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One of the great things about having a child is realizing they have no idea what you’ve done in life. It’s as if they think you’ve never left the house, and if you did, you certainly didn’t meet anyone interesting.
Such was the case Sunday when my daughter was reading The Washington Post Magazine. The cover story was about a businessman and gay activist by the name of Mitchell Gold, and I mentioned I’d like to read it to see how he was doing.
“You KNOW him?” my daughter asked, as if I had just grown a second head.
“Of course I do,” I replied, as apparently my daughter didn’t notice I had left the house for 25 years and worked in the furniture industry, allowing me to meet a lot of interesting people, including one Mitchell Gold. “He and I never got along, but he’s a good guy. He even built a piece of furniture for us that he customized just for you.”
Since she was 5 at the time, I suppose it was fair she didn’t totally recall all of that. So I began telling her the story of Mitchell Gold, and it immediately bought to mind how different times are from way back then. These days, you couldn’t disagree with someone the way Mitchell and I did back in 2000 and survive.
That’s because according to the rules of social media today, it seems that if you disagree with someone, they have to die. You have to destroy them. There is no middle ground. They need to lose their job, lose their career and be branded with a scarlet letter if you have a different view. Disliking them and respecting them at the same time is not allowed.
Mitchell and I managed to do both. It’s not that we didn’t care for each other because of politics, issues or anything like that. We were just two hard-headed people who liked doing things our own way. When I was named to be president of a company in Los Angeles called The Wexford Collection (a division of Rowe Furniture) Mitchell was already an established star at a sister company that bore his name. It seemed like I had just landed at LAX when the emails from him started, suggesting how I should run the company. Not surprisingly, we immediately clashed.
It grew to another level one fall day in High Point, NC, where the October furniture market was going on. The staff at Wexford included about 300 people in manufacturing and maybe 15 more upstairs in the office. The vast majority of the office were gay, and Mitchell was a hero to them due to his success in the industry and his activism. One – a very bright young man name Luis – wanted to meet him, so I arranged for him to fly back East for the furniture market, be part of the team in High Point, and hopefully work out a deal where he could see Mitchell’s showroom and meet Mitchell.
Keep in mind that back then, the unwritten rules of not getting along with someone were a lot like the rules of “The Godfather.” You made it about business. You never let it get personal. My wishes for Luis were purely personal as I wanted to see him get to meet his idol. But when I told Luis one day to take the afternoon off and go see Mitchell’s showroom, he came back shortly afterward looking dejected. “They wouldn't let me tour the showroom,” he said.
I was angry, and when Mitchell coincidentally showed up to look around our showroom a few hours later, I immediately voiced a firm and passionate opinion of what I had been told just happened. Mitchell listened, but when I told him how much Luis looked up to him and how much this meant to him, his face softened, he immediately put his hand up and said “Stop. Let me take care of this.”
The next day Mitchell sent a car over to the showroom to specifically pick up Luis. He was given a complete tour, and Mitchell spent as much time with Luis as he would a major furniture dealer. I believe he even invited Luis to join his team at dinner one night. Luis came back as happy as I’d ever seen him.
Thus earning my respect for Mitchell Gold forever.
The months would go on, and eventually we would sell The Wexford Collection because it was virtually impossible to compete with imports from The Far East. My duties would change to include overseeing some of Rowe’s manufacturing plants, including one that made components for Mitchell’s company. Which put us back in meetings together where we’d continue to bicker with each other.
At about this same time, I bought home copies of our annual report, which included pictures of the officers of all the divisions. Mitchell had an English Bulldog named Lulu who had become the mascot of his company, and that dog was everywhere, including the annual report.
Because my daughter loves dogs and as mentioned earlier, was only 5, I showed her the annual report and all the pictures of Lulu. She didn’t know anything about furniture, or Mitchell Gold, but she certainly knew who Lulu was.
Many months later, I decided to replace an easy chair that I had in my library, ordering it from Mitchell’s company with one request: Would he, when the chair came off the production line, take a sharpie and on the deck lid (the piece of fabric that separates the seat cushion from the springs) sign his name, and possibly Lulu’s as well?
A month or so later, I got a notification saying the chair had shipped. When it arrived at the house, I took it out of the carton, lifted up the cushion, and sure enough there it was. On one side was a signature that looked like it said Mitchell Gold. On the other, it looked as if a dog’s paw pad had been pressed against an ink pad and then pressed on the fabric. Under it, it said “Lulu.” My daughter was thrilled when I showed it to her.
After 18 years, that chair is now badly worn, the leather is torn, a spring is broken, and I’ve replaced it in my study. But no matter how much my wife complains, it’s not leaving this house. It sits in the den, often covered by coats and whatever can’t find a spot in the closet, a lasting memory to when my daughter would sit on my lap and talk about “the chair the dog signed.”
I tell these stories because people tend not to understand that really successful people oftentimes do have hints of both angel and devil in them. They can at times be tough to deal with, yet also at times be incredible people; I believe it’s the combination of those traits that makes them successful. Hearing a positive or negative story about a successful person has to be put in context; otherwise, when social media picks out one aspect of a person they don’t like, demonizes them, rallies the mob, then ignores the rest of the story, it’s such a waste. Depending on the situation, it’s literally like throwing the baby out with the bath water.
As for me, I think the world of Mitchell Gold. Reading the Post’s story just shows how much he cares about people, and how he’s used his success to help an awful lot of them. He’s a good man with a big heart, and I’m a lucky person to have had the chance to be around him for several years.
Even if we didn’t get along :)