Bestowed last April at FE&S' State of the Industry Conference, our Top Achievers awards recognize outstanding management performance and contributions to the industry by four members of the E&S distribution channel.
Once again, as we have for many years past, FE&S proudly presents a quartet of profiles of leaders in the professions of E&S dealer, consultant, manufacturers' rep and service agent. Beginning this year, however, instead of featuring four Young Lions award winners, we have redefined our recognition as the Top Achievers Program. Why have we made this change? For one simple reason: Over the past few years, we've found that the Young Lions "under 40" age requirement was unfairly restricting our ability to extend due recognition to outstanding E&S professionals who had either built their careers later in life or joined the industry at a more advanced age. Now, our Top Achievers awards can acknowledge progressive management, contribution to a company's growth and success, development of colleagues and leadership in our industry by all non-manufacturing E&S professionals without regard to age.
As far as our inaugural 2003 class of Top Achievers is concerned, we think you'll find that they have helped to set new standards for enlightened corporate leadership, peer education, consultative customer service and inspirational participation in the industry. Though perhaps no longer in the first flower of youth, you'll learn that our Top Achievers' time-tested insights and observations on key industry issues confirm their status as exemplars of their professions. Therefore, we invite you to spend some time with four special individuals whose accomplishments help to define the term "Top Achievers."
- The Editors
M. Tucker - Dealer
Many dealer executives have gained business experience outside their profession before taking on leadership roles at E&S distribution companies. Stephen Tucker, president, M. Tucker, Harrison, N.J., however, is one of the few who received his initial industry education while working in the unforgiving hotel restaurant and foodservice programs of New York's Catskill Mountains.
Tucker, who grew up in Long Island and Queens, N.Y., and graduated from Bayside High School in 1971, attended NYC's Baruch College for only six months before seeking his first job in foodservices. "Because my dad, Marvin, had been running a dealership while I was growing up I had always thought about working with him," related FE&S' 2003 Top Achiever Dealer. "However, as a typical late-'60s teenager, I was, shall we say, a little slow to grow up and choose a professional role. So, I decided to leave college, went up to the Catskills [in Sullivan County, N.Y.] and spent the next three years working myself up from soda jerk to Maitre D, taking positions at three different hotels."
Daily contact with extraordinarily demanding customers and famously tempestuous bosses helped the young Tucker mature while he learned all aspects of restaurant operations. By 1974, Tucker judged that he had finished his foodservice "college education" and applied to his father for a job at M. Tucker. He was taken on as a warehouse man and soon started picking up shipments in the company's van. Since M. Tucker was then a small company, with some six employees and 90% of its annual sales in healthcare, all staff had to master a variety of disciplines and Stephen next was given a street sales assignment and began calling on house accounts and hospitals.
"Over time, I realized that I was a pretty good salesperson, though I never really enjoyed the constant traffic and parking and rushing to calls," Tucker commented. "And, although I never got the rush from winning an order that all born salespeople do, I did a good volume and earned my keep in the sales force until the end of 1987."
It was at that time that Marvin Tucker, facing health problems, decided to reduce his role and Stephen was brought in off the road and prepared to take over the inside management of the dealership. Upon assuming the title of president in 1988, Tucker recalled that his first challenge was "overcoming a natural skepticism and concern on the part of the sales force that I was the right man for the job. To earn all my stripes, I had to develop credibility and demonstrate that I had a clear direction for the company."
Over the next several years, Tucker worked to prove his mettle and grow the firm by making several acquisitions and hiring key salespeople who helped expand M. Tucker's market share outside of healthcare. Dividing corporate leadership responsibilities with partner (and Executive VP) Marc Fuchs, who remained "Mr. Outside," Tucker next concentrated on making M. Tucker a founding member of the SEFA buying group (in 1990) and ensuring that the company's core team remained intact. He did this (in the face of constant recruitment efforts by competitors) by demonstrating "passion for the business and caring for others, and providing 401(K) plans and health insurance," while assuring profitability for the company and competitive income for the staff.
Working with Fuchs and colleagues, including his brother, Michael, a vice president, Tucker has overseen the growth of M. Tucker to nearly $60 million in current annual sales and now heads a staff of 100 employees. His chief duties these days include analyzing the company's cost of goods and making sure that all products are sold at margin-preserving prices, as well as reviewing all corporate practices with the goal of reducing "waste expenses" by 20%. "We have to cut back our soft costs and stop writing off those expenses as simply the price of doing business," he stressed.
Looking ahead, Tucker noted that the company, which has recently opened an office in Florida to test that market, will soon be moving its headquarters location and is in the process of buying a wholesale fish company, which will be folded into the organization. M. Tucker will also soon begin recruiting staff at leading culinary schools to assure a supply of industry-oriented new talent. Married to his wife, Ellen, for 26 years, Tucker resides in Woodcliff Lakes, N.J., with the couple's two children, daughter Morgan, 18, and son Landon, 16.
Cini-Little International - Consultant
At 65, when many industry professionals begin to enjoy or at least contemplate retirement, FE&S' Top Achiever - Consultant George Zawacki shows no signs of even slowing down.
Zawacki began his industry career in the dealer end of the business and spent 37 years with the Byczek organization in Chicago, retiring as executive vice president in 1994. While there, he was responsible for the design and installation of more than 1,200 foodservice operations across the United States for such chains as Target, Sears-Roebuck and Wendy's.
After a few years running a private consulting practice, George was asked to join Cini-Little International in 1997 for what he thought would be a short stint as a senior associate. Six years later, he currently has 20 design projects underway, including new HQ buildings for the Union Pacific Railroad, Anixter Corp., Unilever and three facilities for British Petroleum. The bulk of Zawacki's work is in the educational field, which might account for his great interest in this area. He is presently involved in food facility projects at Denver University, Southern Illinois, Utah State and the University of Toledo, all of which are in various stages of design or completion.
Since Cini-Little encourages its top people to give back to the community, Zawacki expends a great deal of his time and energy with FCSI (Foodservice Consultants Society International), which he joined at the society's invitation in 1989 while still a dealer. He served as a member of the NAFEM/ FCSI Liaison Committee for 10 years and completed his work as this committee's chairman in 2000. While serving as the first chair of FCSI's North American division as it was being organized, he pushed for an increased emphasis on education and decided to create a Water Quality Seminar, which was held last July on Lake Michigan's Navy Pier in his home city of Chicago. Among Zawacki's awards are two from FCSI: the Outstanding Service award, as well as a Presidential Citation, which he was given in recognition of his work in promoting the use of CAD.
Zawacki feels very strongly about being involved in the process of industry education. At FE&S' 2003 State of the Industry Conference, he challenged industry leaders to do the same. A good example of his involvement was the creation of an event that had its genesis with a chance remark from a local fire safety official. While talking about the technology involved in commercial kitchen ventilation systems, this official told George, "You need to educate us." The result was a seminar this past April that he called "Up Your Stack," and which was attended by 233 people involved in every profession from system design all the way down to the municipal code officials who inspect buildings for final occupancy.
Zawacki's other activities include service on the NSF Joint committee, where he represented consultants in rewriting what he calls the "much hated section" of the code involving sneeze guards. He also was invited to join the Technical committee of ASHRAE after he made his feelings known that published national ventilation standards were moving in the wrong direction. Since then, he has become a voting member of Committee TC5.10 and has witnessed the desired correction in codes. Zawacki is proud of his contribution to the development of CAD for the foodservice industry. During the mid-1980s, he worked with Ken Gill of the Gill Group and Walter Simon of General Hotel Supply in pairing AutoCad with the then very new IBM PC, and later pioneered a layering standard that is still in use some 18 years later. He also created an industry CAD committee comprised of two members from each of the five major E&S-industry associations and served as its chair for eight years.
George and his wife, Jackie, who, along with their four adult children also worked in the dealer business, have been married for 44 years and now have nine grandchildren with whom they enjoy spending time. "I keep trying to slow down and enjoy life," he noted, "but I've only accomplished one of these ... I do enjoy my life."
BSE Marketing - Manufacturers' Rep
The opportunity to become an FE&S 2003 Top Achiever actually was created for Jeff Hessel, vice president of manufacturers' rep firm BSE Marketing in New Hyde Park, N.Y., three generations before he was born. That was in Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Conn., in 1963. Hessel grew up in Huntington, Long Island, majored in sociology and Judaic studies at New York University and entered the family business that was founded in 1925 by the great-grandfather after whom he is named.
"My great-grandfather, Joseph, started the business delivering 10-gallon tanks of seltzer to restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn," Hessel related. "You know what a soda carbonator is? Back then they were the size of a room, and my great-grandfather would fill 10-gallon tanks of seltzer and deliver them. His customers would dispense the seltzer and mix it with syrup."
Hessel officially joined the family business in 1981, although he'd actually begun working in it as a boy. "Most vacations, I rode on my grandfather's or my father's trucks delivering products. As time went on, I was able to fix and install soda systems."
Hessel's role today is a bit more complex. "Basically, what I do is sell commercial foodservice equipment to the wholesale dealer community," he said. "I also specify foodservice equipment with the consultant community. I spend a large portion of my time with chefs, dietitians and owners talking to them about what will help them do their job more easily and allow them to serve higher quality food more efficiently."
Hessel stressed the importance of just how he perceives his family's business and his role in it. "Everybody says that I sell kitchen equipment and, actually, I don't. What I sell is the ability of the operator community to put out beautiful, high-quality culinary presentations efficiently. The fact that I sell equipment only means that I provide the vehicle for owners and operators to be able to do their jobs with less stress and higher satisfaction. The other thing we sell is 78 years of knowledge and an 'easy to do business with' attitude. "As you can imagine, being part of a family business has its pros and cons," Hessel continued. "A family business has a lot of tradition and employs a lot of people who deserve to have their opinions heard. Our family business tends to have long-time employees. After a while, everybody in the business feels like family. There's a lot of input and you feel like you're working on behalf of your whole family and those of your employees."
BSE's heritage and history, he said, "reassures the people we do business with that we're not going anywhere; that we're solid, and that they never have to worry about whether we are going to stand behind our products. Being a family business means we are good to our word. Being here as long as we have, our client base expects a very high level of product knowledge. I guess that does give people a feeling of security."
The bottom line, for Hessel, of course, is that, "In a family business you can trust the people around you. There are always family members you can depend on implicitly. That also goes for long-time employees and partners, who feel as close to me as blood relatives."
The company recently relocated to New Hyde Park from Farmingdale, N.Y. Said Hessel, "One thing we did as a part of this move was build a 2,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art test kitchen. We have a full-time chef on staff, and he runs this test kitchen. We constantly have dealers and operators in our test kitchen trying equipment, demonstrating equipment and creating design and operations ideas for their kitchens."
The key to having the test kitchen, he noted, is that, "When operators come in, we bring dealers and consultants with them - we marry those 'channels of distribution.'"
Hessel sees reps' involvement with operators, in conjunction with dealers, as exceptionally crucial. "The product lines we sell are very high-end. We don't sell any commodities. What we market are high-end specifications, work-with-the-customer types of products. Therefore, what we really do is educate, as opposed to [just] sell.
"When you do that," he concluded, "you must, must partner with consultants and dealers to get operators to give you a chance to show them the added value you provide, along with the equipment. And that's what I see BSE doing most during the next year or two." -Howard Riell
Refrigerated Specialist Inc. - Service Agent
Refrigerated Specialist Inc.'s Scott Hester, FE&S' 2003 Top Achiever Award winner in the Service Agent category, showed early on that he was an achiever par excellence.
Hester, who serves as secretary/treasurer for the Mesquite, Texas-based corporation, is a principal along with his brother and co-founder, Marvin, RSI's president, and brother-in-law George Knight, its vice president. Born and raised in Dallas, Hester and his brother founded the business in 1978, when they were just 18 and 29, respectively. Knight joined the Hesters a couple of years later.
Back then, Hester recalled, the company was a two-man operation providing refrigeration service to restaurants, bars and some factories. Today, the firm has 48 employees and annual revenue of between $4 million and $4.5 million, with clients in all segments of the foodservice business.
Hester personally oversees RSI's Service and Parts departments. "The core of our business operation has always been service and installation," he noted. Service continues to be the fastest-growing part of the business, up 19% during the fiscal year that ended March 30.
"With respect to the current economy," he noted, "many restaurants are not developing. We're still getting institutional growth, particularly with our school district accounts, and manufacturing companies are still spending capital expenditure dollars. When they do a large project, such as new manufacturing facilities, we're getting our share of the refrigeration business."
For example, Refrigerated Specialist recently supplied some refrigeration at a Lockheed facility in Fort Worth, where the aerospace designer and manufacturer is handling a high-profile, multi-billion-dollar joint strike fighter contract that was awarded to it by the Air Force last year. "The plant has walk-ins," he pointed out, "but, instead of having $10,000 or $50,000 worth of food in them, the units will hold $4 million worth of a product that they use to build the skins of their jets. The material they put in there is some kind of composite that they keep at about -30°F., and the government tracks that stringently, 24 hours a day."
Based on his outlook for the remainder of 2003, Hester said, "I am looking for us to do well. We had substantial growth in our Service department last year, as has been the case in all three down cycles I've experienced during my 25 years in business. In hard times, our service business always grows." With foodservice operators in all segments having tightened their belts, he added, fewer have been buying big-ticket pieces of equipment. Those who do may give RSI some installation business.
As for those who don't, he continued, "they're going to spend larger money with us to fix their existing equipment and keep it running. That's why we're seeing growth in the down economy: Operators still have to keep their doors open. They're still spending less money overall but, instead of the dollars flowing to the manufacturing stream, they're flowing to the service stream, you might say." As for the E&S industry as a whole, Hester said, "Based on everything I've learned from the people I've talked to, conditions are going to stay about the same." He likens the economy to a roller coaster, with the daily stock reports as the front car. "We're kind of at the end of the coaster. When we start hearing about the stock market doing consistently better, it will be about another year before we turn up."
Hester is extensively involved in the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association (CFESA), both as a board member and as a member of its Education committee. For the past two years, he has led a refrigeration certification-training program once a year and, last year, he started offering service and installations on cooking equipment - just one more accomplishment on the growing list of this FE&S Top Achiever.
- Howard Riell