It may not be hyperbole to say I was born to be a Benjamin Moore dealer. My great-grandparents were both Benjamin Moore independent retailers, so were my grandfather and father.
Despite that 112-year history, (and 23+ years covering Benjamin Moore as a journalist) until this year I have had only two, one-on-one conversations with their chief executives: Yvan Depuy (1995-2007) and Denis Abrams (2007-2012).
Yvan was a good person and steward of what was at the time, a family business. I remember getting a call from his office once saying that Yvan wanted to discuss my recent column with me. I made an appointment and we met in the cafeteria of their corporate headquarters. As he shook my hand, he asked me how my father AND grandfather were doing? BY NAME! I was impressed! At that point, he had probably not seen my grandfather Jack in over 20 years!
Not long after he became CEO, Denis Abrams asked me to meet him in his office. He was new to the job at the time: he made a lasting first impression! The meeting was over after 5 minutes, though we sat there together for 45! I remember calling my sales rep immediately afterwards and telling him that I thought Benjamin Moore was doomed. Being from the Bronx, I might have used more colorful language.
I wish I had been wrong about Denis!
Other than a handshake or two at a party, those are the only two meetings I’ve ever had with a Benjamin Moore CEO. Two meetings in 30+ years, neither of which was particularly memorable.
And then came Dan Calkins!
I’ve known Dan for about 10 years, though never well. He was a guy I’d say hello to if I saw him at a dealer event, but our business paths never really crossed. Other than “seems like a nice guy,” I don’t think I had any opinion at all of Dan Calkins.
All that has changed since he became the CEO of Benjamin Moore on January 1st!
I reached out to Dan after the announcement of his promotion was made. At times, my writing has caused trouble in my relationship with Benjamin Moore. I wanted to continue to deliver my unvarnished views of the independent dealer channel and Benjamin Moore without damaging my relationship with an important vendor. He was gracious and offered to meet me in his office.
One conversation led to another and since that first meeting, Dan and I have met a number of times: turns out making a podcast is harder than I thought. At each meeting, I have been nothing less than impressed with Dan. We've had some fabulous conversations about the paint industry and independent retailers: some of which I was able to record.
From the start, Dan loved the idea of recording a podcast. While originally planned for publication just to my followers here on my blog, Dan has allowed me to work with his staff to distribute this podcast to ALL Benjamin Moore dealers AND employees!
Getting time from a CEO is generally no easy task. But that is NOT the experience I had with Dan. I laid out the plan for how we would do the podcasts and I was given as much time with Dan as I needed to get the job done right. Impressive commitment!
But that’s not what impressed me the most.
In preparation for the podcast, I made a list of potential questions and follow-up, and made them available to Dan (that’s standard practice btw: the idea is to get answers, not “gotchas”). Dan showed up in the recording studio with pages of hand written notes! It was clear that he took hours to prepare for our sit-down. He took my interviews (we did two) very seriously and that respect for our process shows in the quality of the piece you are about to listen to.
Dan could not have been more open with me. I found his answers genuine and his openness restorative. I have been involved with Benjamin Moore for over 30 years as a retailer and journalist: I cannot recall ever having experienced such openness and candor in any of my previous dealings.
When interviewing an executive it’s not unusual to have them say, “I’m sorry, I don’t want to discuss that.” Even corporations are entitled to some privacy. When I asked Dan what I felt were difficult questions regarding a dark period in Benjamin Moore’s recent history or about the (at times troubling) state of their relationship with their dealers, I was expecting some requests for privacy; or maybe a polite reply that didn’t really address my question. I got neither.
What I DID get was honesty: straightforward and contrite regarding an era that many Benjamin Moore dealers (and I suspect employees) would rather forget, Dan shares his view of that history and accepts the corporate responsibility for it. He then uses his time to shine a light on the road ahead and on hi