I was just a kid, really. Old enough to vote, but a certified juvenile with a Michigan farm upbringing that exuded a hayseed naiveté. It could have been tattooed on my forehead and been equally as obvious.
After my best attempt at being a jock in East Lansing and a stint in the Navy (our side) watching the original A-bomb test at Bikini Island, I got serious. If that's what you call selling used cars in Midland, MI. It all began to shape up in sales at Dow Chemical and later at McGraw-Hill in publishing.
My big break came in 1961 when McGraw-Hill didn't think much of the "fleet and leasing" magazine idea I offered them. It looked promising to me so I then became a poor, struggling entrepreneur with this publication.
Armund Scheon and Zollie Frank at Wheels were encouraging; so was Hubert Ryan at Hertz. Howard Cook at Ford believed in me and the idea and was my initial mentor cracking the Detroit ad budgets (hallelujah and salvation).
There were "fun-doing-business-with" people early on that only a handful of you will remember. But, fleet dealers like Bud Morrison, Bob McGarvey, Don Fenton, Pierce Walsh, and Eddie Jacob at ARI were all known to "buy a round."
John Blessing (McCullagh Leasing) helped me break into the then-sacred AALA inner circle. Bud Grossman (Gelco) was especially supportive. Hal Barton (Chrysler) and George Frink (GM) let me lean on them. Bob Brown, our Detroit connection, became my closest friend.
Rewarding relationships evolved with industry icons like Bob McCurry (Toyota), Dick Recchia (Mitsubishi), Dick Colliver (Honda), John Rock (Olds), and others like Lee Iacocca and Dave Power lent meaning.
Also, there were dozens of fleet managers of the George Weimer, Patsy Mance vintage, who tutored and counseled me.
My greatest satisfaction is to talk the "car business" with the veterans who made things happen from creative gut reactions and enjoyed it. There may have been two-martini lunches, but you got the business and earned it. Every account got added value and nobody screwed with your accounts.
Some have asked me if I notice any difference over those 35 years. Hell yes I do!
Now, it's strictly by the book. And I'm not certain that the accounts are receiving as much real value. Recently, I listened to a forum of top professional fleet managers. Today, it is evident; they'd switch major suppliers (management companies and primary factory vehicle suppliers) for $1.50/mo. or $5 a car. Am I the only one who believes that a degree of loyalty can bring vital hidden residuals?
I cannot keep from asking myself just how objective or subjective can the buyer/account be about quality and quantity of services rendered (or almost rendered, or reluctantly rendered)?
In those early '60s, even without the technologies we currently possess, account reps gave 110 percent for the client. And the nets weren't that much different than they are today.
The striking contrast was that everyone sincerely enjoyed what they did, extracted loyalty and friendship with accounts, and went home proud and satisfied virtually every night. And looked forward to the next day.
So much for nostalgia. It's been a great 35-year run.