan, a hairstylist from Pearl City, Hawaii, who is listening in as North attacks striking GM autoworkers. Soon, a caller from Washington State comes on the air, and North's crisp, military cadence climbs above the crowd and into the ether: "Eighty-thousand workers are idle because a handful of workers decided they wanted to strike..."



By Dennis Berman Staff Reporter, Business Week Online

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