Volume 45, Issue 1 - January 2010

theBusiness

Goodbye Coach

by Lyle R. Hill

Usually he calls with a funny story about someone out of our past. Sometimes he just makes contact to send on a sales lead or to ask for someone’s phone number, but this time, from the tone of his voice, I know it was something far more serious. Now I’m not about to pretend that I remember every word or detail of the conversation we were about to have, but I remember parts of it pretty well … and will never forget the call itself.

“Hey brother, it’s Jack and I’m calling to let you know that we’re on our own now.”

Jack Kellman’s voice is almost always filled with energy and enthusiasm, and he laughs easily when speaking. This time however, his voice was subdued and he was speaking slowly. He was making the call that I knew would come one day … but even knowing it’s coming can never totally prepare you for it.

“I’m sorry for both of us Jack. When did it happen?”

“Late yesterday, Lyle, on his birthday. He went gently, surrounded by people that loved him. I don’t think anyone could ask for a more peaceful ending.”

I started working for Joe Kellman on the first Monday in September of 1970 and I had no idea of what I was getting into … of how much I would get to see, of how much I would get to do, of how much I would get to learn. Although I was originally hired to work in the purchasing department of his Globe Glass Company, I was transferred on my very first day of employment to the Tyler & Hippach (T&H) Glass Division where, for all practical purposes, I have now spent the past 40 years.

For more than three decades the Glass Universe seemed to revolve around Joe Kellman and Globe Glass. This was particularly the case in Chicago and the greater Midwest. Anyone who was someone in the glass business either was a customer, supplier or employee of Globe. And if you weren’t working for Globe, you probably had at one time or another. Dozens of businesses in the industry were either started or run by ex-Globe people. Some still are. Names such as Schenian, Stanton, Lazar, Ricely, Nemeth, Berleth, Edwards, McGregor, Turner, Jolliff and many, many others too numerous to mention all got their careers started or greatly enhanced due to the time they were fortunate enough to spend working for Globe Glass or one of its subsidiaries. At one time, Joe Kellman’s glass empire was ranked as the largest privately owned glass chain in America. Those who made such statements probably didn’t know the half of it.

Joe Kellman was a fighter. He had to be. He dropped out of high school to help run the family’s small glass business after his father passed away, and the mental and physical toughness that this brought him never faded. He never hesitated to take a stand or take somebody on if he thought it was the right thing to do. Such a man makes enemies and he certainly had his. Offices were twice bombed and he received more than a couple of death threats during his fighting days. But he never backed down … it just wasn’t in him.

Joe Kellman was good to me and, more importantly, good for me. He pushed me constantly ... and sometimes I thought he pushed too hard and I would tell him so. We didn’t always agree, and on at least three occasions that I can remember, I walked into his office and quit! He wouldn’t allow it … told me to go back to work and that we would discuss it later. Once, after we had been together for many years, he called me into his office and with a fair amount of drama in his voice told me that if I didn’t complete a certain assignment … that he claimed he had been too patient in waiting for me to resolve … before the end of the day, I was fired. I turned and walked out of his office telling him that we would talk about it later. A set of car keys came flying past my head and hit the frame of the door I was starting to walk through. I thought I heard him laugh … I didn’t look back … I was just glad he missed. I could tell stories of my time with Joe Kellman for hours. I have folders filled with pictures, memos and letters that we shared. As I said in a recent letter to his wife Lou Anne, I miss him and those times and think about him and them often.

Much will be said and written about Joe Kellman in the coming weeks and he will deserve every accolade he receives. I was fortunate enough to share a wonderfully unique professional and personal relationship with this man that I will forever treasure. On the bookcase in my office, off to the left behind all of the pictures of my grandchildren, is a wonderful autographed picture of Joe Kellman that I have treasured since I received it some 30 years ago. It will leave my office when I do.

Goodbye Coach!

Lyle R. Hill is president of MTH Industries of Chicago. Mr. Hill’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.



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