We worked together every month for over 20 years until he sold his company in 1998. He owned Lee Engineering Company, Inc. in Pawtucket, RI and I helped him build the Presto Lifts and Stackers brand from under a million in sales to nearly $20 million. His name was Joe Herbert and he was not only a valued client; he was a good friend. We fished together and dined out with our wives or met for lunch a couple of times a year for many years. Then, as happens often, our lives moved in different directions and our lunches together became less frequent; but meaningful nevertheless.
Joe had been on my mind lately and I was going to call him for lunch. This began a few months ago and for some reason I never called. Reached for the Bluetooth in my car, but never made it happen. I had a feeling something wasn’t right. Well, that feeling was confirmed about a month ago. Before dialing the phone to call Joe to meet for lunch again at a fine restaurant in Providence, RI, I had a hunch and Googled his name instead. That’s when I read his obituary and learned he had passed away after a courageous battle with cancer at age 78.
It saddened me to the point where it has taken me weeks to share my feelings about Joe in writing. My son Marc, who is 36 now, recalls fondly when Joe took him fishing and he caught his first bluefish with him when he was just 10 years old. In fact we went fishing together too many times to count. Joe even invited one of Marc’s friends to come with us. A generous soul, he loved putting us on fish as much as he enjoyed battling them himself!
Years later, when I contemplated having Marc join me at my company, he warned me not to. He was concerned about my management style in business. “You’ll beat him up,” he told me. But he didn’t belabor the point. I never fully understood what he was saying until Marc worked for me and I had to change my style. Marc was more important to me than my business and our relationship grew and benefited from working together for a year in 2008.
Back to Joe who was one of the finest men I’ve ever known. I never saw him lose his temper. He was always even-handed, tolerant, understanding, and received unsolicited loyalty from his employees. He was bright, tough, and modest; a Marine. He was an amazing businessman and I was proud to work for him and was prouder that he followed my advice so closely and even hired other marketing people who I recommended to him. I enjoyed helping Joe.
During the 20 years we worked together every month, I experienced the highs and lows that any entrepreneur does and it was Joe’s confidence and trust in my work and integrity that helped me through those inevitable periods of self-doubt. At times, Joe understood me better than I understood myself. I truly miss those occasional lunches and the fish stories and business talk with Joseph F. Herbert, a true gentleman. He was no ordinary Joe.