Family Connection
Personal Stories
Sales & Marketing

Lee Poole

I went to work for the company in 1955 as an architectural representative. Dave Shank was our director, and we worked in the major metro areas around the country convincing architects to use National Gypsum products. We were a separate sales organization but worked under the supervision of a District Sales Office which, in my case, was the Buffalo District. The office was located in t he company headquarters building on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo.

Bill Gerber was my first boss, having just been promoted to district sales manager. He was tall, dignified with a sense of humor and completely imperturbable. In World War II, he had been a major serving as the administrator of a German town.

When I entered his office for my first interview, Bill was leaning back in his chair behind a desk devoid of paper. As we talked he began to lean farther and farther back when suddenly he fell over backward out of my sight but never missing a beat in the conversation. In a moment, he came back in view still talking and acting as though nothing had happened. As far as I was concerned nothing had. He would play darts with a board on the wall opposite his desk, and it was said he once fell asleep at a Board meeting. Occasionally, Bill would leave mid-afternoon with his glasses lying on an otherwise empty desk with the promise he would be back. He would never return that day.

He was also a very creative manager. Once for a sales meeting he had me, the newest member, go to Delaware Park, buy fifty gas-filled balloons with a dollar inserted in each, take them to the Statler Hotel, the windiest spot in town, and deliver them to the room. Fortunately, only one went sailing off, but 50 balloons through the revolving doors was a trial.

In the 1950s, now thought of as a buttoned down, laced up era, we wore hats and thin ties, but many of us were World War II vets and in Buffalo, at least, we had a freewheeling aggressive group. Drex Kepler had been a circus acrobat before the War and now used some skills he had learned to become a very successful salesman. One thing was to bet a difficult customer he could write the order standing on one hand on the man's desk. It must have worked as I never heard to the contrary.

Lou Shosho was one of the younger guys whose territory included Niagara Falls, New York. His family owned a large tobacco wholesale business, but Lou had decided to join National Gypsum. One day, we went to lunch in Niagara Falls and joined a group of about 10 guys seated around a large round table at the back of an old Italian restaurant. They looked like contractors and the conversation about sports, politics, etc., was typical male small talk. Afterwards, I asked Lou who they were and he said about half were Mafia members. Niagara Falls, at the time, had a very active Mafia presence.

Dean Radley was very tall and funny, 6'6" or so, who drove a tiny Fiat with all his salesman's gear included. Dean would delight customers getting in and out of the car. Bud Dahl, a single man who lived with his mother until her death, was an assistant manager in Syracuse. He was greatly admired by everyone for his integrity and devotion to the Catholic faith. One day on a trip back to Syracuse from Buffalo, Bud made a momentous decision. He would become a Trappist monk, and he did. In later years one of our salesmen visited him at his monastery somewhere in the South where he seemed content with his chosen life.

After working 12 years as an architectural representative I had become bored and underwent a mild form of a mid-life crisis. I say mild because my red car was a Volkswagen convertible. The work was easy and I liked the architects I worked with, but I needed a change. Not wanting to worry my wife I didn't say much but, without having any ideas of the implications, I decided to go into advertising. The fact I had a mortgage, a son in college, and little money in the bank did not deter me. I was like a Don Quixote tilting at a windmill, but I didn't know it.

I wrote a resume (in longhand) and on a trip to Syracuse found a lady who would type it. Back in Buffalo I located a printer (there were no Kinkos then) and had 100 copies prepared. I was now ready, but I realized I must tell Bill Tuttle, my boss. Bill was surprised, to say the least, but answered in an unexpected way. He said, "Have you considered our company?" I said no. A lot of things then began falling my way. I learned there had been an opening in Advertising for some time and the Sales Department was getting nervous about the Spring Sales Meeting with new product introductions and no sales promotion or literature. Having worked out of the main office, I knew all the advertising and marketing people. Also, I had good product knowledge and a rapport with customers but, despite what my resume said, I knew nothing about how advertising got done. I gave Bill a copy of my resume (the only one I ever used) and in December 1967 was informed I was now advertising supervisor of commercial products. Jay Nicely, vice president of Sales, called it cross-fertilization but it was, I think, the only time someone moved from Sales to Advertising. Four years later, I was made advertising manager.

One revelation came to light. I was very good at controlling the multi-million dollar sales promotion budget. As a person who had difficulty balancing a check book, this came as quite a surprise. Much of my success, however, was due to an almost infallible bookkeeping system developed by my predecessor, Dick Murphy. Also, I was unfazed at the size of the amount of money involved.

Advertising was a terrific job then and, while you could never get rich, you had the freedom to be creative, a generous budget to work with, a liberal expense account, and a director, Bev Brower, whose credo was -- always go first class.

In 1982, a new responsibility was added, product publicity, and, while it was more work, I thoroughly enjoyed it. My favorite project was "The House in a Day" promotion that took place in Traverse City, Michigan, July 13, 1984. Traverse City is an active summer resort on the shore of Lake Michigan, attracting as many as 250,000 summer visitors. The Cherry Festival was the highlight and the Home Builders Association wanted an event to celebrate. They and our district sales office had decided to have a fund raiser during the celebration by building a home in one day and then raffling it off at the end. I was asked to donate the wallboard and joint compounds, and I agreed to do so. The project now grew as our pubic relations agency suggested we try to set a record for the Guinness Book.

At the time, we were selling a metal fastener called the "Prest-On Clip" made by the Preston Company. That clip could save as much as 25 percent of the 2 x4 lumber used in a typical wood frame house. I said we would donate the wallboard if they would use the Prest-On Clip.

They agreed, and we were in business.

The clip would save money and produce a stronger house. The owner of Preston Company, a great character, would help us publicize the house. He would attend home shows dressed as Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, a famous television character in authentic Royal Canadian uniform with a life-sized fake dog named, King, at his side. Sergeant Preston agreed to be the official starter for the project. At precisely 8 a.m., on a podium overlooking the excavated basement of the house, Sergeant Preston, in a loud voice said, "Gentlemen, start your hammers." There were about 60 contractors each dressed in T-shirts colored according to their trade and the work began. Six hours and forty-eight minutes later the house was declared completed as the building inspector signed a document. The house included a finished interior, appliances and fixtures, a landscaped yard, and even a flag pole and asphalt driveway.

The Detroit Free Press, several building publications, and network television covered the event and, in 1986, it appeared in the Guinness Book of Records. It was great fun. The following day, at the huge Cherry Festival Parade, our float featured a flatbed truck loaded with the 2 x 4's saved by using the Prest-On clips. Sergeant Preston and King were on the float, too.

Jim Quinly and I became good friends when he was brought to Buffalo by management. Actually, I had little idea of what he did, but my wife and I helped him search for a house, and our wives became good friends. On the last weekend of February 1978, Jim and Norma invited us to their home for a weekend of skiing. We had a great time with the them, and the next day, March 1, I flew to Chicago for a film story conference at an agency I worked with.

I was called to the phone, and it was Bob Zale, the director of advertising and sales promotion. He was calling to tell me the Gold Bond Division was moving to Charlotte, N.C., and he didn't want me to hear it except from him. It turned out that Jim Quinly had orchestrated the move but had never once mentioned what was going to happen on the ski weekend. I admired his discretion. When the dust settled, I was asked to prepare an audio-visual program about the move for he employees and families. One funny thing -- the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce sent us a film showing Charlotte under a blanket of snow.

Both Muriel and I were born in Canada, a fact that seemed to help our entry into the old Charlotte culture (We weren't Yankees.). Moving the company to Charlotte was a big thing for the city that longed to be thought of as world class. It wasn't then, but now I would say Charlotte is indeed world class. In 1990 Muriel and I returned to our roots in Buffalo, NY.

As told to Nancy Spurlock, February 19, 2010. At the time, Mr. Poole was 85, the same age as the company. He and his wife live in Buffalo, and he still does quite a bit of writing – all in longhand.

Career History

Joined company in 1955, retired as Advertising Manager, 1990