The Influence of Special People
The arrival of the new year brings with it a time for reflection on times gone by, the remembrance of people who have made an impact on one’s life and the anticipation of what yet may come. On my trek back to St. Louis from our annual family holiday get-together in our hometown of Memphis, I had 5 hours of windshield time that was largely spent on the reflective process of where I am personally and professionally and of those that made, and continue to make, an impact upon my life.
As I compose this article, somewhat stimulated by a grand Manhattan, made complete with the secret sauce of Carpano sweet vermouth, I opt to not focus on those stellar family members and friends outside of this industry but instead to look within the confines of the world of Coffee Service and share the impact that three people have had in shaping the person whom I have become. The group of three could easily expand to well beyond twenty, but my friend Kerri Goodman would need to devote an entire issue to such an expansive testimonial.
I should also add that shaping one’s ultimate being comes from learning from those whose impact was largely unpleasant and negative. I have found that I have been impacted as much from those negative experiences as I have from the positive ones. We’ll just save those reflections for another day.
Ken has spent his entire career in the coffee filter business. I first met Ken when I was President of Flowers Distributing back in the 80’s. As a professional, Ken understood as well as anyone that to sell such an unglamorous product line such as paper filters, it was more art than science. But Ken also knew that for our company to switch to his line, a key ingredient for a distributor was the need to have a new line to bring new customers to us. Especially for a new distributor hungering for market share. He worked harder for our company than some of our own sales folks. He sold past the presentation. He also provided immeasurable market intel with no strings attached. He knew the value of networking even when it did not always result in a sale.
Ken also happens to be one of the most positive-natured and fun-loving humans that I have ever met. He incorporated these attributes into every aspect of his life. I should also add that my wife, Charlotte, who has worked with me in three different companies, places Ken at the very top of her list too!
My favorite memory: At a Standard Coffee Service supplier appreciation event, the suppliers were given an opportunity to present to our group of 50+ field and corporate folks. He had two closing points: One was that his filters, and only his, had the ability to be tossed into the air and always land right side up. He demonstrated this amazing property several times. He then closed by saying, “Filters have nutritional value… they feed my family.”
Ken is still active in our industry working for Rockline Filters, residing in Cape Coral, Florida.
If Bob reads this, he will probably fall over while reading. You see, Bob and I battled for almost a decade as competing distributors. Bob was good, very good. He was sharp and clever enough to control both the sales and supply chain. He was a roaster. He had B.C. Coffee and Supplies distribution business. He had a brokerage company. He had a leasing company. I think he also had a tire company. Without a doubt, he could see around corners too.
Bob and I tolerated one another until the day he decided to confront me with the charge that our company’s sales reps were being unprofessional in their attempts to lure his customers away. (We were good too!) Bob demanded a face to face meeting, so in the spirit of the wild-west, we agreed to meet midway at a Florida turnpike rest area the next day and “settle this.” After a three-hour meeting, we re-established the rules of engagement and even shared tricks of the trade that would make both of our businesses better. Until now, I have never shared with Bob that he was one of my best mentors.
My favorite memory: Bob and I were having a conversation regarding him losing a customer to my company. Bob’s comment: “You can have that SOB. Slow pay, high maintenance, never content…..Ken, you’ll learn at some point that a customer has to be a good customer. I have a few more if you want ‘em.”
In summary, Bob was the best at controlling and running a business from all angles. He dealt from a position of strength but was always open-minded to new ideas. Bob is retired from B.C. Coffee and his son Mark runs the business.
I had the pleasure of working with Dick and Servatron for seven years until we were bought out by VSA.
Where do I begin? I will start with my employment interview with Mr. Allen while in the process of VSA buying out Flowers. (VSA aka VISTAR bought out my parent companies three times. We’re good.)
On the hopeful prospects of a new gig, I arranged a meeting with Dick in Long Beach, California. He filled the room. Kind spirited, brilliant and engaging. He was uber-respectable. On a handshake, and my promise to bring “X” amount of dollar volume to Servatron within 90 days, he hired me. Luckily my deliverables promise came to fruition and we had a grand run.
Like Bob Nichols, Dick Allen knew how to control both the sales system and supply chain. He had a powerful national brokerage company on lines that only he could distribute…for a time.
Dick was the best communicator that I have ever known personally. From the podium or from a table chair near his desk, he was spell binding. He put the listener and/or other conversationalist at ease. His positive nature was infectious. Of course, his confidence was bolstered by great industry knowledge and vision.
I had the pleasure to witness Mr. Allen interact with suppliers, customers, bankers, and attorneys. He never blinked. He never gave out misinformation and understood give and take. I have tried to model my communication skills after him.
Favorite memory: I have two. My first is the recollection of the daily phone pages from my remote offices. “Ken, Mr. Allen on line two.” It always put a smile on my face. The second memory was when Servatron was going through some trying financial times and I was summoned by Dick to Long Beach, California on very short notice where he and I were to meet with a group of bankers and attorneys. He met me at the airport with a big, sincere smile, patted me on the shoulder and said, “Kenny my boy, just remember, they can’t kill us and eat us. We’ll be just fine.”
I tried to connect with Dick on a few occasions while on trips to Southern California but have not. I intend to see him again. Dick is retired and living in Newport Beach. Hopefully we can lure him to a NAMA show!
A New Year’s toast to these three gentlemen that will always hold a special place in my life, and I suspect many others!
By Ken Shea