If you have turned on KBJR's Live at Five looking for popular meteorologist George Kessler recently, you know he's no longer on the show. Kessler has cut back on his television air time to make time for his growing computer component business.
Kessler, 33, has discovered a niche in the world of children, senior and laptop computing, and has built that into a successful Duluth-based company with a manufacturing base in Asia and distributors in Australia, Europe and the United States.
The company, Secret Seven, manufactures mice and keyboard components that are shipped as standard equipment with several leading-brand computers. The business has enjoyed fast-track growth since it was established in 1998.
"With the two jobs, I am working 16 hours a day, and have been doing that for the last three years," Kessler said.
Coupled with the fact that many U.S. computer manufacturers are located on the West Coast and continue to do business until 7:30 p.m. Central time, Kessler has found it nearly impossible to keep up his full-time schedule at KBJR.
Meteorologist Paul Heggen has replaced Kessler on Live at Five. Kessler will do the 6 p.m. news show only through May, then he will again be replaced by Heggen. Kessler will remain on the 10 p.m. newscast, and he will also continue to do weather-related special project reporting and make appearances for the station.
"I will always love the weather," Kessler said. "Forever, the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do at night will be to check the forecast and current conditions. Weather is the metronome of my life."
Kessler credits his superiors at KBJR for letting him continue his weather habit while allowing him to branch out in the business world. "I couldn't work for better people," he said. "They have given me the flexibility and understanding to pursue my own course."
For KBJR, keeping Kessler on the air, even on a limited basis, was the right decision.
"He is one of the top television personalities in the Northland," said Robert Wilmers, president and general manager of KBJR. "He is a very popular guy. He also has a strong entrepreneurial streak, and we want him to be able to pursue that and still be associated with us. Obviously, we are both happy."
Kessler's interest in computer components began when his young daughter found the adult-sized mouse on their computer too big for her little hands. Kessler went on the Internet and searched for a child-size mouse.
"I couldn't find one," he said. "So I got involved with Secret Seven from the get go."
With the official title as marketing director, Kessler is the driving force behind the business that is connected to its manufacturers in Asia and a worldwide customer base via the Internet, allowing him to maintain his base in Duluth.
"The Internet has been instrumental and has allowed businesses to exchange information quickly and cleanly across international borders," Kessler said.
The company sells a variety of computer mice that are designed for children and special-need users, including Little Mouse, Tiny Mouse and My Mouse, which works with Macintosh computers. Recently, the company added the Optical Notebook Mouse, for laptop users frustrated by hard-to-use track pads. Plans are also in the works to expand into the keyboard market with a large format model that makes typing easy for children. The keyboard can be easily adapted for seniors.
Secret Seven, which takes its name from the Secret Seven Society at the University of Virginia, Kessler's home state, is also partnering with a children's software company in Canada to provide an entire children's package, mouse, keyboard, software, that can be purchased with a computer.
Kessler is bound by legal restraints that prohibit him from revealing his customer list, he said.
Kessler predicts only growth for Secret Seven. "The children's niche is just beginning," Kessler said, adding that senior and mobile computing are also growing segments of the market. "We have the ability to be the company in this niche," he said.
Cutting back on television air time will allow Kessler to devote more energy at a critical time to his growing business.
"I am living the American dream," he said. "I have that second generation American view that anything is possible if you work hard enough."
Leslee LeRoux is editorial coordinator for Murphy McGinnis Newspapers and a former editor of the Budgeteer News.