Tag Archives: Death

TAKE YOUR FOOT OFF THE BAG

John Jonelis

I’ve asked it before, “The way you conduct business—is it meaningful to those left behind?”  Is it? 

I’m here at the Levy Entrepreneurship Group, talking with some of the most brilliant business minds in Chicago.  This group’s been meeting for over 60 years.  It’s the genius of Joe Levy, the prolific entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist—the son of a south Michigan Ave car dealer.  Joe was an endless entrepreneur—constantly learning, constantly experimenting—the quintessential gentleman who gave everybody an at-bat—who spoke quietly but directly and told the truth as he saw it.  He pushed people off the bag“You’re lousy at this.  What are you good at?  Contribute.  Help somebody.”  People found inspiration and hope.  Never a disparaging word about Joe.  “If you don’t have a satisfied customer, you’re compromising your future.”  He was the original automobile mega dealer, angel investor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.  “God put me on this earth to produce, not to consume.”  Joe Levy is dead at 92.

 

Joe Levy by Anne Elisabeth Hogh

Now I’m sitting with his group—face to face with his family.  We hope to make them understand why we all loved our Saturday morning meetings—why Joe loved them.  The moderator opens the meeting:  “Welcome to the special clubhouse we’re in.  This is a magical place.”  Then we each take turns telling stories to the family:

The Levy Group by Joel Berman

Entrepreneurship Stories

  • Joe told me, “Take your foot off the bag.” It was a constant voice in my head.  Every time I thought, “Should I start this business that I really don’t know much about?” I’d hear that phrase, “Take your foot off the bag.” Sometimes I might take it off a little bit too much.  But I would never be able to start what I’ve done multiple times without that voice in my head and without the support I’ve had from the group.

Take your foot off the bag

  • Joe and I were at the Bryn Mawr Country Club having lunch. Outside the window was this pond with two swans and during the meal, he made a point of the swans, saying, “Aren’t those swans beautiful?”  I said yeah.  Then he did it a second time.  And a third time.  After the meal, we took a walk right up to that pond.  And he said it a fourth time, “Aren’t those swans beautiful?”  I’m like, “Yeah Joe, they are, but what’s your point?”  He said, “Those swans are rental swans.  They’re a business.  I know this guy.  He rents them to all these country clubs.  It’s a beautiful business.”  So the guy puts them out in the spring and he picks them up in the fall and he takes them somewhere to feed them all winter and breed, and then he brings them back again.  It’s got no competition.  Who even would know it exists?  But his point was not only that it was a great business—it’s that it was a simple business in a niche.
  • When Joe found out that I was running my business from my home, he said, “No, you can’t do that.” He said the building next door was empty. He had bought it to store the Levy Center furniture, so we moved in.  That was a big help for us.  A year later, he sat me down.  He said, “Now buy the building.”  The timing was right, so we did.
  • This is the honorary Joe Levy tie. They named a street after him in Evanston where the dealership was.  Following the street dedication, we got ties, and no better day to wear it than today.

The Joe Levy Way Tie – Photo by Rachel Kaberon

  • I recall when they named the street after him. As usual, everybody gave elevator pitches at the start of the meeting.  When it was time for Joe’s introduction, he said, “I’m Joe Levy and now I’m a street.”
  • Twenty years ago Joe wrote a play about internet funerals called Cyber Mourning. It was at the Northlight playhouse in Skokie.
  • When I first met Joe, he asked me what I wanted from him. I knew he had so much to offer a guy like me—a poor immigrant from Greece.  Knowing that people always ask Joe for investment, I thought about his question for a second or so and responded, “Your friendship.”  What I received in return was much more than I could have imagined or hoped for.  He became a friend and a mentor—a man who could address any business issue, and some personal ones as well.  The other thing that we talked about was Joe’s faith—both of our faiths.
  • Not only did Joe teach us the art of being a gentleman—which is very, very hard to do—but he also taught us that entrepreneurship is endless. We took Joe’s words of wisdom, and put them in a placard.”

Plaque presented to the family – Photo by Rachel Kaberon

 The Levy Group

  • The group to me was a way to get working on Saturday without working on Saturday—to get my mind working as an entrepreneur.
  • I remember just 20 years ago coming to the Levy Group and feeling like it was a continuing business education. I call each Saturday a class.  In those classes we talked about business but I also learned about life, loving, giving, and family, and sometimes even death.
  • The ultimate benefit of this group was becoming a ‘Friend of Joe.’ That meant you were part of a group that spanned many a decade and you became aware of the wisdom that came from the experiences shared through the years.
  • I’m having lunch with Joe one day and make a comment to him. And he looks back at me and says, “Do you have a twin brother?”  So I say, “No Joe. Why do you think I have a twin brother?”  He looks at me and says, “Because no one person could be that f’n stupid.”  I use that line all the time today.

Joe in his Flintmobile – Joe Levy Collection

Joe’s Automobiles

  • One Saturday, he brought me into the garage to see his Flintmobile. A full size Flintmobile!
  • He was first at multi-dealerships. Back when Joe was in car dealership, he had eighteen.  People have one, maybe two.  He was the first one to have many.  At one time, he owned 18 dealerships.
  • Car dealerships wouldn’t give a woman the time of day, even if she was with her husband. If she wasn’t with her husband, they took total advantage of her.  Not Joe.  Joe was courteous at all times, and he built an incredible business.  He became the largest Buick dealer in the world.
  • Joe hired a clown for the dealership to entertain the kids. The clown also spied on the spouse.  What she wanted was crucial to the deal.
  • When Buick sold a model called the Wildcat, Joe made sure the Northwestern coaches all drove them.

Joe Levy – Photo by Nathan Mandell

Life

  • One day Joe heard on the radio that they were going to auction off a rare stamp in New York. He gets on a plane, goes to New York, buys the stamp, and before he gets on the plane to come back home, he called Carol and said, “Hey, I’m gonna be late for dinner.”
  • The first thing that will come to my mind when I’m at the racetrack or around horses is Joe Levy. He used to take us there as kids.  He gave us each an envelope with Win, Place, and Show for every single horse.  That was one of Joe’s ways of making sure everybody was a winner.
  • At my daughter’s wedding, my father-in-law took a scissors and snipped away Joe’s tie. Joe thought a moment, then went over and he cut my father-in-law’s tie off.  It was like a Laurel and Hardy thing.  So there they were, the whole evening, with these ties that looked sort of like bow ties without the bows.
  • We had a horse race in the parking lot that included questions about Joe that only the regular group could answer. We had them on silks—sewn numbers on the horses.
  • He gave me an appreciation that family was not just flesh and blood, and giving was not all about money. Time and caring in helping others were way more important in your life, in your learning.
  • Most of the people in cognitive behavior haven’t caught on yet. And all these theorists—they just haven’t caught on to how important kindness and helping and giving are to being able to be an entrepreneur.
  • And if I look back at Joe, what I think about is what he left behind, and that is teaching people how to be good human beings.
  • My dad loved this group. This group was his favorite thing, I think.  All week he looked forward to it—and just so proud of where everybody had come from and gone to.  So, I just—I don’t know what to say—this is just so moving.  So thanks, everybody.

So I ask you, “The way Joe conducted business—is it meaningful to those left behind?” 

 

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money..Copyright © 2019 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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CLOSURE

John Jonelis

How do you deal with the death of a loved one? For me, an important facet of grieving is closure. This is an account of what I did at the burial of my mother.

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Real Death

We don’t write about such things. The events that move us in the real world are too mundane for that. I step away from the norm to give my account.

I’ve sent the four limos away and stand in my best blue suit and black wool coat, flanked by two strong nephews who asked permission to remain with me at a time when polite society withdraws. It’s January 29th, yet hundreds of stale, wind-blown Christmas wreaths remain staked to the ground in long, precise rows. The wind gusts against our own fresh displays of pink and lavender roses. How they cut such a clean rectangle into the ground, I don’t know.

Calloused hands guide rolls of green nylon strap as the cherry wood casket recedes into the ground. No one speaks. Not one of the yellow roses perched on that burnished lid move and I recall they remained on my father’s coffin eight years back when he died at age 78. My mother is 78 and now she’s dead. Leukemia. Both of them. My dress shoes kick at wet, dirty snow, then I step onto plywood, worn through and ragged, covering the ground at the edge of the grave. I lean forward and stare into the hole, fixing the image in my mind. Permanently.

Men winch a concrete lid onto the vault and I see my mother’s name in gold. The funeral director watches till it’s properly seated, then nods and walks off. The hearse pulls away. A truck backs onto the plywood and pours crushed limestone into the hole. We stare for I don’t know how long till it returns to dump wet clods of earth, filling the hole in less than a minute. A ragged worker. A small bladed shovel smoothing the heap. I scoop loose dirt from the truck bed and deposit it on the pile. This is real dirt—both clay and black soil that sticks to my fingers and palm. He finishes his task. I thank him. I don’t know his name.

Why am I here while a crowd of loved ones wait at a restaurant three miles down the road? I am numb. I need release. I want closure. I am forcing it on myself. While others turn away from their loss, I face it at the cost of sudden pain. Of all the images of death, the crown of dirt that seals that hole is the most potent—more than kissing her brow before they removed the corpse. My mother’s body lies hidden—hidden as if she had never been. Nothing left but the wind.

“If that were really all there was to life, what would be the point?” .I say. My nephews both agree. The Truth is stark and obvious as we stand there, numb and humble. She no longer has use of her husk or her human pain. She’s in the presence of the Lord.

As the car approaches, I’m thankful the driver stayed so long. We leave more than a thousand dollars of flowers at that gravesite and step around an icy puddle, into the black interior and my tears finally come as we glide to the place of good company, food and comfort.

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Self portrait by John Jonelis.

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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THE SAY/DO RATIO

Jack 2by John Jonelis

You lose him. Jack Heyden was your father, your brother, maybe your son. A deep, intimate relationship. You know his profession—not the details, just what he did for a living. Normal so far. Then things start to turn.

His business colleagues invite the family here, and you all come, nerves raw from the shock that death brings. You arrive early, numb from the flurry of duties, people, and rituals that clutter such times and obediently take your seats in front, gazing about the room.

You have no idea what to expect.

 

A Place for Ideas

One thing’s certain—this doesn’t look like a place of business. The walls burst out with a massive and eclectic assortment of memorabilia. It’s visually overwhelming and you need just one place to anchor for the first time in days.

Perhaps you select a photograph, a poster, a toy on on a shelf, and focus on that. It makes you think. You wonder why Jack always spent his Saturday mornings here when the family wanted him at home.

20160726-Joe Levy - Flintmobile 500

The Flintmobile

The atmosphere is the genius of Joe Levy, one of Chicago’s prolific entrepreneurs and philanthropists, who started this group about 60 years ago. The assortment of unique items stretches from Joe’s early days—before they started naming streets and buildings after him. Business people meet in this hodgepodge every week, air opinions, ideas, and stimulate thought, and much of the collection speaks directly about luminaries in this group.

Joe Levy by Natan Mandell

Joe Levy

Before you fully collect yourself, over 30 professionals take seats facing you. This is the Levy Group, that boasts some of the most brilliant business thinkers in Chicago. Jack Heyden was their leader. Today, they’re here for Jack and for you. Unusual, right?

QUESTION: Is the way you conduct business meaningful to those left behind?

 

Who is Jack?

The moderator calls the meeting to order: “We lost a friend this week. Jack led this group for 20 years.” Many in the group sigh and nod and he turns to the family. “And maybe you didn’t know what’s special about this room that kept him coming back.”

The moderator singles out Jack’s son. “Why don’t you introduce the family? And then we’ll have Jack’s Saturday morning family introduce him to you.”

 

The Son

Your dad invited you to these meetings, so you’re the one member of the family with an understanding of what this means. Everyone in the room is with you in spirit as you halt for a painful moment, then begin to talk: “It’s easier to speak at a funeral than in front of you guys,” you say, choking back emotions. “He loved this so much.”

Then you indicate your family: “I’m looking forward to hearing afterwards what they thought this was really going to look like.” Everybody quietly laughs.

“Normally you guys start with introductions and an elevator pitch. Dad would always say, ‘I’m Jack Heyden and I help leaders win,’ and today, my best elevator pitch is—‘I’m just the son of Jack Heyden.’”

 

The Group

After the applause, the moderator calls on individuals via some hidden, efficient system, and they testify about Jack one by one:

  • “When I first came to this group, I looked around at these eclectic surroundings and said to myself, ‘Okay, there’s gonna be a lotta character in this group.’ One thing was magnetic—one of the big differentiators—it was Jack. He’s very to-the-point and structured and it was always very productively efficient, always in a good vein and in a good way. How impressed I was! That made me want to come back and give back. As you grow older there are two sets of people you meet at a very high level. Those that you admire for whatever reason, be it charm, achievement, financial success. But there are very few people you want to model. There’s something about this person—what they do, how they interact—I want to deconstruct it and figure out how I can absorb it into what I do, how I interact with people. Jack is one of the people about whom I’ve said, ‘I want to model this guy.’”
  • “In life, you meet a lot of people. When they say things, you think, ‘…Uh huh.’ But when Jack said it you really understood what he meant, then he showed you how to do it.”
  • “He always talked about the ‘Say/Do Ratio.’ Successful people have an incredible Say-Do Ratio. Don’t say things to your family, to your co-workers and clients and not follow through. If you say something, do it.”
  • “Whoever he was with, he gave 100% of his attention.”
  • “The first thing when I came to any meeting, he’d give me this big giant smile, whether it was last week or six months since I’d been here.”
  • “At an event, Jack asked me to introduce some of my friends because he wasn’t sure he’d know anyone. I figured, okay, he’s done so much for me and he’s bound to know someone. Pretty soon there’s a gathering at our table. It appears that Jack was the hub of a wheel—and some of the spokes didn’t know each other. So Jack spent the evening introducing me to all the spokes I didn’t know.”
  • “When I started coming, it was a low time in my business life. I’d say, ‘I’m a member of the CIO—‘Everybody I see I owe.’ And Jack was so welcoming. ‘I’m so happy to meet you. I’m so glad you’re here,’ and I’m looking over my shoulder like, ‘You’re talking to me?’”
  • “I grew up with giants in my industry. Since I’ve left, I’ve met a few people I consider giants. Jack was that leader. We all looked up to him.”
  • “Like all first companies, mine was a struggle. Jack said he’d come to my office and talk. He wound up interviewing all seven of my employees. He came back with this big document that showed, here’s the guy that does this and the gal that does that and here’s what needs to happen. He was spot-on. When he came to me for help on technology, we had that going. So we had a relationship.”
  • “When he put on his mentor’s hat, he’d say, ‘You got 10 minutes. Tell me why I should spend more time with you.’ He was trying to draw you out.”
  • “When I joined this group, I had a lot of patents. I mentioned to Jack that the odds of a little guy commercializing a patent are about 3%. Jack said, ‘Don’t think about the obstacles.’”
  • “I looked very hard for a word that encompasses what Jack was. The word I found is “Olympian.’ Jack was above the crowd. A wonderful thinker. Very important to me as I consulted with him many times. I can’t say enough about him. To me, he’s a towering presence.”
  • “I asked him to have breakfast and talk over a problem I had. His advice was really outside the box. I had not realized the wealth of experience he had—what you had to do next and how to deal with that—and I said, “Wow, this is good, Jack!”
  • “I’m very fortunate in my life to have great mentors at a very high level. Jack was of that calibre.”
  • “In a few days it will be the second anniversary of my wife’s sudden death. Jack sat in the back yard with me talking with me about the tree house, his problem with the landscapers, and he took me to a level of understanding that life goes on.”
  • “A man who was very giving. He helped people understand what they were and what they could do. Gregarious people can give cheer, but they don’t have that depth. And it’s that depth of character we all really embrace.”
  • “I had a great affection for Jack. I feel honored to be here.”
  • “I wanna make a difference. I think that’s what Jack looked forward to every day.”

The moderator stands to close the meeting. “We’re hearing stories about how giving and how public and how embracing he was. One of the things I found remarkable about Jack—he would not let us know how sick he really was.

It wasn’t an issue. He was gonna be here. He was here 4 weeks ago—strong, present. He was a very sick man at this particular point but he did not let it be known. Being for the other person is very, very powerful. And that’s what this group’s all about—giving and sharing.”

QUESTION: Is the way you treat people meaningful to those left behind?

 

 

Graphics courtesy Joe Levy, Nathan Mandell, and the Jack Heyden family.

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2016 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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MAY IS GONE

Ron May - Tech CocktailWe lost Ron May. There’re those that are bitter and those that’ll weep. There’s those that always revere him and swear by his widely circulated May Report—and then there’s the others that still feel the sting. Everybody has a powerful opinion, but I got more than one reason for liking the guy.

I recall my first private equity meeting in a BIG room with an ENORMOUS conference table, a room packed with a double ring of tough investors—beer in hand, every face seasoned and hard. I sit back in a high-backed leather chair and listen to a terrific investment pitch that includes an impassioned plea—hugely impressive and compelling. And the oohs and aahs from these highly experienced men and women. How can I not invest in this offering? Everybody wants in!

Then a voice cuts through the warm glow like somebody just pulled the ripcord on a chain saw. “I heard you give that same pitch two years ago. What happened to that venture?”

The room goes silent a long moment. Then the speaker tries to wiggle out, but Ron keeps after him. Am I grateful? Hell yes! Ron May plucks me from certain destruction and I’ll never forget it. Then he goes after the next speaker, but that guy gives it right back to him, fighting like rats.

Ron May - Tech Cocktail

Ron May – courtesy Tech Cocktail

Ron gets banned from that venue but not from others. I’m at another event when I hear that rasping holler: “Jonelis, you still writing that shit?” Well, yeah. Hello to you too, Ron. But I still love ya.

Ron’s a blogger with the instincts of a newspaper reporter. More than once he shouts at me from across a room:

Ron May - Crain's Chicago Business

Ron May – courtesy Crain’s Chicago Business

“Jonelis are you going to get this out by morning, because I’ll call you every hour on the hour till you do!”

That’s the way Chicago people encourage each other. Those of you at sophisticated New York events and California beach parties may not appreciate the Chicago way. Too bad. It’s a good way.

The phone rings real early one morning and I feel around in the dark for the receiver. That voice again. “Jonelis, your magazine is a joke! You know who this is talking to you?” How can I not know? And he doesn’t stop with vulgar generalities. He goes on to tell me precisely what’s wrong. And yes—he’s got the problem nailed! Now I know what to do. That day, I make major changes. I’m still working on it. Thank you Ron!

Just the other day he calls me from the hospital—just out of intensive care. He might lose his foot. He states the circumstances without griping. No, that’s not his concern. He’s gonna miss the FFF event—maybe even Techweek!

So I get back from FFF with over 6,000 words of notes and I know what I gotta do. I send ‘em to Ron so he’s got material for a few articles while he’s in the hospital. And I let him know I’m praying for him. Then I give him a call. But so many people are trying to get this guy on the phone, his voicemail is all plugged up. I never hear that harsh, grating, magnificent voice again.

G’by Ron.

John Jonelis – ChicagoVentureMagazine.com

PS: In the final edition of his May Report, he writes: “Despite much prayer and hope it was Game Over. So if you have sent me any emails recently, don’t expect a response… We had a good run and I leave this life with no real regrets, at least none that I can print… To all my family, friends, faithful readers, supporters, detractors, gadflies, cronies and anyone else I hit my cane, I am signing off one last time…Till we all meet again. I have to go now. This really is my final report.”

PPS: You can read his obituary in Crain’s Chicago Business: “Tech blogger May’s final scoop: His own death.”   It’s a real good article by John Pletz.

Here’s one from Tech Cocktail: Chicago Tech Reporter Ron May Passes Away: The End Of An Era

Here’s another in the Chicago Tribune: Ron May, longtime Chicago tech gadfly, dead at 57

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link . This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2013 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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