Words of Wisdom

BY JULIE A. PALM

Members of the sleep products industry share the best advice they ever received to advance their careers and enrich their personal lives, too

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The cheeky humorist and author P.G. Wodehouse once said, “I always advise people never to give advice,” but we think the words of watchmaker and part-time aphorist James Lendall Basford are more accurate: “No man is so wise that he can afford to wholly ignore the advice of others.”

BedTimes wondered what advice people in the bedding industry turn to as they struggle with difficult situations or face a vexing decision, so we queried a diverse group, asking simply, “What’s the best advice you ever received?”

In their answers, we think you’ll discover wisdom that you, too, can use in your personal and professional lives. You may even find yourself—much to the chagrin of Wodehouse—passing the guidance along to others.

Lessons from mentors

“The best advice I received was personal and professional. I was told that it takes years to build your reputation but only seconds to destroy it,” says Allen Platek, vice president of new product development for mattress major Tempur Sealy International Inc. in Lexington, Kentucky.

Like many of those we spoke with, Platek received the advice early in his career from a supervisor, in his case when he was in his mid-20s and working as a manufacturing supervisor at a pharmaceutical company.

“Plant manager Joe LaPalomento took a liking to me and we developed a mentor/mentee relationship. The advice came to me during a conversation we had after I made a rookie mistake in the handling of an employee conflict,” Platek says. “(It) has been a guiding tenet for me for my entire career. Integrity and ethics are the cornerstones of all healthy organizations. You cannot build a highly functioning team without trust and respect for each other. … There are no compromises when it comes to ethics, no degrees of right and wrong. You either act ethically or you don’t. It’s one area where the word compromise does not exist.”

Camilla Franklin says it was like “a light bulb went on and the world opened up,” when Charles McDuffie, her former boss at Burlington Industries, told her she would be well-served to “make well-informed decisions and trust in them.”

“You know what makes good business sense,” he said. For Franklin, who’d recently moved to the United States from the United Kingdom and still was adjusting to a different culture, the advice came at just the right time.

“When I first arrived at Burlington, I was asking for permission to proceed with all tasks, big and small. That was the culture at the U.K. company I had recently left,” she says. “But it must have driven my new boss a bit batty, thus prompting the advice. I have used it continuously ever since.” Franklin now is vice president of sales and marketing for Tricots-Liesse Inc., a fabrics house in Montreal.

Vicki Fishman, vice president of marketing for Wright Global Graphics, a provider of printing and marketing solutions based in Thomasville, North Carolina, says she’s been lucky to receive a wealth of good advice over the years.

But “there is one thing, in particular, that I am reminded of often,” she says. “Working in a creative industry, I am always looking for new ideas for graphic storytelling. The best advice I have ever received to help with this is to remember that design inspiration can come from anywhere, so it’s important to keep your eyes and your mind open to nurture your creativity.”

The advice came from Bill Wright, Fishman’s boss at the time.

“We were researching cutting-edge design computers back in the late ’80s. This was a whole new world for us and even though these computer systems offered vast design capabilities, they were still just machines. ‘Appropriate design, sensitively executed’ is one of our corporate objectives, and it became more important than ever to rely upon inspired creativity, not just special effects available through computer design.”

Today, Fishman keeps Bill Wright’s wisdom in mind as she explores new places, checks out art galleries and visits retailers in search of inspiration. “I look for interesting color combinations, textures and messaging,” she says. “I believe that good design decisions—like good business decisions—should be based on nurtured ideas and experience.”

Doug Guffey, national accounts executive for bedding producer Corsicana Mattress Co. in Corsicana, Texas, says the best advice he ever got was blunt, straightforward and uniquely applicable to the bedding industry: “We make rectangles, and it is not rocket science.”

When James Wright, a now-retired Corsicana executive who remains a mentor to Guffey, imparted that wisdom, he may have been trying to keep Guffey from getting too bogged down in details.

“I have a tendency to drill down to cause and effect with business and problems within our organization. James had a way of bringing attention to the true nature of our business: We make mattresses. While it requires knowledge, skill and talent, the simplicity of his statement and the reminder of the big picture always seemed to help me focus,” Guffey says. “I want to believe what we do is as important as getting an astronaut to the moon but, in reality, it is a rectangle. We can still dream, but (need to) understand the big picture.”

Recalling Wright’s words helps Guffey maintain both focus and perspective daily, he says.

Mentors don’t have to be corporate executives or bosses. The wisdom that helped shape Ila Farshad’s career came from a customer who shared with him a philosophy of “selfless selling.”

The customer told him, “as a salesman you do not ‘sell’ someone something. Instead, you help in the purchasing decision to add value as well as you can,” says Farshad, sales and marketing manager for Vita Talalay, a latex supplier based in Maastricht, Netherlands.

“We were talking about sales, and I mentioned it was my first sales job. He said, ‘Sales is nothing more than building an honest relationship.’ From that point, I decided I wanted to add value to my customers as much as I can,” Farshad says. “That means that I do what I promise, but also tell them upfront what I can’t do.”

Family knows best

A number of people we spoke with told us the most helpful guidance they had gotten came from relatives—not surprising given that our families are primary shapers of who we become.

In Adam Lava’s case, his father, Richard Lava, was a major influence in his life, both at home and at work in the family business, A. Lava & Son Co. Adam Lava is now co-owner of the company, a maker of sewn covers and a supplier of bedding components based in Chicago.

“My father told me that to succeed in business you need two things: ambition and a strong work ethic. If you have those two traits then no matter how many times you get the door slammed in your face, you will always be able to get yourself up to go knock on the next door,” Lava says.

Richard Lava passed the guidance along when his son was a teenager just getting a start in the family business, and Lava says he has continued to follow it as he has grown the company into “a leader in our industry.”

Again mixing personal and professional, Bryan Smith’s grandfather, Albert Kindle, imparted wisdom that applies equally well to Smith’s personal life as his career. First and foremost, his grandfather told him: “Put God first, others second and then yourself.” Next, his grandfather advised, “Put your head down, work hard, do the right thing for the others involved and it will all work out.”

When he was a young adult, Smith says, he had a tendency to sweat the small stuff.

“My grandfather watched me stress over little things I could not control,” says Smith, president and chief executive officer of Nashville-based mattress maker Southerland Inc. and chair of the International Sleep Products Association. “As a semi-reformed control freak, I can say that back then I stressed a lot over decisions. You could say I had ‘paralysis by analysis’ sometimes.”

Heeding his grandfather’s words freed Smith up in his decision making—both at home and at work.

Lisa Tan’s brother, Kevin, sent her off to business school with advice that she uses today, whether at a networking event, initial meeting with a prospective customer or “a room full of alpha types.”

“When you join a new group—a new job, a new project, a new school, etc.—there will be people vying for attention, jockeying for position, posturing for importance. Don’t let them distract you from your purpose. You don’t have to be the splashiest or loudest to be an effective leader. Stick to your voice and thoughtfulness,” Tan recalls her brother telling her.

Keeping that in mind years later allows Tan to maintain her focus and “stay proactive instead of reactive” in her role as chief marketing officer for Reverie, a bedding producer based in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Kimberly Fisher, president and chief operating officer for Talalay Global in Shelton, Connecticut, says her husband, David Fisher, who serves as chief executive officer of the company, is a trusted adviser. He once told her, “You will always regret more the things you did not do in life than the things you did do.”

“Later in life, I found out Mark Twain said the same thing, so David must clearly be Mark Twain reincarnated, which explains a lot,” she says, joking.

The advice came while the two were discussing a business decision and “he encouraged me to be less risk adverse and to 100% trust in my years of experience,” Fisher says. “… I have learned to just be myself, be true to my own integrity and not worry about those who do not value that level of integrity.”

Be open

Mark Quinn reminds us to remain open to good advice because we never know when we might receive it—or from whom. The advice he has turned to again and again came from a woman sitting next to him on a plane.

“I don’t even know her name, but something told me to take my earphones off and have a conversation. Glad I did. She is a personal development coach and conducts training all over the world, so we were talking about what makes people happy and able to achieve at high levels,” says Quinn, co-founder of Spink & Edgar USA, a luxury mattress maker based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Her advice: “Always try to consider and genuinely appreciate other people’s perspective. It doesn’t matter if they work for you, with you or they are customers you are trying to sell, just pay attention,” Quinn says.

That wisdom, he says, has helped him in all facets of his life.

“We are all wired so differently, and we need to work at understanding where people are coming from. If you can connect with how others are feeling, thinking and where they are trying to go, you can be of better service to them, which, ultimately helps you get where you are going,” Quinn says. “It helps me in my marriage, with my kids and in my business. When you make that effort, you demonstrate your authentic interest and concern for them, which makes a big impact.”

A mark of wisdom

The bedding industry is built on relationships. It’s a generally convivial sector where people form deep and long-lasting connections as they advance from company to company, work together through business partnerships and interact during the industry’s many networking events. It shouldn’t have surprised us then when one of the people we posed the best advice question to answered by quoting someone else on our ad hoc panel.

“When we first started working together, Mark Quinn taught me to serve other people,” says Mark Kinsley, staff vice president for Leggett & Platt Inc.’s Bedding Group in Carthage, Missouri, who explains that Quinn was once his boss and is now a “dear friend.” “That’s been the best and most rewarding advice I’ve ever received. It’s easy to tell someone what they should do, but Mark provides a living example of what it means to serve people and shine a light on others.”

Today, Kinsley says, “When I am trying to figure out a path forward, I ask myself how I can best serve other people.”

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Can I give you some advice?

After members of our informal panel shared with BedTimes the best advice they’d ever received, we thought it would be interesting to learn what guidance they would give to someone else. We asked them, “If you were mentoring someone in the bedding industry, what advice would you offer?”

Their answers—some practical and some aspirational—were wide ranging.

  • “Don’t let ‘business as usual’ define your frame of reference. Seek out the opportunities to improve and grow the industry and go after them.” —Lisa Tan, chief marketing officer for sleep products maker Reverie in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

 

  • “I would tell the person, ‘You aren’t just selling a rectangle. You are selling something that has the potential to improve someone’s life.’ Not many products can make that claim.” — Adam Lava, co-owner of sewn-cover producer and components supplier A. Lava & Son Co. in Chicago

 

  • “The most important thing I would want them to know is that they need to get to know the people in this industry. They are absolutely some of the finest people you will ever meet. Get to know the people, their products, their customers, their processes. Do your homework and always follow up.”  — Vicki Fishman, vice president of marketing for Wright Global Graphics, a supplier of printing and marketing solutions based in Thomasville, North Carolina

 

  • “There are four things that I share with every new associate who comes to work for new product development at Tempur Sealy. They are: 1) always act ethically; 2) have a healthy sense of urgency to get the job done; 3) the ability to communicate an idea is as important as having the idea; 4) don’t rely only on data when making a decision—good decisions are made with data, instincts, experience and knowledge.” — Allen Platek, vice president of new product development for mattress major Tempur Sealy International Inc. in Lexington, Kentucky

 

  • “It is a passion of mine to mentor others. I try to mentor them every day in core values: A culture of integrity, where your word is your bond, is all you have in the end. It sounds basic, but you would be surprised how many people do not embrace who they really are versus what they think the industry might embrace.” — Kimberly Fisher, president and chief operating officer for Talalay Global, a latex supplier based in Shelton, Connecticut

 

  • “In general, I would say listen. It is key to knowledge, as well as personal growth. Listening helps build good relationships and is critical in every aspect of our lives at work and at home.” — Camilla Franklin, vice president of sales and marketing for fabrics supplier Tricots-Liesse Inc. in Montreal

 

  • “As an industry, we are slow to react and quick to dismiss ideas. Never stop looking at opportunities and be willing to take chances. Remember to work as hard for your customer as you would want someone to work for you.” — Doug Guffey, national accounts executive for mattress maker Corsicana Mattress Co. in Corsicana, Texas

 

  • “If I were mentoring someone, I would encourage them to create their own 18-month bedding industry boot camp and, if at all possible, attend the Furniture Today Bedding Conference, Las Vegas Market and ISPA EXPO. They would have the opportunity to see many facets of the mattress industry, ask questions, absorb knowledge and, most importantly, build relationships. It is a small industry, and they would begin to see many of the same people over and over. The majority of these people are willing to help and want the industry as a whole to succeed. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice. Make sure to invest in these relationships because those friendships and professional connections are what make the mattress industry fun. That’s the other thing I would tell them: Have fun.” — Mark Kinsley, staff vice president for Leggett & Platt Inc.’s Bedding Group in Carthage, Missouri

 

  • Do what you say you are going to do, work harder than your competition is willing to, if people want you to do what everyone else is doing tell them to get stuffed, and be creative in your approach to everything you do. If you accomplish these things and serve people along the way, you have a great shot at success and enjoying the hell out of the ride.” — Mark Quinn, co-founder of luxury bedding producer Spink & Edgar USA in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

 

  • “If you stay ordinary long enough, you will become extraordinary in the end.” — Ila Farshad, sales and marketing manager for latex supplier Vita Talalay in Maastricht, Netherlands

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