How important was Ed Felten to La Crosse, Wisconsin-based First Supply?

“He meant everything to our company, without a doubt,” First Supply Chairman and CEO Joe Poehling told Supply House Times.

Felten, former CEO and chairman of First Supply and a former ASA president, died Jan. 26 at the age of 80.

“Ed guided the company through many years of growth and expansion,” Poehling continued. “As far as what he meant to myself, Ed was my mentor. He was all about making sure the company felt like a family and when we invited people into the company, he treated them as family. He also was so key in the career-development plans for so many people.

“He knew it was a people business and that people buy on relationships in our industry. It always was important to him to make sure it wasn’t necessarily what is said to a person, but how a person feels. That’s what they will really remember. He always made sure people had good feeling about the relationship they had and the business they did with our company. He was the one who put us on a strong financial path and really grew the company through a lot of acquisitions.”

Felten, who retired from First Supply in 1999, also was proud of the Poehling family lineage. He married Cathy Poehling in 1962. “Ed always was so proud of the family and the number of years of continuous marriage without any divorces or separations. He always would get up at weddings when someone was newly married and talk about that,” Poehling said.

Poehling labeled Felten a storyteller of storytellers. “He enjoyed that part of the business,” Poehling said. “Ed always had a good story for everybody. He was a fun-loving guy, without a doubt.”

After Felten’s death, a document labeled “Feltenonics” was unearthed with a cache of classic Felten sayings tabulated from various ASA events. 

“There are givers and takers in this world and Ed was a giver,” AD U.S./Canada PHCP Divisions President Jeffrey Beall said. “He was a great mentor to me personally when I first entered the wholesale business in the mid-1990s. He always was approachable to discuss industry trends and loved developing people. I always enjoyed his training style. Sitting in on his sessions at ASA, I remember thinking how natural a teacher he was. He truly was an industry icon.”

Felten wrote the book “The Art of Supervising and Motivating People” and donated all the proceeds back to the ASA Education Foundation.

“Ed’s influence on this industry and ASA is long-lasting,” ASA Education Foundation Vice President of Education and Training Amy Black said. “He led this association with passion and energy through some very tumultuous times of new technology initiatives and overall governance upheaval. I’ve never met anyone who cared so greatly about people. You left every interaction with him chuckling and you inspired to be better.”

ASA CEO Mike Adelizzi added: “Ed Felten’s presence in our industry will be missed. He was a visionary leader in ASA and his legacy remains with numerous leaders at First Supply following Ed’s lead with their volunteer service. Many people remember Ed attending regional events and giving seminars on the ‘art of supervision,’ which he later made into a book that still is used today as an important resource for ASA’s Master of Distribution Management program. Our association and industry owes Ed a great deal for his selfless sacrifice to better our industry.”

Cregger Co. owner and CEO Morris Cregger followed Felten as ASA president. “Ed was such a special person to me,” he said. “His words of wisdom and sense of humor always will be with me. His zest for life and love for people defined who he was and how he lived. He loved our industry and gave so much of his time to make it better for all of us. He always was willing to share his knowledge with anybody seeking advice. Ed was my friend and taught me many valuable lessons not only about our industry, but about life. One of the things he told me was, ‘Morris, if you can vision it you can do it with discipline and determination.’ I also learned from him the more you help others the better you help yourself. Ed was a beacon to all of us who knew him.”