January 06, 2014
As we kick off a new year, we should be focused on the future. But unfortunately, in the past few weeks, we’ve lost three good friends and significant industry participants. We need to honor them.
But first, the good news.
Most of the indicators that drive foodservice and the foodservice equipment and supplies business look quite positive, as we discuss in our forecast articles in this issue. It even appears that the federal government may be getting its act together. Certainty in that arena would help bring some stability and help the overall economy. Employment trends are finally improving, disposable incomes are forecast to rise, inflation remains under control, the equities markets are booming and housing prices are rising. In the global markets, most economies are expected to grow faster in 2014. It all should mean a decent year for foodservice E&S. We’re forecasting 4.1% current dollar growth.
Now the losses. Former Groen and Dover Corp. executive Lew Burns, Scotsman executive Paul Johnson and Gordon Oates Jr., an executive for many of the largest companies in this business, left us in the past couple of months. All three were not just friends, but good friends. And they all had significant impact on this business.
Burns grew up on a hard-scrabble farm in Arkansas and became one of the leading executives at Dover. His first presidency was at Groen. He had many accomplishments beyond his golf handicap (after retirement, he was a central part of the Foodservice Equipment Ryder Cup annual outings, now renamed the Rosati Cup.) He helped Dover buy many a company. He was a very close friend of our partner, Ken Gill. But for me, his most significant impact on the business was his promotion of women into leading executive roles. He named Louise O’Sullivan president of Groen and supported her as she hired and promoted Elaine Chaney and other women executives. He was a tough guy and a very good guy.
Johnson retired from Scotsman last summer and got almost no time to enjoy it. He spent more than 30 years in the business, much of it with Hobart. He was a channel specialist, which means he spent a lot of time with dealers, consultants and noncommercial operators, many of whom considered him a close friend. He joined Scotsman Ice Systems in 2006, when it was still part of Enodis. His title was business development manager, but his job was to maintain relationships. He did it about as well as anyone in the business ever has. His last boss, Nate Jackson, v.p. of sales and marketing at Scotsman, called him “a consummate professional” and “a sincerely nice person.” That nails it.
Oates would hate for me to say this, but he was foodservice-equipment royalty. His father, Gordon Sr., who we lost a few years ago, was president of Vulcan-Hart for years. But Gordon Jr. was unique. He may have been the single nicest person I’ve ever known. He worked for Vulcan, Garland, Blodgett, APW Wyott and Enodis in a variety of sales and management roles, then became a rep with E-Source, a Texas-based firm. He taught me that someone who was honest, open and happy could succeed in business. His wife Valerie wrote to me after his passing to say he fought kidney disease for eight years without ever complaining, focusing only on what he could do for his family and friends. I wasn’t surprised. He was a wonderful person.
These were good people, and we’ll miss them. It’s our responsibility to honor their memory by remembering what they taught us. Have a healthy, fun and successful 2014.