A trait that stands out in Frank Finkel’s mind when it comes to his father, Irving, was his willingness to help others.
“There are many people in this industry who are manufacturers’ salespeople and reps in this territory that he tutored and nurtured,” Frank Finkel said. “He always had an open door. He never requested people make appointments. He made sure to spend time with those folks. Any number of folks out there will tell you he was a great help in advancing their careers.”
Irving Finkel, who joined New York distributor Davis & Warshow (Ferguson acquired the distributor in 2012) in 1934 and became sole owner in 1966, died in April at the age of 103. He leaves behind a rich legacy in building the Maspeth, N.Y.-based distributor into a New York powerhouse. Davis & Warshow is a two-time recipient of Supply House Times’ Supply House of the Year award, most recently winning in 2003.
“He never hesitated to try new things,” said Finkel, a former ASA president, Fred Keenan Lifetime Achievement Award winner and now Ferguson Northeast District Branch Manager. “He kept us at the forefront of technology, which became more and more important as time went by. He was a tough taskmaster who made sure you were focused on taking care of customers and employees and the folks who supported us — the manufacturers and the manufacturers reps.
“The most important thing he taught me was how to deal with people. He was much tougher than I would have been, but that was done in the spirit of teaching more than anything else. He was a good teacher and mentor. We’ve always been good teachers and mentors and have tried to bring people along so their careers would thrive and prosper.”
Finkel noted one of his dad’s greatest accomplishments was rolling out an ESOP program for the company, which started at 30% in 2003 and moved to 100% in 2006.
“He was very proud of that,” he said. “It gave the employees of Davis & Warshow a piece of the action. Our folks appreciated those efforts. Over the years he had the opportunity to sell Davis & Warshow to different companies and he always resisted that because somewhere he had the idea of an ESOP.”
Finkel was a member of the board of directors of both the Jobbers Credit Association and the Plumbing Heating Wholesaler Employers Association in New York City. He also was a member of the board of the American Institute and was involved in the merger of AI with CSA, which created the American Supply Association.
“My mother and father instilled in me the thought to give back to an industry that has been so good to all of us,” Finkel said. “It culminated in the ESOP. That’s the ultimate test of how you feel about your employees and the business and giving them a share of it. My dad had a really good intuitive and investigative mind. Over the course of time, he found ways to bring Davis & Warshow to the forefront of wholesalers in New York City.”
Finkel practiced law prior to joining the company full-time in 1967—a move his father approved of. “He made sure we paid attention to the things we needed to pay attention to. Education was predominant in our upbringing,” he said. “He encouraged us to do different things. He gave us a good deal of freedom to experiment. As time went on when I was growing up and he asked me to come in on weekends and holidays, I wasn’t really thrilled. But if I look back at that, it was a great learning experience and obviously a great help when I came to work here full-time. He was a terrific father.”