Born in Richmond, Virginia, 1950.
Right after the Pacific War my father, a Marine, returned to Virginia, married my mother, and went straight into the leaf tobacco industry. His career in tobacco took our family from Richmond to Rocky Mount, North Carolina and finally to Danville, Virginia, by then a family of seven. Dibrell Brothers Tobacco Co. was headquartered in Danville, a city rich in tobacco history, where the tobacco auction system itself began; and this town is where my father became Dibrell’s CEO.
I went on to attend Hampden-Sydney College and then the College of William and Mary, graduating with an MBA in 1975. All enabled by the tobacco industry, supporting a family of seven.
Coming to RJR
After graduating William and Mary, I joined RJR Archer in Winston-Salem in 1975. The U.S. was in a long and deep recession, so I was happy to get a job offer, a good job offer. After two years with RJR Archer, I was offered a promotion to join RJR Tobacco International in 1977 which I eagerly accepted.
Following the college years, my real education began, as mentioned, with my first full time job at RJR in 1975. This is where I spent the first 12 years of my career, the last ten of which were with Tobacco International (TI), mostly in the finance area. In 1979 I was relocated from our World Headquarters in Winston-Salem to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as CFO for RJR Malaysia and Singapore, and from there to our Hong Kong Regional Asia office in 1982 as RJR’s Area Finance Director. In 1985, I was asked to relocate from Hong Kong to RJR Japan to help establish our joint venture with Mitsubishi Inc., again in the CFO role. After Tokyo, my final two years with RJR were spent as the Regional Finance and New Business Development head, returning to RJR’s Hong Kong Area office from Tokyo.
Memorable Events at RJR
The best, well there were many, but I could say being asked to relocate from our Winston Salem Headquarters to our Malaysia subsidiary at the age of 28 and given significant responsibilities there in the era of the telex machine, set the stage that accounts for the rest of my life, even until now at the age of 70. It was a truly foreign location, Malaysia, in 1978. And I adored it, lasting memories.
The worst has to be my being admonished by Tylee Wilson for being somewhat out of line on one of his visits to KL in 1979. He used another word to describe it, but it floored me when my then boss, Howard Banwell, called me into his office the next day to relay that message as requested to do so by Tylee Wilson; especially since Tylee knew my father and both were still in the industry at the time and because I never knew exactly what he was referring to, and neither did my boss, Howard. But I got a message.
That incident and of course my leaving RJR 12 years later, from Hong Kong. They were wonderful years, RJR. I was very lucky then as I am today to have had all that experience that only RJR and the tobacco industry could give back in the day, I sense.
As for the bosses, yes I’ve had a few. All good, all different, and some still great friends till today; plus my colleagues along the way of course. But it was Richard Johnson and Howard Banwell, both direct bosses of mine in my formative years who continued to stay in touch after RJR with each offering me new career opportunities following our many years together in RJR Asia.
But all in, I must give special mention to Gene Hoots, the author; and although we worked in completely different areas and at vastly different levels of seniority in this giant conglomerate called RJR Industries, it has been Gene who has continued to impact my life the most since RJR. If not for RJR, I might not have known and worked with Gene starting decades ago. So, there it is. RJR’s music continues to play on. Long may it last.
Never having thought to leave RJR, in 1988 I was contacted out of the blue by a U.S. search firm which led to my being offered a job with a U.S. pharmaceutical company. The job was based in Tokyo. Hardest decision ever, but I eventually acknowledged that it was probably time to make this significant change as the new job, company, and industry offered an experience and career path that seemed too right and timely to pass up; particularly given the well-known regulatory trends in the U.S. tobacco industry as well as the maturation of new business development opportunities for RJR Asia. And it also should be said, I loved living and working in Tokyo.
So with this new job, back to Tokyo I went in 1986, 37 years old, and now with the second company of my career, this time as CFO for Bristol Myers Japan, manager of their Japan Pharma manufacturing and head of their Clairol Japan division.
Then, in 1988, Dick Johnson, a former boss from my early RJR Asia years contacted me in Tokyo with an offer to join his new company, Premark International/Tupperware Brands Inc, offering a significant promotion and more of an entrepreneurial opportunity as the Managing Director for Southeast Asia, based in KL, Malaysia. However, in 1989 the Iron Curtain collapsed across Europe, so from my Kuala Lumpur location I was asked by the Orlando based company to move to their Area offices in Geneva, Switzerland in 1990, to establish our business in the newly opened markets of Eastern Europe in the role of Regional Director, Eastern Europe.
But not long after that strategy began, a new CEO entered our Florida based headquarters and quickly changed the regions European strategy to one of less focus on new market development and more on underperforming but high potential existing markets. So in 1992 I was asked to move from Geneva to London to head up our long struggling U.K. and Ireland markets, a well-known “graveyard” for many past Managing Directors.
This didn’t go very well for me either due to different views on the strategic direction thought necessary to fix and grow these markets, and so from London, in 1994, I jumped and joined Chanel, Ltd., the French fashion and beauty company, as its Australasia Regional Managing Director, returning again to Hong Kong. After a couple of years of trying to translate emails in French, another previous boss from my RJR years, Howard Banwell in his role as CEO for Citibank NA, Southeast Asia Region, invited me to join a “real” company, that being Citibank, as CFO Thailand, based in Bangkok. And there it was, Citibank NA became my last company and my last salaried job.
It was year 2000. But actually, should be said, really didn’t mean to “retire” then, in 2000, not at all, but I found myself on the golf courses of Asia, together with some former RJR colleagues, such as Larry Matthews, and it seems, well, I simply forgot to go back to work; and from there the years have passed quickly. So yes, a lot of international relocations involving thirteen one-way tickets and six countries offering a variety of different companies, cultures, and industries, each one a unique opportunity, I thought: but all due, no question, to my good fortune in joining RJR in 1975.
Mail: DS Tower 1, 98/71 Sukhumvit Rd., Bangkok 10110, Thailand.
Andy and I knew each other at RJR in Winston-Salem. But like many young people he moved on to other assignments and then a life halfway around the world. In another age with less technology that might have been the end of our story. But in our modern world, physical distance means very little. He and I have been friends, communicating regularly for 30 years. Yet, oddly we have met only three times in that span, And I remember each vividly. About 1992, my children and I had dinner with Andy at the ‘Blue Elephant’ in London. Some years ago, Andy passed through Charlotte to visit his mother who had retired here, and we had a coffee at Dean & Deluca. And finally, in 2015, my daughter and I had dinner with Andy in Bangkok, believe it or not – at a restaurant named the ‘Blue Elephant’! I sincerely hope that a time will come when we can have more “face time.” He has been a loyal, if long-distance, friend. GAH