Nov 25 2014

Employee Number One

By Jeff Westphal, CEO, Vertex, Inc.

I expect Vertex to reach the 1,000 employee milestone in about a year or so. And to “be employed” of course, requires an “employer.” In the case of Vertex, the original “employer” was our founder and my father, Ray Westphal. For those of you who don’t know, Ray originally helped create the start-up Vertex in 1974 as a lease accounting software offering within a Fortune 500 company. When the parent company decided to shut down the tiny Vertex in 1978, Ray saw an opportunity and acquired the rights to the original sales/use tax rate data file and publication – Vertex as we know it today, was born.

But for Ray to have a prayer of succeeding on his own, he could of course not be on his own. He would immediately need to employ someone capable to manage the daily affairs of the office, keep the books, and otherwise hold everything together while he was researching, publishing, and selling the National Sales Tax Rate Directory, our sole product at the time.

As is so common in many small business success stories, employee Number One was also the love the founder’s life. Employee Number One was Antoinette Passo Westphal, and together she and Ray breathed life into the fledging Vertex.

Ray steadfastly built Vertex, one rate change and one client at a time, while Antoinette not only balanced the books, but also balanced work and family. Within a few years, she was joined by a wonderful group of people who formed the foundation of the early Vertex. By the time I joined the company just after it celebrated 10 years in business, Antoinette was free to enjoy the fruits of her and Ray’s labors and sacrifices. She was no longer working full time, but continuing as a critically important guiding force as the then established and growing “family” business employed me, then Stevie, and eventually Amanda as well.

Together, with our mother’s loving example and support, the three of us made the transition to parenthood and families of our own, while also creating a family Board of Directors at Vertex. And together as a family and Board, we forged a vision of our family and its relationship to the business.

During this time in the mid 90’s, we would learn that our mother and Vertex employee Number One, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Of course, Antoinette was too much of an achiever to let breast cancer slow her down. Nor would she be satisfied with having successfully raised a family and having helped her husband create a thriving company. Oh no, that would not be enough. During the 90’s she created an award-winning Day Spa and helped Dr. Marisa Weiss to create, the first online resource to support women living with breast cancer. And she was also instrumental in helping Drexel University preserve many historic artifacts for public display, an effort that ultimately led Drexel to name its College of Media Arts and Design after her.

It was 10 years ago that we said our final farewell to Antoinette, but we did not say farewell to the lessons we learned from her shining example of caring, perseverance and achievement. Ask any of the ‘old timers’ around here about her and they will tell you that employee Number One was special. If you think there’s something special about Vertex, some inspiration that seems to magically hold us all together, and if you ever wondered where it came from, you have no further to look than the employee who will always be Number One on the books and Number One in our hearts.

By Jeff Westphal, CEO, Vertex, Inc., Berwyn

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