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Just when I thought there were no surprises left in El Cerrito: CEO Tuck

By Betty King Buginas

Iím driving down San Pablo Avenue and I see these guys putting up a sign that says Lander International on the front of a building at the intersection of Jefferson Avenue. I pull over, thinking maybe someone is opening a new business and I'll get a quick photo.

I introduce myself to one of the guys, Richard Tuck, and he explains heís had a computer business in the building for about 10 years and owned the building for the past two, and is only replacing the sign because it was taken down while the building was being repainted. The business, he says, is one of the fastest growing in the country (#290 in 1998 according to Inc. 500).

But the real interesting thing, he says, is this fun house in the back. By the time we get to the parking lot heís telling me about how a circus winters here with him. A few more steps and I find out thereís a guy in El Cerrito who puts out a weekly circus publication, and how the guy -- Don Marcks -- made an elaborate model circus with his father.

ďHere, Iíll show you,Ē says Tuck. He leads me through a sort of plywood maze that I take to mean something is still under construction back here, and we walk past tables and tables of little circus tents and elephants and such, and then we come to this room where a bunch of guys are playing pinball machines. On the wall hangs a wooden figure that came from the Mr. Toadís Wild Ride at Walt Disney World.

The guys are apparently with the circus -- Circus Chimera -- as are the two guys who were putting up the sign. The circus, I learn from a guy in another office, is getting ready to go to Hawaii. The room with the mini circus and pinball machines isnít new competition for Chuck E. Cheese, as I might have assumed, but apparently just a place for circus guys to hang out when they arenít in the big top and to bring groups of underprivileged people who catch Tuckís attention.

Being the trained journalist I am Iím trying to make some sense of this all, knowing eventually I will want to try to organize it all into a story. But the more questions I ask the more confused I get. So I ask again what exactly his company does and he explains they recruit employees for businesses. Now weíre getting somewhere, a light goes on, and I say, ďOh, youíre a headhunter!Ē They are a leader in recruiting people who specialize in eradicating computer viruses, he says.

Later, though, after we talked some more about the circus magazine and how Tuck helped bring the circus to the Plaza for a performance, he tosses in that his firm does consulting as well and what he really does is go around giving seminars on how the best way to attract employees to your company is by making it a fun place to work -- by doing things like having an arcade in the back room.

In another room is employee Chris Lufkin, who acknowledges that Tuck is a different kind of guy, not easy to explain, though she attempts to do so. She ended up working for him after meeting him at a party for her husbandís firm, which does business with Lander International. Then she tells about the time he took all the employees to Disneyworld and the time she didnít feel like working because it was her anniversary so she went in back and took a pinball break. That was of course OK with the boss, who describes himself as being a 12-year-old on the inside. Oh, and if you think his office environment is unusual, his home includes things like hundreds of wizards and a whole village of miniature Victorian houses.

"He is truly a man with a heart of gold and he wears it on his sleeve! He is someone who promotes having fun daily, which is such a healthy attitude!" says Lufkin.

"Richard Tuck cares about people and tries to make a difference in as many people's lives as possible, if only for a day of their life." she says. "He continues to teach me something almost daily which helps me grow both personally and professionally. He spreads joy to anyone he comes in contact with. "

Just when you think you know everything there is to know about El Cerrito you find out itís home to one of the fastest growing companies in the country, with a decidedly unconventional CEO, itís the winter home of a circus, and home base of a weekly circus magazine.

And thank goodness for hypertext because it would be difficult to even begin to describe Tuck without it:

* Inc. 500 feature on Tuck

* Another Inc. 500 article that tells some of his philosophy (use Find command and put in Tuck)

* Lander International

* Chimera Circus

Circus Report: Don Marcks, 525 Oak Street, El Cerrito, CA 94530-3699

Run dates: 1999-12-30 - 2000-02-07

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