Bill-Kelly-1Bill Kelly, Kelly-MincksLike so many in the foodservice equipment and supplies business, I did not choose this industry. It chose me.

My high school graduation was followed by a four-year enlistment in the United States Air Force and a year of travel. By the time four and half years of college ended, Jane and I were married with two children. While in college I found a job giving tours at the Olympia Brewing Company.

A chance meeting during one of those tours led to a sales position with Libbey Glass in Seattle and Chicago. Another lucky introduction and subsequent meetings in Chicago led me to my current role as an independent manufacturers’ rep and membership in the Manufacturers’ Agents Association for the Foodservice Industry.

We are all driven by something. From my adolescent days to my time in the military, college and early adult years I was driven by the fear of failure. Not a great choice as a motivator but very effective.

Shortly after establishing my own rep firm in Chicago, I woke up one day to hear the words “you are behind quota!” Although familiar with the role quota plays in evaluating performance, until this point it was not my direct responsibility. Tapping into my fear of failure, this served as a big wakeup call and more than 30 years later our company still proudly represents the same manufacturer.

My mentor was an icon in the rep world named Paul Hirschberg, but countless other folks helped shape my foodservice career. While I can’t post the entire list here, a few notable names include Chuck Preas, John Hennessy, Charles Rice, John Meier, Dean deBuhr, Tim Garbett and Rob Bules on the factory side and Pete Mirkovich, Jay Mincks, Jim Degnan and Skip Casper on the rep side.

I am also thankful for the many lessons taught to me personally by some of the industry’s dealers. Edward Don & Company’s Walter Lavine made sure I understood the power of the purchase order and what it took to truly earn a customer’s business. Bargreen Ellingson’s Paul Ellingson taught me the importance of facing up to one’s mistakes and Jim Smith of Smith and Greene once provided a valuable lesson in humility. I am also thankful to my business partners at Kelly-Mincks, Jim and Dave Mincks, for a great run; Jane for allowing me the freedom to work hard; and God for His patience with me. I am also thankful for the friendship of people such as Rick Ellingson (Bargreen Ellingson) and Ed Johnstun (Dick’s Restaurant Supply).

Being an independent rep gave me the opportunity to represent a myriad of manufacturers and my life is richer for having worked with each one. Being a MAFSI member helped me see the bigger picture and give back to an industry that has given me and my family so much.

Someone once compared selling to a horse race: The winner sometimes only wins by a nose and sometimes just a little extra effort makes all the difference.

Heading into the home stretch of my career of 36-plus years, I can’t help but feel the opportunities, competition and the accompanying highs and lows have blessed me in innumerable ways. Hopefully you will be able to say the same thing when your time comes.