MEMORIES OF HAROLD AND BILL
Many years ago, my career in the floor covering business took hold in a big way. I had landed a sales position with the largest manufacture of carpet cushions in the country, General Felt Industries. Our office was located in Woodside, Queens, NY, and once I became a full-fledged salesman, my territory consisted of northern New Jersey, Manhatten, Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. It was a terrible job. The products were inferior, the region required very dedicated coverage, especially being involved with two industries, the pay was abysmal, and the expense account was anemic. Had it not been for US Rubber’s reputation and position in the American sector, I would have never stayed with them as long as I did. They were awful to work for. Nevertheless, I hung in as long as I could, hoping. I would eventually escape and find greener pasture.
While employed by those Philistines, I worked hard. at developing friendships in both the floor covering field and the furniture industry, always keeping my ear to the ground seeking out sweeter and more rewarding opportunities. Once in a while, I would gain an interview, but nothing seemed ever to develop. So I plodded on in my then old 1960 Ford Falcon and barely persevered until I saw an ad in the trade paper that caught my eye.
There it was, staring me in the face. Chris Craft Industries is seeking a northeast sales manager for their carpet cushion division. Send resume to Harold Koch, C/O Chris Craft, 1918 East State Street, Trenton, NJ. That evening my wife and I compiled a short resume on a borrowed typewriter and sent it off in the mail.
Less than a week went by when I received a phone call from Harold Koch. He invited me to visit with him over the weekend at his home in Elizabeth, NJ. I remember thinking how peculiar that was.
I visited that following Sunday. Harold lived in a very modern high rise in Elizabeth. He buzzed me in, and after finding his apartment, he greeted me at the door. Harold was a big guy. As wide as a house. He was wearing a tee-shirt, shorts, and sandals. Totally informal. Kind of like I would be at home.
During the interview, I found he was mayor Ed Koch’s kid brother and that we had a couple of mutual friends. One being Skip Laufer from Asbury Park, and the other being Eddy Katz from NY. I knew those two acquaintances were the key to the job. Everything fell in place, and Harold offered the position to me on the spot. I accepted without hesitation.
We met the next day at the Trenton office and mottled our way through the preliminaries. The paperwork was a bear, but who cared. The job was of prime importance but not quite as crucial as finding Harold. He knew everybody on the floor covering business and had great connections. For more than a year, Harold took me under his arm and taught me the ropes. He became my mentor and guardian. Harold saw something in me. He introduced me to his buddies, both distributors and mill owners. Harold was very popular and as sharp as they came. At one time, he had given me a crash course in wearing apparel. The proper way to dress, according to Harold Koch. He took me around to the custom tailors and indeed introduced me to stylish dress. A must if you were to be in the New York scene. I learned quickly and became his protege. I undoubtedly was enjoying the experience.
After a year or so, I had read that one of my predecessors at Chris Craft was found dead of natural causes in a hotel room in Boston. He was employed by General Felt Industries, the leading manufacturer of carpet cushions in the country. Strange as it may seem, their office was located next door to ours on East State St in Trenton. What were the odds?
The following week Harold and I discussed the occurrence, and Harold suggested that I apply for the job. It would have been a big step and most likely would pay a hell of a lot more money than I was earning. In my heart of hearts, when he mentioned that he thought I was ready for the career move, I wanted to jump, but loyalty overcame me, and my reply was I wanted to stick with him.
The following week the subject arose again. This time Harold was more forceful and insisted that I pursue the opportunity. I complied, and when we returned from lunch, Harold stood by me as I called General Felt for an interview with Bill Murphy, the general manager. To this day, I think Harold engineered the entire meeting and all that transpired.
The interview was arranged for the following day. That afternoon, I drove home, picked up some clean clothes, and high-tailed it to New York City for a dinner date with some clients from Connecticut. After dinner, I drove to Trenton with enough time to check in and change in preparation for the interview. My tank was empty, and I was exhausted. Nevertheless, I sucked it up and made a date with ample time to spare.
I entered the office entrance, climbed the old worn stairs, and found myself in a tiny, dimly lit waiting room. I announced myself to the receptionist, and she told me Mr. Murphy was running late today, and he would be with me as soon as he arrived.
After about a half-hour passed, I heard the entrance door slowly open and close. Then slowly, I heard someone coming up the stairs one step at a time. Clump, clump, clump all of the way up. At the top of the stairs stood a short white-haired man with a cigarette in his mouth. His eyes were squinted, and the ash on his cigarette was almost the length of an unlit cigarette. He was wearing a navy pinstripe suit with black loafers and white socks. He was wearing glasses, and his lapels were covered with cigarette ashes. I thought, who in the hell was this guy. He looked like he wore his suit while in bed. In about fifteen minutes, the receptionist leaned out of her window and said, “Mr. Murphy will see you know” No, it couldn’t be. After following the receptionist, I found myself standing in front of Bill Murphy. It was him, the older man with the white socks smoking a cigarette with the never-ending ash. The top dog who was running GFI. Amazing.
Bill struggled to his feet, reached across his small desk, and shook my hand, saying, “I’m Bill Murphy. I run the place. Have a seat.” I knew this was going to be different.
Bill began to shuffle a pile of papers on his desk and found the documents involving me. I was a bit surprised because I never sent a resume’ or filled an application. For all I know, he might have thought I was someone else. I went with it.
The majority of time was spent listening to Bill talking about himself. I couldn’t help thinking that he was a bit like Mr. McGoo. He went on and on. Surprisingly he had a lot to say and was highly articulate. I learned that he was a graduate of Fordham Law, his wife Gert was the heiress to the Bohak grocery store chain, he resided in Ardmore, Pa., and that one of his sons was a secret service guard for Jimmy Carter. He was also a past semi-professional baseball player with the Toledo Mudhens. All this information before lunch with hardly any questions about me regarding employment.
Just before noon, two older guys arrived at his office for lunch. Bill had a difficult time introducing me without looking at the sheet of paper for my name. I swear he thought I was someone else. One of the men was Jim McCarey from Philadelphia, and the other was Leo Butler from Caldwell, NJ. The two were part of the sales force for Bill’s division. Overall there were six looking for seven salespeople around the country.
We headed out for a Chinese restaurant. When we arrived, Bill ordered drinks for all. Nott to make a wrong impression, I ordered a coke. The three guzzled down their drinks, all Dewars on the rocks. I sat in amazement. Bill had a cigarette in his mouth even while he drank a kind of from the side of his class. Sitting close, I noticed his nose was stained from nicotine. He was hilarious. The three began to verbally banter and were having a great time. Somebody ordered the food, and the three continued to carry on. I was really enjoying the moment.
In the middle of it all, Bill quieted down and became very serious. He looked around the table and directed his discourse to me. Finally, he said, “ Son, there is something you need to know. We have sales meetings, sales conclaves, and sales seminars, and the only thing that distinguishes one from the other is THE AMOUNT OF LIQUOR CONSUMED” we all burst out laughing. Bill ordered another round, and the food arrived.
The laughs and fun continued. Bill’s cigarette ashes fell in his food, and at one point, so did his glasses. The comical scene was even more acute with the sight of Bill, cigarette in his mouth and wearing his glasses adorned by a bean spout hanging on the corner of the right lens.
After lunch, we returned to the plant. Bill and I went into his office, and he started to ramble again. By four o’clock, I hadn’t had much to say, so I took control. I asked about pay and benefits. Bill threw some figures around that sounded pretty good, but he never made a firm offer. Finally, I blurted out, DO I HAVE THE JOB? Bill squinted, looking me in the eye, and said, “we went to lunch, didn’t we?” Slammed his hand on the desk and said, “of course you do.
‘I still don’t think he knew my name. Anyway, this was the break I needed. I finally made it to the big time at twenty-five years old.
We made an appointment for the next day, and I drove next door to tell Harold the excellent news. He was so happy for me we began our celebration. This time I did have a scotch.
In retrospect, I am one of the most blessed or lucky guys in the world. I came across two fantastic people who offered me the support and understanding I needed at a very early time in my career. Harold continued to guide me and be my sounding board for many years. He was a constant friend. His death was a crushing blow to many. I will never forget you. Thank you, Harold, for all you have done for me.
Bill taught me the value of having many friends. It turned out Bill Murphy was a true leader. He was so well-loved and respected by so many people. Upon his death, his funeral was a massive affair. He was well-loved by his family and friends.
Bill used to tell me that the only gifts he wanted at Christmas were the best scotch available so that at his wake, all guests would have the finest to drink. It turns out that is precisely what we did.
What a lovable and amazing guy he was, and I became his favorite.
For the record, Bill hired me for the best job in the industry. I never had more fun. I was the industry prodigy, and Bill treated me like a son.
I have so many Bill Murphy stories that you will be sure to hear some if you follow me.
God bless you, Bill, and thanks for the opportunity and love.