The word “legend” is so often used for people who fall far short of the moniker and could never come close to being so worthy… This, however, is not one of those times. When nearly 100 celebs in the promotional products industry gathered in St. Louis over the weekend of March 2, it was to fete someone who can authentically and accurately shoulder the mantle of being legendary -- Chuck Fandos.
“ASI got it right by making Chuck Fandos the Person of the Year in 2016,” says Tom Savio, a raconteur of the highest order who founded Counselor Top 40 distributor CSE, which he sold to HALO in January. “He brought leadership and integrity into the ASI industry throughout his very successful career. On a personal note, he’s my dear friend and I’m very lucky to have him in my life.”
Watch Chuck Fandos accepting, in abstentia, his award for being named the #1 person on Counselor’s Power 50 list last year.
Watch Chuck Fandos and Dave Saracino, the 2016 Counselor Person of the Year and the Lifetime Achievement Award winner, interviewing each other at the Counselor banquet two years ago in Chicago. Let us end the suspense: It’s like a production helmed by Abbott & Costello, in cahoots with Cheech & Chong….
Dave Saracino, vice president of field sales for BIC Graphic North America and someone whose bar bills would make Mad Men’s Roger Sterling seem Amish, had this to share: “In an industry where relationships are the cornerstone of the business, it’s no surprise that Chuck is most definitely a pillar in our community,” Saracino says. “He has the innate ability to create relationships at all levels -- Chuck has never met a stranger and is always quick to help everyone. I’ve never been more proud of my dear friend than at his recent retirement celebration.”
Fran Ford, who has quite possibly mentored 90% of the industry and is, himself, a Counselor Lifetime Achievement Award winner, points out that Fandos is truly a visionary. “And a great one at that… Chuck has been able to implement so many things that others just dream about… To paraphrase Bobby Kennedy: Many people see things as they are and ask why? Chuck dreams of things that never were and asks why not?”
When Fandos sold his top distributor company, Gateway/CDI, three years ago to BrandAddition, the largest distributorship in the U.K., it was with the knowledge that he’d stay on for a few years to smooth the transition. As his contract with the company has now been fulfilled, Fandos is retiring from his role as head of BrandAddition’s U.S. arm, while staying on as the CEO of Facilis.
And so it was that friends, colleagues and competitors flew in from all over the country, and from the U.K., with the singular purpose of celebrating Fandos’ voluminous achievements and accomplishments – an illustrious career that’s been no chutes, all ladders. For that reason, allow me to compile my own list in honor of Mr. Fandos, as to why he’s such an industry luminary:
*Because with his formidable wife, Susie, and stalwart friend and partner, Conrad Franey, he founded one of the best and most respected companies in the industry, Gateway/CDI, and the three of them learned as they went. “We didn’t even know what we didn’t know,” Fandos once famously said.
“Chuck Fandos has taught a lot of industry folks how to have fun (I’m talking a LOT OF FUN), how to operate a business professionally and how to leverage the power of relationships. We’re a better industry for his influence and I know I’m a better person for having worked at his side.” – Conrad Franey, managing director, Elements of Success Consulting Group
*Because when Chris Lee, the managing director of BrandAddition, came looking to the States for a U.S. company to purchase, he stopped when he met Fandos, recognizing immediately his adroit management skills, his integrity, intelligence and vast network of contacts.
“Even in the short time I’ve known Chuck, he’s taught me so much and been very generous with his time and wisdom. It’s easy to know why so many of his family and industry friends – competitors, clients, suppliers and colleagues alike – were here with us in St. Louis to celebrate his retirement from GatewayCDI/Brand Addition. Chuck is a wonderful man and (despite his retirement from Brand Addition!) I’m sure many of us here will continue to lean on his counsel.” – Chris Lee, managing director, BrandAddition
*Because for the past few years, he’s been the ultimate Swiss Army Knife, multitasking and pulling double-duty as the head of BrandAddition’s U.S. arm and as the CEO of Facilis, the technology group of distributors representing over $500 million in annual sales.
“Chuck gives you his wisdom with a calming sense of security, his support with overwhelming enthusiasm and his heart with irresistible affection. I adore him so very much.” – Kellie Claudio, senior vice president of sales & marketing, Sweda
*Because in addition to all of that, he’s been a constant champion for the industry, and has never hesitated when asked to participate on boards, panels and in charity events. He cares, and more than that, he puts his money where his mouth is and acts. “Chuck is the hub of the wheel to the most diverse, influential, eccentric, loving, momentarily-dysfunctional people in the industry. Everyone is his best friend and he makes us all feel special. We are a better industry because of him.” – Paul Lage, president of Gill Studios and the 2017 Counselor Lifetime Achievement Award winner
*Because despite being named both Counselor’s Person of the Year in 2016 and the #1 person on Counselor’s Power 50 list in 2017, he’s still the same low-key, humble, unassuming libertine he’s always been. “What can I say about Chuck Fandos -- he is the glue. Not only is he one of the brightest people in our industry, but he’s also the most inclusive, the most fun and easily the craziest… and I know some crazy people! – Mitch Mounger, president of Sunrise Identity, in a masterpiece of understatement
*Because when he married Susie he married way up. And he knows it.
*Because he’s a magnet for the most talented – and weapons-grade wacko – people in the industry. And if you’re lucky enough to be his friend, there’s not a shred of a doubt that he’d lie down in traffic for you if needed. “I’ve really been blessed to be with GatewayCDI and Brand Addition for 30 years. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have made such great friendships with my co-workers, customers, suppliers and competitors in the best-kept secret industry in the world, trinkets and trash! This industry fits me like a glove – it’s all relationships and talking to people -- two things I absolutely love!!” – Chuck Fandos
So on behalf of everyone in attendance in St. Louis (and the complimentary crushing hangovers guests left with like souvenirs), I’d like to thank Chuck Fandos, a man with all the virtues and vices I admire, not only for the memories, but for giving the rest of us a master class on how to be a mentor and a miscreant, a lunatic and a legend.
Photos courtesy of Jenna Michaels, Brand Addition