September 1, 2014

Honoring the Life of Edward W. Davidheiser – a True Mentor in Life and Sales

When I was 12, my dad remarried and I gained an incredible “step” family. For 35 years, Ed Davidheiser has been a more than a step grandfather; he’s been a hero, mentor, consultant and dear friend to me. Mr. D (what I’ve called him since day one) got a brief mention in the Acknowledgments of New Sales. Simplified., but his passing on Sunday at the age of 87 compels me to honor him publicly by sharing more.

One blog post is insufficient to describe the impact Mr. D had on my life, or my deep love, respect and admiration and appreciation for him. But I certainly can share some of my favorite brief stories and also key lessons he taught me.

Ed Davidheiser loved sales. In fact, he loved it so much that he dropped out of Lehigh University to take a job selling paper towels and toilet paper to retailers for Scott Paper Company. I kid you not. This super-intelligent man and gifted musician walked out of a prestigious college to carry a bag for a paper company. When I was new in sales, he would sit me down and tell me how he created the “Scott Stable of Champions” as a tool to convince customers to give him more shelf space.

But my best story about Mr. D as a territory salesman has to do with a sales call gone bad in front of his sales manager. Mr. D was calling on an account he really liked and was somewhat lackadaisical in preparing for the meeting. Several times during the call the customer asked a question or requested to see a certain piece of sales literature or sample. And each time, Mr. D’s response was that he had left that info (or sample) in the car and would be sure to get it after the meeting. While walking across the parking lot after the call, the manager told Mr. D that he was taking this account away from him. Mr. D, stunned and confused, asked why. Without hesitating, the manager looked at him and said, “Davidheiser, I am not only taking this account away from you, from now on, you will only be permitted to handle customer’s whose front door is big enough for you to drive your car into their office!”  Point taken. He never went unprepared into a sales call again. And let’s just say that 60 years later, if you’ve seen how much I’ve got crammed into my expandable Tumi briefcase, now you know why.

Another favorite story is from later in his career while selling Cryovac bags to food processors. Right at the absolute height of pre-Thanksgiving turkey production, Mr. D gets a call from a frantic customer: “Davidheiser, I’ve got leakers. Your bags are leaking and it’s killing my production. What are you going to do about it?”  Mr. D was clear on the other side of his territory when the call came in. He went over to the local rural airport and “chartered” a plane from a guy with a two-seater open cockpit. He directed the pilot to his customer’s turkey plant and they landed the plane in an adjacent farm. When Mr. D walked into the plant his customer pointed at the guy with him and asked, “who’s this, your engineer?” to which Mr. D smiled and said, “no, he’s my pilot.” Ed Davidheiser knew a thing or two about business and taking care of your customers!

Mr. D taught me a lot about a lot of things. Every time I review our investment accounts, especially now with three kids approaching college, I am thankful for the time he took way back when I was just out of school to talk to me about investing and the power of compounding. He’d copy and mail me Morningstar reports for various mutual funds he’d want me to investigate; there would be yellow highlights on things like fund manager tenure and top holdings, and red circles around betas and expense ratios.

More meaningful than the sales stories and investment mentoring, Mr. D was all you could ask for as a patriarch of the family. His marriage of 62 years to Mrs. D is something to behold. What an example he was as a generous loving husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather and great-grandfather. And he was a great host, consultant and golf buddy for me back in the 90’s. When I was selling hat parts (you read that right), I had a ton of business throughout Virginia and the Carolinas. I always set it up so I could stay with the D’s in Pinehurst. Not because it was convenient, because it wasn’t. Back in the day, there was no highway to Pinehurst – from anywhere – and it was at least three hours to any of my customers from there. But the chance to have dinner or play golf with the D’s made it worth it. On the golf course, I’d out-drive Mr. D by over 100 yards, but he’d beat me by 18 strokes every time. If he said this once, he said it 50 times, “Mitch, you gotta get a short game.” Still not sure where the Mitch thing came from. But that’s what he’s called me for a long time.

I am a better man and this world is a better place because of Edward W. Davidheiser. I could not be more thankful for the impact he’s had on my family and me.

Mrs. D, thank you for adopting us into your family and sharing your life and husband for all of these years. We mourn with you, cry with you, and pray for your peace and comfort as we celebrate and remember Mr. D.

Mr. D, here’s to you. Thank you for the generous life you lived, and all the wisdom, laughter and love you shared. You will be dearly and deeply missed.

Let me send you off with one of the fun things you liked to say when the family was concluding the Christmas visit: “Mitch, you know the best Christmas lights of all? Tail lights!”  With tears and a great big smile, I am watching your tail lights as you depart this life for another, knowing that I’ll see you again, thanks be to God.