Edition: February 2002 - Vol 10 Number 02
Article#: 1159
Author: Mark Thill

Working on our Hall of Fame issue was fun. It's fun to talk to the inductees themselves or, in the case of those who have died, those who worked with them. We get an education about the industry and its roots, and hopefully, we're able to pass some of that knowledge on to you. It's great to learn not only about what they did, but why they did it, and what kind of people they are or were.

Luck and circumstances always seem to play a role in their lives. For example, Pat Kelly taught high school biology for a year before realizing that he had to make some real money to support his family. Bob Barnes resisted the heavy travel required of American Hospital Supply sales reps, remembering how hard it was as a kid to have his father – a hardware salesman – gone most of the time. So, he ended up at Durr.

Beyond the luck and circumstance, though, shine the true personalities and drive of these people. Take Karl Bays. It is said that he knew he wanted to run a company even when he was young. (How many people do you know like that!) He ended up running American at age 37. Ron Stephenson gave up a budding management career at Federated Department Stores to study distribution on a postgraduate basis. He ended up teaching the industry about finance.

All Hall of Famers seem to have had a vision of where they thought the industry could and should go, and what role they could play in it. Kelly, for example, dreamed of building a successful company serving a niche – physicians' offices – which up to that point had been underserved. He knew he could build a profitable company – and help other people make money too – by offering doctors 24-hour and then same-day service. Bays dreamed of a company driven by the desire to serve the customer. He built American on that basis. In 1985, he had a bigger vision – bringing together supplier and provider into one company.

These inductees demonstrate that in order to succeed in this business, you have to study what's going on around you and seize opportunities. For example, even as CEO, Bays spent more time with his customers than with anyone else. That's how he always seemed to know where the market was headed. Stephenson could see soon after getting involved with health care distributors that they needed to gain financial sophistication if they were to grow. He built his career helping them do just that. And late in his career, Barnes recognized that distribution had changed from people-selling to price-selling to systems-selling. So, when many others might have been contemplating their retirement, Barnes dove into things like electronic data interchange and stockless purchasing. So, Hall of Famers demonstrate an intelligence and tenacity that many of us don't.

They also tend to demonstrate a generosity of spirit – whether because of expedience or altruism, or both. For example, both Bays and Kelly believed in spreading the wealth. It is said that the people who worked for them knew they would be compensated well if they performed. And Kelly still supports the Virginia Home for Boys, where he was raised. He also helps build orphanages around the world, including Vietnam, where he served as a U.S. soldier 30 years ago. Stephenson has given mightily of himself through the years, in the form of his teaching, seminars, Financial Surveys, etc. And of Barnes, it is said that he treated people like people first, and as customers second. To this day, he is involved in charitable organizations.

In many ways, these four people differ from one another. For example, Bays and Kelly were the hard-charging types, Barnes and Stephenson more laid back. But at bottom, they're similar, in their drive, determination, vision and generosity. They are truly Hall of Famers.