David Cleary Jr., who passed away last month, was the consummate salesman. He loved selling and lived it every day. I was fortunate enough to have Dave as my boss for a number of years back in the '70s and '80s. That was when Modern Healthcare was just beginning to gain credibility with readers and advertisers.
What I will always remember, however, is the first few years of this magazine, which were anything but a bowl of cherries. Dave at the time was the executive vice president, general manager and group publisher of Crain Communications, the company that owned, and still owns, Modern Healthcare. I had heard all kinds of stories about Dave. He was supposed to be tough and demanding and wouldn't abide anyone who didn't want to give it his all each day. As we began to work together, I would learn that Dave was indeed all of those things but also that he was fair.
He was a throwback to what selling was and a model of what it should be. He was filled with enthusiasm for publishing and had a wonderful sense of humor. He was all about integrity and was totally loyal to his employer. He believed in making quality sales calls and in making plenty of them. He was a stickler for having well-shined shoes and some mornings we would compare shoes to see whose had the best shine. I know today that might seem a little old-fashioned, even quaint, but I've always believed that a salesperson or anyone in business should always look the part of a professional. If someone doesn't take the time to make sure he looks as though he has respect for himself, how can a client or prospect be expected to have confidence in what a person is selling or demonstrating? That rings even truer today than in the past.
Somewhere we lost our way and forgot the basics of selling, but Dave Cleary never forgot. Even though I had held management positions with other publishing companies before joining Crain and thought I knew everything there was about publishing and selling, Dave gave me an education and perspective that I'll always treasure. He was always there when I needed him.
One of his pet peeves was giving competitors more attention than they deserved. He didn't believe in knocking a competitor. I remember him saying over and over, "Every time you knock a competitor you are reminding others they exist. Don't give them free publicity. Always take the high road. You may lose a few battles, but you'll eventually win the war because you have behaved like a professional, and people respect integrity."
There were other times when he would talk about price. Some publishers in those days and even today will give a potential advertiser lower rates to win new business. This is not only bad practice but Cleary's take on this sort of practice was to the point: "You can always get a good seat at a bad show."
Furthermore, Cleary felt that publishers who ran a story on a company as an incentive to get advertising space was a violation of their readers' trust, of editorial integrity. At the same time he was a great advocate of having companies be as profitable as possible. Every once in a while he would take his wallet out of his pocket and slam it on his desk and say that the ultimate goal in selling was to make money. He believed that making money was a great thing to do as long as it was done legitimately and professionally. He wanted people not only to be successful but also to be rewarded for being successful. After all, we live in a capitalist system and making money shouldn't be looked upon as something distasteful.
Another point he would make on more than one occasion was, "Keep it simple!" There's so much wisdom in those three little words. Too often businesspeople get so carried away with enthusiasm that they start new businesses that stray too far from their core business and in short order find themselves in the red. In the '80s, some hospitals actually got into the racetrack business and, in one case, the casino business. I should note that many business schools at the time were urging diversification for many companies, but when you go too far from what you do best you are risking trouble. Dave taught me that.
He also taught me to treat everyone with respect and dignity. He had an open-door policy and anyone could walk into his office anytime for advice or just to chat. He was fun to be with, and he believed in himself, his family, the people he worked with and this country, which he served as an officer in the medical corps during World War II.
There are so many other things I could tell you about him. He loved his wife, Kay, and very recently they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. He loved his son and daughter and his wonderful grandchildren. He also loved golf, and when he retired from Crain in 1983 he and Kay moved to Pinehurst, N.C., a golfing mecca. He loved the publishing business and he loved people, and he always made sure those around him got the credit they deserved. In fact, he delighted in others' success. That's the sign of a true leader.
So to Dave I say thank you for being you, for being a gentleman, for being a professional and for being such a wonderful mentor. Considering what is going on in corporate America today, I wish there were more executives around who exhibit your skills and character. You were special.