At one time, I was employed by US Rubber – Uniroyal. At the time, Uniroyal was one of the largest companies in America, and they were known for being a colossal chemical and rubber product manufacturer. They were known primarily for being a tire manufacturer. Secondary businesses included many consumer products such as US Keds sneakers, US Koylon Mattresses, Royal Vinyl Carpet, Carpet Cushion, Naugahyde, Polypropylene Yarn, and Clothing. Uniroyal was just huge and marketed their products internationally.
Each product category had its marketing and sales division and, in many cases, operated autonomously. I worked for the Consumer Products Division – Home Furnishing Products.
Home Products dealt specifically with Carpet Cushion and Koylon Mattresses. My position was a good fit due to my knowledge of floor covering resulting from my experience as a carpet installer’s helper while in high school and college.
Even though Uniroyal was a great company, it did not pay well at all. As a matter of fact, they were terribly behind the curve. Surprisingly they recruited some exceptionally talented people, and some of them had very successful careers in the home furnishing industry. Working for them became a good launching pad for the future.
While there, I developed many relationships with retailers and competitors in the greater NY and NJ areas. The carpet cushion involvement molded my career; however, I learned merchandising and marketing from the mattress end. Even though working for Uniroyal was less than a lucrative experience financially, I learned some valuable lessons.
Oh, I learned a lot about big business. These guys were the biggest crock of shit one could imagine. They turned out to be abusive, bigoted, dishonest, and ill-spirited. I’ll never understand how they ever got by, at least in the areas I was involved with. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Today there is nothing left of their home furnishing division. Their misdirection of mission blew it for them. I remember very clearly the company culture and how they talked the talk but NEVER walked the walk. Looking back on the experience, it’s safe to say that I was dupped even though I researched the organization well. Some really slippery people led the force I was part of. It became very apparent to me that it took more than wingtips, button-down oxfords, and dark suits to become a success. As bad as they were their existed one or two of the sales management crew that were decent people.
My immediate boss was a guy named Paul Hurlburt. He was a great guy and did an excellent job putting his sales force together. In a way, he was the Judas Lamb.
Paul came from a prominent family in Fairfield, Conn. He was Yale Graduate and obviously headed for greater things within The company. My guess is he had a relative on the board or married the right woman. He was tall, handsome, and extremely bright. His most outstanding feature was that Paul had the common touch and was an excellent salesman.
As I got to know Paul, I found that his family once owned a car dealership in Conn., which was his first occupational love. Marriage and family pressure forced him to work for Uniroyal. He actually despised working for Uniroyal. Even though he had the education and contacts, he possessed a more pedestrian background. He was a real guy. Very down-to-earth and possessed a lot of street smarts. Paul had a terrific sense of humor and always put the proper spin on everything.
I mentioned that Uniroyal was a cheap firm. Here they were, a big shot company that remunerated their people poorly, but they were as tight as a cat's ass when it came to expenses. They gave the worst automobile allowance of anybody. Here I was, the NY salesman driving an old, hand-painted, stick shift, Ford Falcon without air conditioning. How embarrassing.
One day Paul asked if he could spend a day traveling with me in my territory. This was a new experience for me. Paul was not known to work outside of the office. I thought, “finally, he got off his ass .” There was a problem, though. I lived in Bergen County, NJ, and he wanted to meet at the office in Woodside, Queens. It was mid-summer, and my old Ford didn’t have air conditioning. This was going to be a rough day and Paul wanted to work in NYC and Westchester calling on retailers. I was not looking forward to the experience. I’m not sure if he was looking forward to the day either. The night before I meticulously planned my calls for the coming day and loaded the car up with as many samples as possible. I not only wanted to impress Paul but I wanted to call on as many of our clients as possible and put in a good showing.
The following day’s journey started with a traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge toll booths. A very bad omen from the get-go. Then onto Woodside. I used every back street, service road, and trick to arrive at the Woodside office on time. I cut in and out of traffic and made the trip with time to spare. I was convinced I chose the wrong vocation. I should have become a cab driver.
When I arrived, Pauls was waiting for me in the parking lot with his Hartman briefcase in hand. He was dressed totally corporate in his dark well-pressed suit. I knew by his expression he was not happy to see my junky car and it must have dawned on him he was in for a full day visiting my version of a sauna. To tell you the truth I felt terrible for him. Not only was it going to be hot and clammy all day but we were both heavy smokers. Yuk. No air conditioner.
Off we sped for our first call. Paul was speechless for about an hour. After loosening his tie and removing his jacket he lit up his first cigarette. It was mid-morning and it was getting very warm sitting in city traffic. You must remember, in those days cell phones and bottled water was non-existent. We started to chat along the lines of what a piece of shit kind of car I was driving. I made it a point to let him know that it was all I could afford on the slave wages he and the rest of the ivory tower pricks were paying us. My car was an insult to the injury this bunch was dishing out. He really pissed me off.
At that point, I decided to get into taxi mode again. I was hot, thirsty, angry, and ready to get this thing over with so I hurried through traffic as if it were early in the morning all over again. I even started to “speed shift” my stick shift transmission. In and out I wove. Cut my way through bumper-to-bumper traffic to my next stops. It was amazing. All the time never speeding but being a little on the reckless side.
Every now and then I would look over to Paul and I noticed that he seemed to be enjoying my race car performance. After the last call in Manhatten, Paul asked me to pull over and he said one of the most profound statements I have ever heard. He said, “ I had proved something to him today. You don’t need to be the biggest or the fastest to beat your competitors if you know how to outmaneuver them and that's how you handled your driving today”. I will never forget what Paul said to me and I repeat what he said quite frequently.
We moved on to Westchester and we completed the whirlwind day. We were worn out from the heat and my level of activity. When we finished up Paul told me how impressed he was with what was accomplished that day in the trenches. I told him how I appreciated the time he spent with me and I apologized for the car and my intensity. He reminded me of what he said and told me that he was going to do his best to get us all company cars. He thought we would all be far more productive and represent Uniroyal better if he could pull it off. He ended up apologizing to me.
A week passed and I received a corporate memo stating that arrangements were made for our salesforce to all receive Buick Skyliners as a company car. All were equipped with air conditioning and we would be charged $.10 per mile for personal use. I told you they were cheap.
A couple of days after the memo we were advised that Paul Hurlbert had resigned from the company and that his manager, Charles Holmes would assume his position in addition to his current duties.
I immediately called Paul at home and inquired about what had transpired. Paul told me that they were a bunch of tyrants and told me to get as far as I could away from Uniroyal. Within two weeks I resigned from Uniroyal after telling Charlie Holmes to go fuck himself and I went to work for Chris Craft Industries and my friend Harold Koch.
I learned many things from my association with Uniroyal especially about how diabolical and sinister the corporate world and some of its players could be. The silver lining was what I had learned from Paul Hurlbert and I doubt that he learned it at Yale.
“You don’t have to be bigger and faster than your competition if you can outmaneuver them”
Paul ended up going back to the automobile industry where he worked as a car salesman and eventually purchased a Ford dealership in Fairfield Couty. I have only spoken to Paul once since the days at Uniroyal.