Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An Interview With George Hersh

George Hersh, a native of Topeka, Kansas, owns and is CEO of the GMJ Co., Inc., which is comprised of the Sports Associated Companies (MO, NJ and CA), Topeka Transfer & Storage, Capital City Distribution and O'Neil Relocation which is headquartered in Southern California. Additionally, he owns, manages or holds officer positions in a number of other companies in the mid-west, doing business in the savings and loan, construction, commercial real estate and records management industries. He began his career developing and leading companies in 1981 with the founding of Kelly Port Arcade, which he owned and operated for four years. He is married, has three children and currently lives in Topeka.

George was the driving force behind the creation of the Allied Ronin Leaders' Retreat, and has attended every retreat except two since their inception in 2004, with the most recent one being last week, January 24-28. He is very passionate about issues involving children with disabilities. At the most recent Retreat he agreed to be interviewed for the Allied Ronin e-newsletter.

Allied Ronin: You are a very successful person, but it wasn't always that way. What was it like for you as a young man going to college and going into business?

George: It was very confusing. I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what it was. I had great difficulty reading, spelling and writing. I could see words but didn't understand the flow. Comprehension was hard. As a kid I was hyperactive, felt less than and acted out a lot. Honestly, I felt abandoned. No matter how I tried to express myself to my parents, I couldn't articulate what was going on for me, and they didn't understand. These days more kids can be accurately diagnosed learning disabilities, but in the 60's and 70's very few people recognized the signs.

Allied Ronin: How did you cope with this?

George: I learned to protect myself from thinking I was a failure. I wouldn't ask for help, because I didn't want to seen as less than by other people. I found I could do well in areas other than academics, but at the same time I didn't want people to know that I wasn't like the other kids. I had to be ten steps ahead of anyone finding out that I wasn't all that good. Looking back, it served me in many ways because I've trained myself to always be looking ahead for options and opportunities, seeing connections in business that other people don't see and turning problems into solutions.

Allied Ronin: I agree. You are one of the best multi-taskers I know.

Geroge: You're right, I can work on a lot of different things, juggling many balls, and with a lot of energy every day. The worry, though, when I was young, was that someone would find out that I was having difficulty. But the fact is I struggled through three years of college before anyone knew what was going on for me. The feeling inside me was intense frustration. I did a lot of blaming and felt alone.

Allied Ronin. Well, you've taken big steps to correct this. What did you do?

George. Fortunately, in my 30's I found an organization, Learning Techniques www.learningtechniques.com which was able to help. First, they showed me that the issue was the neural connections that help a person learn how to learn didn't form when I was a young person. Your work here at this Retreat, and in the other things you do for people, is about increasing one's awareness of and then actively practicing with the abilities of the right and left brain hemispheres. Learning Techniques opened me to that notion. Then they open me to the fact that the human brain can grow in its capacity to connect and learn throughout one's entire lifetime. They had me doing a lot of patterning work; and as silly as some may think it sounds, it really works. By patterning I mean I spent hours and hours synchronizing my hand and foot movements to speech and eye movements. Here at the Leaders' Retreat you have Madeline Wade and Susan Hammond working with people on that basic idea for increased personal and professional effectiveness. At Learning Techniques I specifically focused on learning to learn. Their program would be more powerful if they expanded on the idea of what's going on for the person who is struggling; in other words, the psychological aspect. I still struggle at times, but things are much better and I love learning. Another thing that worked for me is that I took their program with my brother. Having a partner and family support really matters. He had similar issues. It helped us both, and we're closer because of this.

Allied Ronin. Let's talk about business. We met over fifteen years ago. One of the things I've noticed is that you have great employee retention. How do you account for this?

George. I want people to enjoy what they do. I want them to make money, and they know it. I want their families to prosper. I want them to take care of the customer and be creative about that. The GMJ Companies are all service organizations. So, for example, when a driver from Topeka Transfer and Storage, which is our United Van Lines operation, or from Capital City Distribution, which is our Mayflower operation, is working a job, he or she knows that what is being wrapped, packed and moved involves someone's sentiments. What the average person may see as a cup and saucer, we see as someone's treasured memory. We really do. I guess I'm just sensitive to people's feelings - and maybe it's because of what I went through as a kid. And while both of those two companies are located in Kansas, they have trucks on the road, serving customers coast-to-coast all the time. Those two companies are examples of the way I've always felt about being in business, which is, I often feel that owning a company is small when compared to being a steward of that company. I didn't create Topeka Transfer and Storage (TTS), I bought it. It's a company with a great history and reputation that's over a hundred and forty-five years old, long before I came on the scene. I feel it's my honor to keep that history, reputation and tradition growing. The people who work for TTS generally feel the same way. They are home, and they are headquartered in my parent's hometown. The simple one-person-things really do matter. The same feeling holds true for the people who work for Sport Associated and O'Neil Relocation.

Allied Ronin. Well, tell us a bit about Sports Associated and O'Neil Relocation, the company that's most recently come under the umbrella of GMJ.

George. Both are great companies. I have to say that first of all. When I compare their capacity for service and the creativity of the people who work there, from executives and senior managers to the guy or gal on the loading dock or working a trade show I have to say they are head and shoulders above the rest of the industry.

Sports Associated is known for superior service in the transportation, warehousing and exposition of motorcycles, specialty vehicles, watercraft and other specialty items. The company was started decades ago by two guys with a flatbed truck and a trailer. Today it's history includes a great reputation serving some of the most well-known names in the world, including Yamaha, BMW and Ducati. Whereas many companies support the same expos that we do (Datona Bike Week, Sturgis, Leguna Seca, the International Motorcycle Show, etc.), SAI is known for going far beyond what the others do. Our people do everything except make and man the display. Our operations manager, Roger, is one of the most creative people I have ever met. When a project comes our way his general comment is, "Don't worry, we can get it done." And the fact is - he's right, we do. In other words, we customize our trucks to move the items - hauling more per truck than our competitors. We set up the displays, we remain on site throughout the shows to assist with display management, we tear down the displays, we move and warehouse the displays and the vehicles or items. Because we do this, we have an experience edge that can't be beat. SAI is a world-class operation that, in my opinion, has no equal. No one, and I really mean this, does it better than SAI. I've traveled the circuit, and laid tape myself with the drivers. This company makes me proud. We have customized trailers that are complete high-tech office and display facilities able to provide and serve state-of-art off-site press introductions. One of our most unique clients is Eagle Rider, who we serve nation-wide moving their motorcycles so they can more easily serve their clients.

SAI can adapt to and serve any kind of trade show, anywhere in the US. What I'm also proud of, and I wish more people knew about this, is that SAI can easily and equally serve specialty needs. Imagine an organization, whether company or non-profit or extended family wanting to provide a special event for it's personnel at unique location, say, the Kentucky Derby or the Super Bowl or a World Series Game or the Presidential Inauguration, or just someplace special that an organization or family selected for whatever reason most important to them. Because of our connections (tenting, local contracts, unions, etc.) we can produce a set-up at remote locations that would dazzle anyone. The SAI people are inventive and love what they do. Sorry, once I get started talking about SAI it's hard for me to stop.

You asked about O'Neil Relocation. This is a big operation, and again with a wonderful history which began in 1947. It is the newest company to come under the GMJ umbrella. I have been most fortunate to acquire it and the team of people who make it tick, led by Dennis Allsop who started with the company as a salesman and is now the company's president. O'Neil Relocation is a United Van Lines operation and has significant warehousing facilities in the Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas areas. Our trucks and warehouses serve corporations, government agencies, the military and individuals needing household relocation. We specialize in pad wrapped, lift gate, air ride, containerized equipment. Beyond that, O'Neil moves special products: telecom equipment, school fixtures equipment, and equipment for high-end hotels.

I should mention that when GMJ acquired O'Neil we also acquired Corporate Relocation Service, which is a Mayflower Van Lines operation, and also led by Dennis Allsop.

Allied Ronin. What matters to you?

George. I'd have to say first, it's my family - and this starts with my wife and children, and then my mom and dad, who are both still alive. I've been married twenty-five years. Marcia and I have three great kids, all now in college. My dad is in his 90's and my mom's in her 80's, and they're both still kick'n. I hope I have the energy, insight and wisdom they have when I get to be their age. Then it goes to the people who work with me in the companies. I'm a down to earth guy, nothing slick and flashy, and I really relate to the average person, the drivers and accountants and receptionists who I get to live my life with. My truck, more often than not, is my office. I don't need much. I love people.

Another thing is what I worry about. Now and then I worry that things are too easy for my children. Their perspective of me is that I'm someone who is mostly connecting with people by phone and making things happen between people. And, unfortunately, they think it's easy. I don't know how many times I've heard them say, "Dad, all you do is drive around and talk on the phone." They don't grasp the enormity of the risks I've taken and how much patience that takes, and a willingness to listen to what other people need and have to say.

Also, a person's dream is important, and it's important that people get a chance to live their dreams. My dad and mom's business was savings and loan. Being the renegade that I was, I wanted to go off and do my own thing. Kelly Port Arcade was my start back in 1981. I took an idea and made it happen, and if I hadn't done that, maybe I'd be in the S&L business - I don't know. But, I also have to say that taking care of my mom and dad and their interests is important. Especially these days I've always made that a priority and it's given me satisfaction that I've been able to take care of my parents.

Then, and this goes back to what we were talking about at the start of this interview, it's the future of our communities and our nation - really our world. And that future is up to our kids. No big news here. But, a significant percentage of kids have learning disabilities. Because I had difficulty for such a long time, I have grown up with feelings of inadequacy. Now, I know that's not the truth, but for a long time I sure felt that way. One of my dreams is to create a foundation for kids with learning disabilities because I can relate to them. People learn in different ways. There's no such thing as a one-size-fit's-all kid, just like there's no such thing as a one-size-fit's-all customer moving from one town to another. You showed us a video at the last retreat of Sir Ken Robinson's presentation at TED, "Do Schools Kill Creativity?"

Robinson talked about the need to re-think and re-tool how we educate our children. Some kids learn and process information more through moving their bodies than they do through sitting in classrooms or reading books. Some kids are natural born artists. We need to look beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. We cannot afford to let the genius of our future to slip through cracks simply because it doesn't conform to what we think education is. That is a powerful statement of something that we, you and I, share in common; a desire to expand the creative capacity of people - no matter who they are or where they come from.

Allied Ronin. Thanks very much George.

George. Hey, you're welcome. I hope this makes a difference for someone. Truth is, if I can do what I've been able to do - so can anybody else if they put their mind to it.

(Mr. George Hersh can be reached at 816-483-8900 or email ghersh1@mac.com)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

What a wonderful and positive story about working with children who may have some social challenges or learning difficulties. Thank you so much.