Hanging Out in Rockford: A personal journey—part nine

After being fired from the RC Cola national company, I was still deeply steeped in the soft drink business. I really thought at this time it would be my life’s work. I was good at it. I searched for another job in the soft drink industry. One came to me, I think via Mr. Adamany. The friend who had been the subject of my undoing called Mr. Adamany to tell him that I had not revealed any personal confidence regarding his job with the company. He did this at no small personal risk to his own employment. Mr. Adamany told him that he had been expecting his call. I was really proud of my friend for sticking up for me. The job offer was as sales manager for the RC Cola company of Indianapolis.

The Indianapolis plant was owned by a man named Marvin Farber. He was an interesting man of not unsubstantial personal wealth. I do not know how much of it came from the soft drink business. I don’t think it could have been too much, for he had very little feeling for it. We drew up the outline of a contract that rewarded me for increases in profit. He said that he had to show it to his attorney and that then we would sign it together. When I showed this outline to Bud Longanecker, he stated that he would be a millionaire if he had had the same agreement when he started with the Rockford plant.

Things in Indianapolis went smoothly, and not so smoothly. The part about relating to the market and its needs was simple. I had been doing that for a number of years, and Indianapolis responded to the same things that any market responds to, service and honesty. Don’t promise more than you can deliver, deliver more than you promise. You can accomplish a lot in this business if you are willing to work the hours necessary to back up your troops. Marvin Farber, however, was another question.

A remarkably insecure man for all his wealth, he was unwilling to share with me the financial aspects of the business. In retrospect, I think that was because it was going down the tubes, and he didn’t know how to stem the descent. We got all the sales and delivery problems sorted out and got back into the chain rotation, but Marvin was unwilling to be truly competitive. RC was not the big guy, Coke was and Pepsi was. If we were going to go any place in the market, we would have to have some kind of every-day price advantage. Marvin couldn’t see past his latest balance sheet. He couldn’t visualize success. He was already beaten. There were rumors that he had sold some of his extensive art collection to keep the collectors at bay.

There was a big stack of Dad’s Root Beer languishing in the warehouse. The only purpose it was serving was to age. I worked out a deal with one of the chains to give them one case for every five cases they bought of RC. This lowered their selling price. We got rid of the stack of Dad’s and moved many thousands of cases of RC. I did this without Mr. Farber’s permission. He fired one of my supervisors for this. Later that day, he called me into his office to inform me of what had transpired. I stood up for my employee and told him that it had been my decision.

Then he went on a tirade belittling the employee and me. Something I had seen too much of already in the short time I had worked for him. Marvin had never returned the agreement that was to have structured our relationship. I asked him about this, and he was dismissive. It was my birthday. I told him that I was resigning because it was my birthday, and I always wanted to be able to remember the last day I worked for him. I was without a job again.

More next week

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com, and featured on WNTA talk radio AM 1330. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the April 27-May 3, 2005, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!