Business Is More Than Business

December 17, 2012
I was lucky to see a classified ad from Rheem Manufacturing Co. in the Chicago Tribune way back in 1970 because it led me into a career in a unique industry with a group of really great people. I was also lucky in love, but more on that later.

Industry Start

My career began as a copywriter for Admiral Corp. during the heyday of American electronics writing about TVs, stereos, radios, and consumer appliances, which I thought was pretty impressive for a young grad from the University of Illinois journalism school. Less than two years into my first job, my boss publicly berated me for an audiovisual mistake at a big national meeting when it really was the fault of an ill-prepared presenter. Being young and principled and kind of naive, I quit on the spot.

That meant I had to find a job fast, and I believe divine intervention put me into a job interview with Rheem in less than two weeks. I was hired as a sales promotion manager and jumped right in with the planning and execution of the grand opening of the Rheem air conditioning plant in Fort Smith, Ark. I can vividly remember this vast open space that was transformed into an advanced facility that turned out excellent products for a very competitive price.

The grand opening in the fall of 1970 gave me the opportunity to get to know the Rheem and Ruud regional managers and sales teams from both the air conditioning and water heating divisions. I also got to know the Rheem and Ruud distributors. I had interacted with salesmen, distributors, and dealers at Admiral, but this was different. It was more like a fraternity or brotherhood than a group of employees.

Thus began 10 good years at Rheem working in both divisions. There were a lot of good people there, as well as good customers. Veterans of our industry may remember Bob Gilbert, Robert Pierson, Woody Proulx, and Loran Nordgren. They were excellent executives and great friends. On the distribution side there was Jim Holland at Hughes Supply, Quincy Carvel at Gemaire, Mitchell Robinson at Modern Supply, and many more. I always looked forward to the big trade show in January each year (it was called the ASHRAE show then). We were trying to attract new dealers and distributors and beat our competition, but we were also seeing friends in the industry, some of whom were the competition. I even have good memories of a show held in Atlantic City before gambling was legalized there.

I left Rheem in 1980 because of youthful impatience and the lure of more money, which was a big mistake. As communications manager of a company called Paslode, I was doing the same kinds of things in a hard goods industry with distributors and dealers, but there was something lacking — namely, the people. It wasn’t the same. It was just business, not relationships.

Building Relationships

As luck would have it, I was approached to become director of editorial and marketing for Scott Periodicals, publishers of The Wholesaler, Plumbing Engineer, DE Domestic Engineering, and HVAC Product NEWS magazines. What a godsend. I was back in the plumbing and heating industry, and it was as if I never left.

My first AHRI meeting (back when it was ARI) was at the Wigwam in Arizona in 1983 where my wife and I met Harry and Sandy Holmes, and a lifelong friendship began. Just last month we had dinner together in Palm Springs.

Over the years we have had the good fortune to meet other great couples like Dan and Joan Holmes, Tom and Sue Huntington, Warren and Pam Shoulders, Dave and Lonnie LaGrand, and Mike and Vicki Miller. Greenbacks have also been exchanged at industry golf outings over the years with some great people like John Mandyck, Fred Turner, Bill John, Phil Albertson, Jack Sinkler, Paul Stalknecht, Tom Brown, Dick Foster, Dave Ryden, Dick Schul, and Terry Johnston.

I could go on and on about the great people I’ve had the privilege of getting to know in this industry, but let me make it clear for those of you at the beginning or middle of your careers: Business is more than just business. So wake up and realize that it’s also people and relationships.

I cherish the relationships and can honestly say that those relationships were instrumental in my business success. And, if you remember, I also said I was lucky in love.

In 1970, I was put in charge of hiring hostesses for the Rheem plant grand opening. One of them was Barbara Sanford, a beautiful brunette with the cutest smile. We began dating when I traveled to Fort Smith from Rheem division headquarters in Chicago. I fell hard. We celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary last March. I really should thank my old boss at Admiral.

Publication date: 12/17/2012

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