What is reality? Now there's a question seldom weighed in corporate offices, where the only reality that usually matters is sales, stock price and the profit-and-loss statement.
Jack Lin, president of National Technical Systems, worries about those things as well. Particularly lately, because NTS in Calabasas, a testing and engineering services firm, is rebounding from a $1.8-million loss on revenue of $21.4 million in the fiscal year ended Jan. 31, 1987.
But Lin's interests extend well beyond running NTS. He is just as concerned with how he, NTS and everything else in the world are in some way connected, creating an interrelated universe whose reality spans well beyond what most people perceive. Lin tries to find the meaning of that reality within himself, rather than looking to someone or something to provide the answers.
"He's a spiritual man, not in a religious connotation, but in a holistic sense," said NTS Chairman Aaron Cohen, Lin's business colleague for the past 25 years.
Rooted in Jung, Far East
Lin's views are rooted in the philosophies of the Far East and the teachings of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, of whom Lin, 55, is a self-proclaimed devotee. And they are views Lin readily shared with a recent visitor.
Jung is one of the people who recognized that the world is more than it seems to be.
For most of its 25-year history, NTS has been profitable. But losses in two of the past three years have hurt its stock price, which closed Monday at $2.125 a share, down from a three-year high of $5.64 per share. Asked if his philosophical interests make him a better executive, Lin replied, "I don't know if they do or they don't."
Lin's interest in the spiritual contrasts with his position as the top engineer at a company that tests products against the hard-and-fast laws of science. NTS, with 330 employees and seven major facilities in three states, has tested sections of space rockets to make sure they could withstand the shock and vibration of liftoff. NTS has tested fuel lines, hoses and other components in the Space Shuttle to make sure they would work in space.
Involved in 'Star Wars'
The company also tests matters concerned with automobile crashes and how hazardous materials respond to various environmental factors. And, without giving details, Lin said NTS is handling "lower level" tests for equipment designed for President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, known as "Star Wars."
Nearly all of NTS' business is either financed or regulated by the federal government, which means, Lin said, that NTS must be ready to shift directions depending on what programs are maintained or dropped by various administrations.
During the interview, Lin did not sit in the lotus position, burn incense or chant hymns, although his office does feature a tapestry, sculptures and other Oriental art. Portly, graying and brown-eyed, in a gray suit and royal blue suspenders, Lin looked like many other executives as he moved back and forth from outlining Jung's theories to tallying NTS' order backlog.
Besides receiving a bachelor's degree in engineering from New York University and an MBA from USC, Lin said he also has extensively studied transpersonal psychology, which he defines broadly as "getting insight by looking within."
Born in Montreal, Lin moved with his family to the Bronx in New York City when he was 10. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School before getting his degree from NYU, then moved to Los Angeles in 1956 and attended USC.
Started Business in 1961
In 1961, he and Cohen, a fellow engineer, went into business for themselves, equipped with virtually no money but with "a willingness to work very hard," Lin recalled. They started by testing building materials used in offices, to see whether the products could withstand rain and the other elements.
Later they moved into testing parts used in the aerospace industry, and by 1968 their company, then known as Approved Engineering Test Laboratories, was approaching $1 million in annual revenue.
They also had run out of working space and didn't have enough money to move or expand, so they sold the business that year to Whittaker Corp., a Los Angeles-based electronics and industrial parts concern, for $1.2 million in Whittaker stock.
But soon Whittaker was struggling, and the company began putting assets up for sale, Lin recalled. Lin and Cohen, using borrowed money, bought back their business in 1972 for its book value, then $2.4 million.
In 1975, they took their company public, and by 1981 had changed its name to National Technical Systems.
After buying back their old business, Lin and Cohen acquired a tiny welding school in Downey. Cohen took an interest in running the school, which soon became a chain of trade schools, while Lin concentrated on NTS.