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2011 Hall of Fame: Gary Brothers, President Emeritus of D&H Distributing

A symphony from one-man band to conductor at D&H

January 2011 By Nancy Klosek
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Gary Brothers, president emeritus at D&H Distributing, believes that "if you want to keep growing, you have to create an environment where you keep working your way out of a job."

Curious as that may sound, it is the way he describes his management style. That strategy helped him to move well past his role in the early 1970s as D&H's "one-man band," when he was manager, buyer, marketer and sales overseer for the replacement parts department, which mainly handled the company's large RCA and Whirlpool accounts.

"It's very hard to let go, and it took me the better part of a couple of years to work through the transition from being involved in everything day-to-day to being involved in almost none of the day-to-day," he said. "But when you build a bigger company you need to take on a different management style, to delegate, and give people authority to make decisions. It's never been a 'Mother, may I?' situation, where they need to ask permission. In any growing, living organization, you need to let good people do their thing."

An Air Force veteran who served during the Vietnam War, Brothers worked at Westinghouse Defense and Space Center and then cut his teeth in TV/appliance retailing at Baltimore-based Hecht Co. before joining D&H in 1973 as a housewares sales rep.

Brothers' personal evolution at D&H parallels the journey of D&H. The company's business model began to evolve from regional to national, nudged on by efforts from Brothers and D&H CEO Israel Schwab, a year before RCA dissolved its distributor partnerships in 1988 in favor of direct sales.

When Brothers was promoted from general manager to vice president in 1989, the company developed new director of sales, marketing and merchandising positions. "We figured out that we needed a greater breadth and depth of organization," Brothers said. "Our foresight was in seeing that regional distribution wasn't going to be where the opportunity was in the future. And we were a little ahead of the curve in stepping out of the box and creating a national footprint."

That footprint evolved into a national distributor with a deep line card of consumer electronics, computer, gaming and small appliance products.

Since the late 1980s and through Brothers' rise to president in 1999, D&H has grown in deliberate fashion into a multi-billion dollar player, widening its reach when the timing was right, as it did when it opened distribution in Canada more than four years ago, and passing on growth opportunities when the timing was wrong, as when it backed away in the late '80s from an expansion plan into Mexico.

 

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