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Insights on business -- and life.

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Memories of Bill Mangelsen

With lessons for all importers, businesses, and people.

by Kim Mitchell, Bill Shugarts, and Bob Ferguson (February 17, 2008)

Never Sacrificing Personal Service by Kim Mitchell

(Note: Kim is the daughter of industry pioneer Priscilla Hauser and a former employee of Mangelsen's, the import/distribution company.)

In my earliest memories of the crafting industry, the Mangelsen family, most especially Harold and Berenice, were more than a chain in the link of wonderful "firsts"; they kept building upon a growing foundation with the "Mom and Pop" style. In the heyday of my time in the industry, their sons, particularly Bill, took their family business to worldwide levels of success without sacrificing the personal service that often seemed to get lost in the myriad of "superstores."

I cannot even begin to imagine how many independent stores they encouraged, supported, and that flourished under Bills keen eye for fair trade. One of my most cherished memories of Bill was when he personally escorted me on my first trip to the Orient. It was a magical and memorable trip that I will never forget.

As much as I have always been a "people person" with cues taken from my Mother on how to learn the industry, Bill taught me invaluable lessons about business and people that I will always be grateful for. His quiet observation of me was often sprinkled with sage advice about learning the business of importing and had everything to do with the country and its native people. That by being respectful of a foreign country, by immersing myself in its culture, and opening myself to its traditions and customs, I could learn how to be a better person and businessperson.

One time, while struggling to learn Mandarin before a trip overseas, I was horrified to learn that Bill had overheard me fussing about learning the language. I had questioned why we (as Americans) needed to learn their language when so much foreign trade was dependent upon U.S. imports. Wrong thing to say.

I remember when I saw Bill, I was ashamed and absolutely mortified that he had heard me, and I thought I might lose my job. Instead, sat down and gently remind me that it was our people who were asking for their help, coming to their country, looking for business opportunities that would be beneficial to all of us. And that they already KNEW our language even to the point of taking "American"-sounding names to help us communicate better. He was so kind that day, and taught me a much-appreciated lesson in dealing with our overseas vendors.

I understand that the industry has undergone such drastic changes probably both good and not so good but how lucky we were to have been there also during a time when "family" was the appropriate term to use. When most everyone looked out for each other, most conversations weren't shallow promises, and everyone actually enjoyed (most of the time, anyway) seeing each other, even after just hanging out together at one of the ten dozen annual trade shows!

Bill's Charity Work by Bill Shugarts

Bill was a deeper man than folks realized and he loved Asia. He was a "humanist" in terms of his volunteer work with Father Ray Brennan's Orphanage in Pattaya (on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand). I would talk with Bill about that each time I would visit him in Hong Kong. Bill gave me three books pictures of the kids in the orphanage and offered to introduce me to Father Brennan. Bill was also the one who introduced me to Jane Goodall and worked for her Foundation. Bill, I believe, was on Jane Goodall's Foundation Board for a while.

I was honored to work with him on several projects throughout the years after leaving Fibre-Craft and competing against him while at Fibre-Craft, and then trying to lead an investment group to buy Mangelsen's thereafter. He had that sternness or abruptness but behind that was a good man. I will miss his emails, jokes, articles, and photos we shared, as well as the trips together in parts of China.

Moreover, he was one of my "enablers" to look into going back to Vietnam for my first time in 2002 scared to death after being a soldier years earlier, but Bill assured me that it would be OK.

I send my condolences to his family and grateful appreciation for Bill's friendship over the years. I consider it an honor to have known him.

A Visionary and an Icon by Bob Ferguson

(Note: Bob is the owner of Ferguson Merchandising and a member of the CHA Board of Directors.)

I would surely like to see Bill remembered as the icon in our industry that he was. His creative genius was boundless and ideas flowed from him like water from a tap. He seemed to have his hand in everything even if he was not designing, manufacturing, or exporting it.

His motivations seemed not to be making a huge profit from everything he touched, but instead he seemed to want to do anything possible that he could to further creativity within our industry.

One of many huge successes I can relate was his ability to muster the resources within his company to find sources of nearly any kind of product. Many years ago I took him a couple of pebbles that children were bringing to the store for us to sell in our waterfall department. Of course getting kids to bring in enough to have in stock to sell proved to be a bit much, and I asked Bill if he could find a source for something as simple as "rocks."

Twelve hours later he had found a source, sent one of his staff to the quarry for samples, had packaging solutions, availability information, and delivery dates, and presented the entire package at my hotel in Hong Kong.

I think we subsequently sold over 10 container loads of "rocks" and many other companies in the industry had a big success with this line. His take he told me was nearly zero. Why? I asked, and he said he felt that the industry needed a shot in the arm at that time and the little quarry was run by his friend who also needed a boost to stay profitable.

His passion for the "little guy" or the independent was well known, and his disdain for the "rules of the game" as dictated by the largest operators in the crafts industry is also part of his legacy.

His recent refusal to sell to one of our industries largest companies was a huge statement to all that said, "Get your stuff together people, or you won't have a craft industry" Upon being presented with what he described as a 700-page buy/sell agreement by the proposed purchasing company, his reaction was typical: "Tell the SOB's to go to hell. I am not signing over the future of my company just for the sake of saying I am selling to those pretenders. They won't be around long anyway."

Cantankerous? Maybe, but "Visionary" might be a better description. I would guess that in his entire life Bill never took a dime from anyone that he did not earn. His gifts to family, friends, and charities were always huge and without strings. His love of China and the remarkable people there was a passion of his and he will be missed there as well as in the U.S..

I am proud to have known Bill Mangelsen and called him my friend.

(Note: Anyone who would like to share their memories of Bill should send them to mike@clnonline.com.)



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