How did you get started in this business?
I had graduated the University of Pittsburgh and I was applying to law school. But at that time, there were a lot of lawyers out there. Meanwhile, there was a huge distributorship based out of Pittsburgh by the name of Hamburg Brothers. The owner of Hamburg Brothers called me and said, “We’re starting a new division selling computers. Would you consider coming to work for us? And he added, you probably won’t make as much today as you will as a lawyer. But I guarantee you down the road, you’ll make more in my company than you will if you’re a lawyer.”
I decided that since there were so many people applying to law school that I was going to — worst case scenario — work for him for a year or two and if I decided I didn’t like it, I could change course and go to law school. I ended up going to work for him, loved it and never left!
Please share some milestones, and what makes you most proud about your career?
I started in 1982, then the owner, Lester Hamburg, died in 1986 and left the company to seven guys to buy it from his estate, or it would have to be liquidated — he would not allow it to be sold. Ultimately, I ended up buying out five of those seven. It was just me and the VP of Finance who ended up owning the company, and that was in 1992. I thought after graduation, I’d be in a courtroom most of the days and now I’m owning a wholesale distributor ship of TVs, white goods and flooring — things that if you mentioned any of to me when I graduated college, I knew really nothing about.
We sold the company in 2008, because we didn’t see a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. I saw a lot of vendors selling multiple distributors in each territory, and after selling, I swore I’d never get back into electronics. But after three weeks of driving my family crazy at home, I started going on interviews. Walking out after one interview, I received a message from one of my close friends in distribution. He was calling to say they were forming an electronics group of distributors called Powerhouse and they would like to interview me to possibly run the group. After the interview, I agreed to take it for 90 days, get them going and then they could hire somebody to take my position. So, 14 years later, my 90 days trial hasn’t expired as of yet.
How would you describe your management style?
I think the thing that I pride myself on is there’s no “I” in team. In my own company, I would be there in gym shorts unloading trucks at shows, helping, just as my salespeople would be. I didn’t consider myself better, even though I was the owner by title. I wouldn’t ask anybody in my company to do something that I wouldn’t do.
Which executives in the CE industry do you admire most and why?
I would say Lester Hamburg, who owned the company that originally hired me. He was so bright. He taught me a combination of business schooling and street schooling at the same time. I would absolutely rank him at the top of anybody I’ve ever worked with. There are others, but if I mentioned any, I am sure I would be leaving out some, but I am very appreciative to many.
What’s the best business advice you ever received, and how did it help you?
There’s no “I” in team. That’s the first piece of advice I pride myself on. And secondly, don’t get high with the highs and don’t get low with the lows. Business is often a roller coaster ride, just make sure you are buckled up and prepared at all times for the peaks and the valleys.
Tell us a little bit about your personal life, past and present.
I collect watches and unique sports baseball hats (World series, final four etc.) — and usually don’t even wear baseball caps or watches! I love British sports cars too. I enjoy kidding with people; there is a time to be serious and a lot of time to not be!
What will be the future of our business, and of retailing, in the coming years?
I think the future is bright. I think that there will always be retailers in our business. The internet has significantly changed the industry so much since I first started, consumers are more educated than ever before and they won’t buy products solely based on your recommendation. The retailer of today needs to be smarter and better prepared and should understand that the consumer coming in is going to be equally prepared to challenge and know what they want.