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2011 Hall of Fame: The Rothman Brothers

Three Makes a Team: The Rothmans carry on a tradition of excellence.

January 2011 By Nancy Klosek
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There are few measures of success better than the bar set in the post-WWII years by Martin Rothman, the founder of distributor M. Rothman & Co. and father of the business's three current principals, Billy, Douglas and Russell.

That was when Martin, a rep for a then-prominent TV manufacturer, was fired. But it was for the best of reasons. "It was because he was earning more than the company president," Russell said. "So they made him a distributor instead."

So in 1950, Martin Rothman began his company. What followed was a succession of product introduction coups that put M. Rothman on the map and kept it there. To name a few: it was the first U.S. distributor for Sharp's electronics in the early '60s, and it was AT&T's first telephone distributor in the mid-'80s, after deregulation. AT&T, which had contracted with M. Rothman to sell the New York-New Jersey area, had an expectation of $5 million in sales for the first five years.

"They opened up other parts of the country to us, and we did well over $30 million for those five years," Billy said. "That gave us reach into other markets" and other channels, including department stores such as J.C. Penney, The May Company and Federated.

By the late '80s, M. Rothman grew from a regional house whose biggest offering nearly 40 years earlier, besides TVs, were the tables the sets sat on, to a national distributor with a 2010 portfolio of 113 top-tier brands and a showroom at its Ramsey, N.J., headquarters big enough to host an annual dealer meeting whose attendance now numbers in the thousands.

Billy was first to enter the business part-time as a teenager. "I went out with the drivers, worked the old hand elevators and saw accounts with the sales guys," he said, adding that he spent summers at the company until coming on board full time after getting his MBA in 1972. Douglas, a part-timer, became fully involved in 1979 after college. "I went right from my graduation ceremony to CES," he said.

Russell, who had earned a doctorate and went on to study the behavioral patterns of wolves in northern Minnesota and then in Israel, joined the company in 1980, shifting gears when government grants ended and his wife's pregnancy "changed my perspective on doing field research."

All company decisions at M. Rothman, such as the choice to add kitchen electronics and small appliances to the product roster in 2009, are arrived at by close consultation among the three. "Everything we do here is done by consensus," said Russell.



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