Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Revisit with HBE

Meeting with FSK (Fred Strange Kummer) on Saturday 1/22/2005

In 1998 I walked into HBE with no preconceptions. It was only later that I heard the stories of this successful privately-held firm and its founder Fred S. Kummer. As things turned out – I was offered a job in support of the Design-Build marketing to the Healthcare and Financial markets.  I managed to prosper as head of marketing eventually adding the hotels as part of my marketing responsibilities. (Adam’s Mark Hotels and Resorts was a chain of 24 in its system.) By Spring of 2001 I was dismissed by Fred Kummer personally. “We’re gonna do things differently around here.”  Still, considering the mitigating circumstances of the company during that time – a pretty fair run.

Hospital Design and Consutruction sales were lagging and the Hotels found themselves in the spotlight over charges of a pattern racial discrimination – charges by the Attorney General of the United States, Janet Reno. Only Financial Facilities seemed to be growing steadily.

In 2001, just about 60 days after leaving HBE, I joined Clayco. Another tour of about three years and I was dismissed from my position as Director of Corporate Communcations by Clayco CEO Bob Clark. Much of the job at Clayco was remarkably similar to the position I held at HBE (without the hotels). The programs and position I developed at Clayco were running smoothly enough by 2004, that Bob Clark felt he could relieve me of my duties in favor of a promotion for a loyal employee of ten years. (This came as a bit of a surprise, as my replacement had no marketing, advertising or public relations training. In fact no college degree – but Bob decided to give her a shot – and me the boot.)

Interestingly enough, my old position at HBE became open. I put off contacting HBE for a while until I concluded that I was being too prideful but staying away from my past employer. When the job was officially advertised, I threw my hat in the ring. I completed the on-line application. I contacted the head of personnel (Jim O’Daniel) and had conversations with several people I still knew inside the organization. I also called the head of Healthcare Facilities (Steve Dailey) and even he ewncouraged me to apply. I know my application reached Fred Kummer. I know he asked to see my “file” from my previous tour of duty.

On a chilly St. Louis Saturday Morning (1/22/05) I decided to drop in on Fred. He’s always in on Saturdays. Sure enough, 9:30am when I arrived at his office on the 6th Floor, Fred was hunched over a set of architectural plans.

W: Good Morning Fred. (I said loud enough to cause him to turn around.)
FSK: Hello
W: (Steping into his office) I saw your car outside and thought I’d drop in and see you.
FSK: What can I do for you? As if I don’t already know.

Fred was in good spirits and was happy to be caught at a quiet moment in his office on the weekend. He invited me to sit down.

W: Fred, I want you to know that I had nothing to do with the recent defections from your Financial Facilities group. (Last Saturday’s St. Louis Post Dispatch had an article about six employees joining Clayco from HBE. I had heard rumors that this might be in the works. In fact, several months ago Fred and Bob Clark spent two days together in Fred's office with Bob Clark broaching the topic of mearging “our two companies”)
FSK: Well, you know Paul (Barrath) should have made decisions that were good for the company instead of making decisions that he perceived to be good for Paul. Lombardo’s best days are behind him. (Tom Lombardo) and Clarence Steele wanted to work out of Arizona. The woman (Mary Smolar – Fred did not name her by name) was pretty good I understand and we tried to keep her. The young man…(Scott Florini). At this point Fred did not finish his sentence. (A common part of Fred’s speech patterns is to leave a thought unfinished as he switches gears.)
FSK: You, as I recall are a lazy person. There are people who feel the closer they get to the top the less they have to work. I’d put you in that group.
W: (How do you respond to such an insult? Especially as he delivers the message with such a matter of fact tone. I simply nodded to confirm that I was listening.)
FSK: Where are you now?
W: I was with Clayco for the past three years Fred. But I’m no longer with them.
FSK: I wasn’t aware of that. (This clearly peaked his interest and set off some discussion of his meetings with Bob Clark). You know Clark came in here and we spent a couple of days together. He said that he’d like to set up his office right here and shadow me. That got me thinking.

Having had the benefit of working here before, I was able to understand 90% of what Fred was talking about when he rattled off some names of those he’s brought closer to him in proximity of offices. He mentioned Matt Nail (“…got himself into trouble and was afraid to ask for help” and “…I tried to get him back into construction”), Gene Kemp (“He and Paul were similar in doing things….I fired Gene and brought in….who is doing a fine job.)

FSK: People think I’m mean.
W: I’ve heard that Fred.
FSK: (with a wry smile) I’m just misunderstood. (pause) You know, we’re looking for someon like Nancy Kornwell (I recall hearing Fred mention this name before – She’s a marketing person that well pre-dates me but one that left a lasting impression with Fred I guess). Someone strong. A real pro. I’m not sure you…(He doesn’t finish the sentence – but I take it to mean he’s not convinced I’m the guy to put in that spot again.)
W: Fred I brought some samples of things I did a Clayco. You can have them.
FSK: (Fred thumbed through some of the pages of profiles, press coverage and other elements I had bound into a GBC binder along with a Clayco overview/capabilities piece I developed – I refer to as the “square book. He asked a few questions about projects shown in the book.) Very Nice.
FSK: Who did you work for?
W: Bob Clark primarily.
FSK: Is he a hard worker?
W: I wouln’t say so Fred. Not like you anyway. Bob does a lot of local networking. He’s not in the office all the time. He goes out to lunch. In many ways you and Bob Clark are very similar but this is not one of them. (Fred probed a bit about there similarities and differences. He revealed that Sal Ruffino was going to join HBE as an Operations VP. I assured him that Sal was a good guy and tried to explain why Bob made changes to the Concrete Group in spite of the fact that he had bragged about the money that group made for Clayco.)

Nearly an hour passed. I got up and said goodbye. Friendly meeting. Fred insisted he was going to review 500 resumes for the Marketing job. I indicated that I understood if he felt that I wasn’t the right guy.

Finally, I stopped into Jim O’Daniel’s office to let him know that I had met with Fred. Jim was grateful that I informed him. Poor Jim is nearly always in on Saturday because that is the time Fred is most likely to interview potential employees.

As it happens, FSK offered me the job. It didn’t last. 18 months later I was Global Communications Director at Thermadyne. Of course I have to thank HBE for the experience as I was able to do work (projects mostly) for Crossland Construction, ARCO and Frontenac Engineering between 2010-2012. That HBE position has opened up twice since 2010 - I know because someone always brings it to my attention.      

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