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Hard-Driven Teenager Builds A Career, Business


Jason Lawrence never asks his parents to advance him next week’s allowance.

Granted, the 16-year-old North Side resident asked them to put up $15,000 to supplement his $17,000 investment when he opened his own business. But that’s a far cry from $10 a week for chores.

Jason is the manager and co-owner of Omni Computer Systems Inc., a full-service store specializing in hardware and software sales, technical service and training.

The Shadle Park junior works every afternoon from 1 to 6 and about 15 more hours on the weekend at Omni, which opened in mid-February at 1717 W. Garland.

“It really doesn’t seem that long,” Jason said, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Before you know it, it’s time to go home.”

Besides, it’s not as if Jason is some rinky-dink clerk; he runs the show with minimal help from his dad, Proctor Lawrence, and the third partner, Roger Paul. If Jason wants to leave early, one of his partners or Omni’s one employee can fill in.

“That’s the thing that I like about being an owner,” he said. “I get as much say as anyone else. If I want to take the afternoon off, I can get it off.”

Jason has been a computer technician for more than two years.

“I’ve always just liked building things, putting things together,” he said. When the owner of a neighborhood computer store offered to be his mentor, he jumped at the opportunity.

Two years later, his father agreed to start a company with him on the assumption that Jason would handle customer relations, purchasing, sales and technician work. Jason also teaches some basic training classes in DOS and Windows at Omni.

“Jason’s basically the brains of the business,” his father said.

“Roger (Paul) does most of the teaching … and I handle the business side. But as far as working with the computers and the customers, this is Jason’s show. I don’t even know how to do the technical stuff. Jason is teaching me and I’m catching on,” Lawrence said.

His parents and teachers let Jason drop two classes this semester because he’s on track to graduate on schedule in spring 1996.

Jason, who maintains a gradepoint average above 3.0, said he didn’t miss the two extra classes; in fact, he’s learned more at work than at school.

“It teaches me how to run a business and to develop a trade I can use for the rest of my life. And I talk with people all day, so I know how to provide customer services. I’m learning a lot.”

But this is not a medieval apprenticeship where Jason toils free of charge beneath a master’s tutelage. He commands $25 an hour for technician services - in addition to a monthly cut of corporate profits and $6 an hour for behind-the-counter service and sales.

“I knew there was a lot of money in it,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to do this.”

When Jason starts talking about corporate profits, his teenage self-consciousness fades and he transforms into a shrewd entrepreneur. He stops fidgeting and shrugging, pulls his fists out of his pockets and clasps his hands while leaning on the glass countertop:

“The computer industry changes so fast that you continue to repeat profits,” he said. “In two years, everything we sell in this store will be outdated, and so the customers keep coming back.”

Jason’s been banking some of the money he’s been earning for the past two years, but he also likes to accessorize his brand new, $21,000 GMC Sierra truck - replete with a $5,000 stereo and pricey rims, tinting, pin-striping and alarm system.

Needless to say, this CEO doesn’t get pegged as the dorky computer geek while he’s behind the wheel of his shiny green, souped-up machine.

“I haven’t really had any problems with stereotypes,” he said. Actually, most classmates don’t even know that he’s a corporate titan, and those who do are proud of him, his friend said.

“I think it’s great,” said Jason’s classmate, Katie Sayler. “When you think about what he’s doing, most people are like, ‘Wow!”’

Although Jason likes the money and doesn’t mind the work of being a computer technician, he’s not sure he’ll stay in the industry forever.

If Omni’s profits and customer base continue to grow, Jason may go to college locally and continue working at the store.

The owners have launched an ad campaign including radio commercials and an infomercial that is being developed. Jason and his partners also are considering opening satellite branches in Idaho and Montana if Omni’s business increases significantly.

If not, Jason’s thinking about majoring in computers, chemistry or biology at Eastern Washington or Washington State.

He doesn’t mind climbing to the top of the company ladder at an age when many angst-ridden teens pace the malls or fry their brains on Tetris. In fact, he’d rather work Saturday afternoon than hang with friends.

“Nothing really ever starts happening until later, so I’m not missing much,” he said, unconcerned.

Besides, his job has given him hard-won respect in the adult world.

“I used to get pushed around a lot because of my age,” Jason admitted.

“But now that I own my own store, it’s better. Some people laugh when they hear that a 16-year-old is working on their computer, but I do the job, and that’s the bottom line.”


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