Beyond his passion for business, Doug Fearing has a deeper calling.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Doug Fearing, president at Fearing’s Audio Video Security, hails from Reedsburg, where his family name is quite familiar thanks to a TV and appliance business his grandfather started in 1953. Little did he know that someday his faith and a related yen for philanthropy would take him to a world much different than the little Wisconsin town where he grew up.
A business odyssey preceded that journey. As Wisconsin Dells experienced an economic explosion in the 1990s, Fearing had been repairing TVs and installing cabling and satellite services to homes and hotels and was well positioned to take advantage. In 1997, he started his own company.
“We grew fast because the Dells was growing so fast,” Fearing, 60, says. DirectTV and DISH Network then entered the market and Fearing’s work took him statewide. In 2003, he got out of the residential business. “We just became puppets [to the satellite companies],” he says. “It wasn’t my goal to make them rich, it was my goal to make me rich, which I’m still working on.”
Recognizing that the Dells boom wouldn’t last forever, the company moved to Madison in 2009, just as the Great Recession was casting its dark net and forcing the company’s 30-person staff to be slashed in half.
“Many a tear was shed,” Fearing recalls. “We had to put our life savings into the company and fought for our lives for three years.”
Fearing’s is now back to full strength, and since 2012 has experienced three consecutive years of record growth. But rather than rest on the company’s laurels, Doug and Lois, his high-school sweetheart and wife of 40 years, are tackling an even larger challenge — Schools for Haiti.
IB: Tell me about your Haiti initiative.
Fearing: At our church outreach meeting one night, a missionary spoke to us about Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and challenged us to visit.
Four of us took her up on that. Then the Haiti earthquake hit on Jan. 12, 2010. We left on January 23 with 13 bags of supplies. Our plane was one of the first flights allowed in after the quake. We saw so much we knew we’d have to return.
IB: So you started Schools for Haiti?
Fearing: Some people won’t believe this, but while winterizing my pontoon boat in the fall of 2012, the Lord told me he needed me to help with schools in Haiti. It wasn’t audible, but it was very clear. So we went back in 2013 and I was introduced to Gil Bailie from Tampa Bay who started it. Now I’m a board member.
We started a dinner and silent auction here in 2014 and raised $29,000, then $37,000 last year, and though we don’t have the final tally in yet, I think we raised about $60,000 this year from 165 people.
IB: Where is the money going?
Fearing: We support four Haitian schools and 554 students, preschool through sixth grade. We’re a 501(c)3, so we disburse all the money.
IB: How do you feel when you go back?
Fearing: Like I’m making a difference. The earthquake actually focused attention on Haiti and there are great things happening there. Our program is Haitian led and Haitian staffed. Schools for Haiti employs 58 Haitians. Forty-seven are teachers and the rest are cooks.
IB: What’s next?
Fearing: The next step is to build a high school and trade school. A lot of these kids don’t know they’re poor, but they know they’re hungry and they want to learn.
My dad’s sudden death at age 50 made me stop and think about leaving a legacy. So when I retire I want to develop a leadership academy down there. Haiti has educated leaders, but they just don’t have a lot of ethics. The country needs its own Nelson Mandela. That’s what it will take.
IB: How has this effort affected your business?
Fearing: We’re rebranding and our new tagline is, “Making a difference to our customers, community, and world.” Haiti represents the world part.
IB: What do you get out of this?
Fearing: The satisfaction that when my final day comes and I go to meet my maker, I’ll know I provided a return on his investment. I also know that the company has evolved such that if I die tomorrow, it can survive without me. Maybe not without my wife but without me!
Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.