Hanging Out in Rockford: A personal journey—part seven

Back home in Illinois, things were changing. My mentor, Fred Adamany, had moved up to a position with Beatrice Foods. The Rockford RC plant, originally owned by the Haddads’, had been sold to the conglomerate. As I remember it, he became president of the frozen foods division of Beatrice. But that wasn’t to last for long. Soon he was offered the position of president of Royal Crown nationally. One day in the Sacramento plant, Jim Harralson, the Western VP, cryptically asked me if I knew anyone who would be interested in the field sales position for the state of California. I answered bluntly that he knew I wanted that position.

Soon I was traveling the state working with the franchised distributors. Los Angeles was my biggest plant. After about a year, I had an increase going in 12 of my 13 plants. Only one was down; naturally, it was the biggest. Nothing I could do in my other plants could make up for the losses there. Los Angeles was run by a feisty old Irishman from the East named John Soughan. (Originally, Henry Schimberg had been running LA. He left there to work for Mr. Adamany, running the company plants owned by Royal Crown. Henry was one of the finest soft drink executives I have ever known. He finished his career running all the Coca-Cola operations owned by Coca-Cola Enterprises, the arm of Coca-Cola that owned plants.) John Soughan had in the past been at Pepsi Cola with my immediate boss, Ed Smith. They had a real problem getting along. It went back to the Pepsi days.

John almost deliberately took the Royal Crown portion of the business into the toilet. I remember decreases in sales of 40 percent or more. He was concentrating his energies on things like Knott’s Berry Farm flavors. The Royal Crown numbers continued to decline. I think I could have worked with him, but the problem with Ed was too personal. Ed was determined to get rid of him. Meanwhile, my sales numbers suffered, except at my other 12 plants.

The problem turned into a problem between Ed and myself. I almost was fired over it. Then, deus ex machina, there was salvation. Ed sat me down in the USC Hilton. Did I want to go back to Chicago and work for Henry Schimberg? I would work out of the Chicago office on special projects. I wanted out of the stressful situation. I took the new job.

I loved the new thing I was doing. I helped to reopen the Savannah, Ga., operation. I spent most of the winter there. I learned to love the town. The reopening of the Savannah plant was a huge success. Soon we had as much space on the supermarket shelves as Pepsi or Coke. I was a big hero. Herb Apple, a vice president of the RC company who had come from National Can, became my patron. He sensed that I had an understanding of how Mr. Adamany thought, and he wanted me working for him. He asked if he could bring me into his area, but the answer was evidently no. One day, he called me into his office and told me that I could never go anywhere with the company until I settled my problems with Ed Smith. I went back to California.

Back in California, things got better. Eddy and I started to get along again. It really helped that they succeeded in getting rid of John Soughan. He was replaced by another former Pepsi bottler from Hawaii whose name I cannot remember. We introduced a new kind of bottle in Los Angeles. It was a 10-ounce, go, no-go. That meant you could throw it away or redeem it for deposit. California had enacted a deposit law. Even the cans were deposit.

Toward the end of my term in California, I suggested a packaging change in a memo to the home office. Coca-Cola and Pepsi had spruced up their color schemes. Instead of flat paint jobs on their aluminum cans, they were using a candy apple kind of lacquer finish. I wanted to keep up with them. It was decided that we would debut our new colors in LA. Kay Mallory, the packaging director, came out to approve the color changes.

That night, we were going to go out to dinner. I said offhandedly that we should go to Lucie’s El Adobe and that we might see Governor Brown there with Linda Ronstadt. It was mostly a joke, although I knew that they went there together. At the restaurant, Kay and I were staring into our menus when a voice asked if we were from out of town. It was Jerry Brown. He was waiting for his usual table. He chatted with us for several minutes until it was ready. Kay went back to Chicago and told everyone that I had introduced him to the governor.

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 13-19, 2005, issue

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