- June 6, 2018
- Posted by: David Marshall
- Category: business, Leadership, management
I recently had a chance to ask some of my old friends and reps to contribute a guest article to my blog. “What do you want us to write about?” they asked. “How about something you’ve learned in our years working together?” I said.
In all my years working with David, I learned the importance of leadership and honoring your commitments. It’s something I’ve tried to exemplify and it was good to see it mirrored in other business leaders I looked up to.
Our relationship goes back a long way, when I was a vice president at Downie, Turner & Buress, a lighting rep, while David worked for Genlyte Group. We were their manufacturer’s representative in the Maryland and Washington DC area.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the lighting industry was starting to consolidate, and my company ended up being the rep for two different lighting companies that were competing with each other, Genylte and Lightolier. And Genlyte wanted to see if they could merge their direct sales force with our company, so we ended up creating a third company to take on those new lighting lines.
This went on for two years, and it had all kinds of problems: my boss had a huge ego and their guy had a huge ego, and neither of them wanted to work together so we could easily blend our sales forces. During that time, David came on as the new Executive VP of Sales and Marketing at Genlyte, and informed us that the relationship wasn’t going to work, so we had to wind down that third company as well as separate our operations.
It was the right thing to do, because to be honest, we had dragged this out for a while. So I admired him for coming in and doing such a difficult job. The problem was, we had hired all the new people in our new company, and we didn’t have any room for them at Downie, Turner & Buress. So we told David that we wouldn’t fight the issue at all if those people were offered a place in their company.
He said yes and was true to their word. They hired all of those employees, and then we all went our separate ways, and our company maintained representation of several of the Genlyte lines.
I had always appreciated and admired what David had done. It taught me the importance of being factual, objective, and non-emotional about business decisions. Of course the owners of the company weren’t happy because they had been making a lot of money, but when you looked at the whole picture, you could see it was the smart thing to do.
Several years later, I had become president of my own company and started representing Robroy Industries. When David became the president, he called me up and said,”Have at it, you can say anything you damn well please.”
I told him I wouldn’t because we all knew it was his job to be the hatchet man in that business relationship, but that he did it in a professional manner that still saw everyone taken care of. (I know I never would have wanted his job.)
Instead of yelling at him, we became friends and my company repped Robroy for quite a while.
And that’s where I learned another important lesson from David.
I learned that he respected his agents and manufacturers reps, and knew the time we all took from our home lives. So he would hold a national sales meeting every year and invite all the spouses of the reps. He always made sure they had organized a whole series of massages, shopping trips, very nice dinners, even gifts, and so on for the spouses. In fact, I think Robroy spent as much time organizing things for the spouses as they did for the reps at those national sales meetings.
This was a smart move because he was winning not only our hearts and minds, but those of our wives — it was mostly wives in those days. They loved all the attention and VIP treatment, so our wives made sure we were working hard for Robroy. They always wanted to come back to next year’s sales meeting. I know I always heard from my wife, “Don’t you ever get rid of Robroy!” (Eventually we had to part ways with the company, and she was not very happy with me.)
But this lesson, along with David’s honesty and directness, were important lessons I have used in dealing with my own staff.
David respected what work did for as well as to their employees. He knew that hard work and long hours can sometimes impact their home lives, and he made sure he made it up to everyone. So in my own company, we always do something nice for our employees’ spouses and recognize their contribution to the company.