Bob Carnevale had a way with words.
Just ask his son, Bruce, Bradford White’s current president and CEO. Bruce Carnevale told me this particular story at a recent ASA NETWORK event after receiving the ASA Plumbing Award of Excellence honor. It bears repeating here.
Early in his career, Bruce Carnevale was moving up the corporate ladder at another company. And that next rung up on the ladder would require a move to Chicago.
“He asked if I would have to move to Chicago, and I said I would,” Carnevale recalls. “Without skipping a beat, he told me if I moved to Chicago I would break my mom’s heart and send my grandmother to an early grave. He guilted me into coming to work for Bradford White! He knew it was the right thing for me and the company. He used that technique a lot, but always for the right reasons.”
Carnevale took time during a late April ASA gathering in Chicago to talk about his father, Bradford White’s chairman, who died in late March in Florida at the age of 79.
“My dad took great pride and enjoyment in helping other people,” Carnevale says. “From all the wonderful stories I’ve received in emails and in cards, there were a couple of recurring themes. First, he helped people regardless of whether they were an employee, a customer, a supplier or even a competitor. He did it instinctively, and because he derived great satisfaction from helping others. Second, he connected with people and cared about people no matter what level you were in the organization. He got to know them on a personal level. He was very good at convincing people to do the right thing to help other people.”
While he steered the Bradford White ship for many years, Bob Carnevale’s involvement in the company’s evolution and its status today as one of the top water-heater manufacturers in the country runs much deeper.
“Bradford White wouldn’t exist in its current form if it weren’t for him,” Carnevale says.
Back in the early 1990s, Bradford White was owned by an Australian company that was moving to buy one of its competitors. The U.S. Justice Department would not allow the acquisition to move forward because there already were too few competitors in the marketplace.
“That’s where the idea of a new Bradford White and an employee-owned Bradford White came from,” Carnevale explains.
In 1992, Bob Carnevale led the group that purchased a portion of Bradford White from the Australian ownership. “The number of manufacturers would remain the same and that was the genesis of the Bradford White that exists today.”
Carnevale says one thing that sticks out in his mind about his father was his financial acumen. “He didn’t have a formal education in finance,” he says. “He was an outstanding relationship guy and was very visionary. He could see things we needed to do long before others. He always amazed me with how quickly he grasped the financial concepts and how good he was at the financial side of the business.”
Bob Carnevale also was a huge proponent of two current-day Bradford White tenets: Supporting American manufacturing and selling products only through wholesale distribution to professionals.
“He was a patriot,” he says. “He did everything he could do to support American workers and jobs. Every opportunity we had, we would choose that direction. As for the distribution part, he always felt the product should be installed by a professional. It’s much safer than the average do-it-yourself installation. We believe the role of the professional remains strong and will continue to get stronger as people move away from doing it themselves and look to pros to install their products. In the era of e-commerce, the transactional side will change, but the need to have qualified professionals install product is still there and getting stronger as the products become more efficient, more sophisticated and incorporate more technology.”
As far as advice he took to heart from his father? “He always said work smart, not hard,” Carnevale says. “What he really meant is to work smart and work hard. Treat other people with respect and help others without expecting anything in return. If you give generously you will be successful beyond what you would have thought possible.”
Carnevale says he will miss his father’s friendship, guidance and wisdom more than anything. “The only pressure here now is to continue to conduct ourselves in the tradition he established for us, and honor his legacy,” he says.