HangingOut in Rockford: A personal journey—part eight

Back in California, Eddy Smith and I resolved our differences. I always liked Ed immensely on a personal level. He was hard not to like. Again at the USC Hilton, Eddy broke the news to me. I had an opportunity to go back to Chicago again. I rather unwisely jumped at the chance. If I had not, I might have wound up replacing him on the West Coast, and my whole life might have gone differently. I could see only as far as my ambition. I moved back to Chicago during 20-plus percent interest. I received a good raise, but it didn’t even make up the difference in house payments.

I loved my new position, however. I got to work all over the country. While still in the California job, I started to work with a new product that was the brainchild of Mr. Adamany. RC 100 was a caffeine-free, sugar-free cola. Fred was always sensitive to health issues, and his timing was excellent. They sent me up to Seattle to look at the market before we introduced it there. I suggested in a memo that we insist they clean the Diet Rite float and make all the Diet Rite packaging changes before we allow them to have the new product. The packaging department had come up with a beautiful new package for our older diet beverage; it was a beautiful silver and blue that really made the brand jump off the shelf. My suggestion was followed, and we had a nice increase in our old brand at the same time we were introducing the new one.

Then I introduced the brand in the Phoenix market. I remember the bottler George Kallil making me wait all day and then not seeing me. I left his office telling his secretary that if he wished to see me the following day, he should call me for an appointment and then keep it. My strong stance paid off. He never treated me like that again.

Back in Chicago, I began to work with the introduction of RC 100 in the company plants. This was a little touchy, because, technically while I was working directly for Fred, I was working in Henry’s (Schimberg, who ran the company-owned operations) plants. This put me in a touchy political position. Something I had little experience with and not nearly enough sensitivity to. Fred liked having me out there being his eyes and ears. Henry liked to run his own thing. Both of them were really good at what they did. Both of them were highly ambitious.

I was called into a meeting in Fred’s office. Herb Apple, the vice president of sales, was there as well as Mr. Schimberg. They were talking about a field sales manager who was a close friend of mine. He had rubbed a bottler the wrong way and was in danger of losing his job. I suggested to Henry that he might use him as a sales manager in the downstate plants; he had been looking for someone to be sales manager there. Henry jumped at the suggestion. Mr. Adamany asked me if I wanted that job. This confused me; I really liked the job I was doing.

Later as we left the office, Herb confided in me that my friend was in some other trouble relating to his liking for young women. It involved the daughter of one of our bottlers. I went to the sales department and had one of the sales secretaries find him. On the telephone with him, he told me that he was in big trouble. This I knew, but I could, of course, say nothing. I couldn’t tell him that I had been part of resolving his problems. This was all confidential. I only said that there was a rumor out there about him and the daughter of one of his plant owners and that he should cover his butt if he needed to. I had no idea about who was listening to the other end of the conversation or how that person was interpreting it.

A week or so later, I was in Orlando introducing the caffeine-free cola when I got a call from Lucy, Mr. Adamany’s personal secretary. “Mr. Adamany wants to see you in Chicago,” was all she said. I instinctively knew I was going to be fired, but I didn’t know why. In my mind, I reviewed every sneaky deal I had ever done with a bottler. I could come up with nothing that I thought dictated my demise. When I saw Fred, he said he was going to fire me. I told him I knew but not why. He said that I had called George and divulged the confidence of our meeting.

Actually, everyone but I had told George about his situation. His immediate boss, his boss’s boss and the person who was sitting in the room when I called him. I was the only person who kept my mouth shut. But I wouldn’t tell Fred what I had actually called about, and so I was fired. I still have the greatest respect for Fred, and had I been in the same situation, I would have done exactly what he did. I went home and ran 10 miles, and I felt a lot better. It was time for me to move on. This was perhaps one of the best days of my business life.

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 20-26, 2005, issue

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